Aiming high

Print edition : December 03, 2010

The Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai.-BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

INDIA strives to be a knowledge economy. Recognising the need for higher level of skills and competencies in order to make this possible and keeping in mind the objectives of the 11th Five-Year Plan, the Central government has made sure that enough funds are available for primary, secondary and higher education.

Kerala may be the most literate State in the country, but Maharashtra has the highest number of student enrolment in higher education. A recent report, titled Building Blocks - Infrastructure in Education - Edge 2010 Report', released by the professional services firm Ernst & Young, points out that around 15 lakh students were enrolled in the State's colleges and institutes during 2005-06, the highest in the country, followed by Uttar Pradesh (14 lakh), Andhra Pradesh (9 lakh) and Tamil Nadu (8 lakh).

In Maharashtra, Pune is a top destination for education in India. Other districts in the State that are home to the best educational institutions are Mumbai, Aurangabad, Nagpur, Kolhapur and Ahmednagar. The State boasts a literacy rate of 77.27 per cent (Census 2001).

In the realm of higher education, the State has the largest number of institutions in the country. Topping the list are University of Mumbai, Pune University, SNDT Women's University, the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research (Mumbai) and the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics (Pune). These offer graduate, postgraduate, diploma and research programmes in several disciplines.

Besides Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, there are several engineering institutes in the State that offer quality training. Among them are the Army Institute of Technology (Pune), Fr. C. Rodrigues Institute of Technology (Vashi) and the A.C. Patil College of Engineering (Navi Mumbai).

The State also has institutes such as the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and the IIT BombayMonash Research Academy and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR).

The TIFR, funded by the Government of India, was set up as a national centre for research in nuclear science and mathematics. Today, its scope of research has extended to subjects such as astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics and computer science, said Deepak Dhar, Dean, Graduate Studies, and Professor of Theoretical Physics, TIFR. Today, the TIFR has centres in Pune, Hyderabad and Bangalore. Over 300 scientists and 500 research scholars work in the institute, added Dhar.

In Maharashtra, the boost to education has been powered by some focussed thinking. For one, the government is preparing to tighten its policy of liberally granting permission for new colleges. Mushrooming educational institutions have overwhelmed universities and have resulted in a fall in the quality of higher education.

We will be making it very strict this year. Colleges without infrastructure and facilities will not be granted permission even if they have political recommendation, Minister for Higher and Technical Education Rajesh Tope told the media recently.

The Minister said the government had come up with new norms for the setting up of engineering and medical colleges. The proposals will be scrutinised thoroughly and eligible ones alone would qualify, Tope added. Only if they meet the requisite criteria would the letter of approval be awarded.

Maharashtra recently hosted an all-India conference that focussed on issues that affect higher education directly. Organised jointly by the Association of Indian Universities, the apex body of universities in the country, and the University Grants Commission (UGC), the three-day meet in Pune tackled issues such as emerging models of governance in higher education, administrative and financial management, autonomy and accountability of the university system, and the role of regulatory authorities including the UGC.

Universities in Maharashtra plan to introduce measures to maintain high standards in their affiliated institutions and to grade them on the basis of key performance indicators (KPIs), drawn up by the State higher education department. These include curriculum upgrade, research, evaluation, attendance, teaching and grading.

To rise up the rungs, varsities will have to lay emphasis on innovation. The adoption of KPIs will involve, among other things, updating the curriculum on a regular basis, maintaining a website and utilising grants efficiently. The ability to attract grants is also important.

Doris Rao

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