Issues on Higher Education in
A. N. Maheshwari
I have been
asked to address this Workshop, which is being held on the theme of “Re-Engineering
Higher Education towards Excellence”, on the topic “Multidimensional issues on
Higher Education in
is a great idea and a clever new buzzword. Reengineering is a
management term that calls for throwing out everything that exists and
recommends reconstituting a workable organization on the basis of completely
fresh ideas. During the past decade business processes have been reengineered
for bringing in efficiency, effectiveness and economy through use of advanced
technology, which in our present context are communication and information
technologies. I am not a management expert and find myself inadequate in
addressing issues, which have turned complex, especially when higher education
in our country is at crossroads. I will first argue out that higher education
Higher Education at Crossroads
is that higher education in
The hard reality is that majority of employment opportunities now are in the private sector and this sector is very choosy, to say the least. The private sector employs only those who possess skills and competencies required by it. Its requirements are continually changing because this sector has to keep pace with its global competitors. Education now has to be tailor-made to the requirements of the private sector. Also, foreign institutions are making inroads in the higher education sector by providing alternative learning opportunities leading to award of degrees of their universities. They claim that their certification will be preferred by multinationals to the degrees awarded by our universities.
To add to the
complexity of issues of higher education in
At the same time, the traditional structure of higher education in the state funded institutions has continued to remain around teacher-student contact, and finds that it is no longer adequate in meeting its demand and relevance. There are not enough lecturers, library books or rooms, and there is not enough time. New organizational structures are therefore required to support new learning processes.
In such a scenario, an obvious conclusion is that the road of higher education seems to have reached dead-end, or in other words it is at crossroads. The need of the hour is to give a fresh look to the higher education and introduce such changes as will restore confidence in the ability of the state universities and colleges for providing, cost effectively, education relevant to the present context of the world of work. If ‘traditional’ working practices are no longer efficient in the modern context of higher education, then we must determine effective ways of successfully achieving change. We have no choice but to do things differently. New organizational structures are required to support new learning processes.
What is the required paradigm shift? Perhaps, a partial answer may be found from the experience of the manufacturing sector. It is also struggling to remain competitive when the foreign countries have flooded the domestic market with goods and services. The key to meeting this challenge has been quality assurance that too cost effectively. Customer satisfaction is the key for upgrading quality, as without full customer satisfaction it is not possible to increase market share. The customers of education are students. Decline in interest in general education courses has hit the universities and colleges. It is perhaps due to dissatisfaction with the present education system, students seeking tertiary education clamour for joining professional courses of study than courses in general education. The widespread impression is that unlike professional education courses, the general education courses have failed to keep pace with changes that are taking place in the world of work. The courses offered by the general education colleges are determined by traditional mindset and have continued to remain inflexible. Students complain that they are not able to exercise choice in selecting what they would like to study. They want to study what would suit their aptitude and also meet their future needs. Also, the general perception is that contents of courses that are being offered at present may not be helpful to them in acquiring skills and abilities required by their future employers.
Student satisfaction may have to be used as an effective instrument for raising the quality of programmes of study. This will require acceptance of the sovereignty of learners by the higher education system. New courses and course combinations may have to be offered for meeting varying learning needs of students. The other driving force for raising quality will be the commitment of teachers to their students and to the pursuit of excellence. The main task of teachers will be bringing out the inner potential of their students and chiselling of their mental faculties. Yet, another perspective that brings out the need for bringing in change in the content and process of education is the recognition that unlike in the industrial age when production of goods was the accepted means for generating wealth, in the information age it is the knowledge-based work that generates wealth. Instead of large capital investment of funds that was required for starting an industry for production of goods at a competitive cost, a knowledge-based enterprise requires human capital of knowledge workers only. Already the information age is transforming the way we work.
Like the brains of the other species that have evolved on Earth, the human brain can also store information. But the human brain has the privileged faculties of thinking, imagination and creativity. The computer can store a vast amount of information but it cannot think. It can process information as per the direction given to it by its user. The directions are the outcome of thinking by the human brain. Lord Rutherford, the great pioneer of nuclear physics once said, when he was told that America was going ahead in nuclear physics because they had a lot of money," Americans have money. We do not have it, and so we have got to think." There is no substitute for hard and serious thinking; and with sustained and serious effort we should be able to go long way even with our meagre resource and capital. It will, therefore, be an anachronism to continue to use the human brain for memorizing information when it should be used for solving problems, creative thinking - the skill attributes of knowledge workers. Therefore, any system of education unless it is learner centred, is flexible, is around developing thinking skills and is able to help learners in acquiring the ability of learning how to learn will gradually lose its relevance. We should not be surprised that now the good students rarely select the conventional courses offered by the colleges as their first choice for higher studies. Therefore, there is now an urgent need to reorient teaching-learning in the universities to meet the requirements of the youth for living and contributing effectively in the 21st century.
dimensions of the Information Revolution and its limitless possibilities are
widely accepted and generally understood, even by lay people. Nevertheless, to
make the most of it, we must also acknowledge that there are challenges before
the education system particularly the higher education system, and we must make
important choices. We can extend opportunity to all or leave many behind. We
can accelerate the most powerful engine of growth and prosperity the world has
ever known, or allow the engine to stall. History has taught us that choices
cannot be deferred; action or inaction makes them. There is no such thing as
virtual opportunity. We cannot point and click our way to a better future. The
tools of information and communication technologies that are available today
offer themselves for introducing the paradigm shift that the higher education system
needs for making it relevant to the needs of the 21st century. Before too long,
each student has to be enabled to stretch a hand across a keyboard and reach
every book ever written. Also, information that is being generated, nearly in
real time, is being made available online with the Internet. For the first time
in our history, it is now possible, in principle, for a student in
We know from
hard experience that unequal education hardens into unequal prospects. We know
the Information Age may perhaps accelerate this trend. The fastest growing
career presently is in computer related fields, offering far more than average
pay scales of other professions. History teaches us that even as new
technologies create growth and new opportunity, they can heighten economic
inequalities and sharpen social divisions. As we move into the Information Age,
we have it within our power to avoid these developments. We can reap the growth
that comes from revolutionary technologies and use them to eliminate, not to
widen, the disparities that exist. But until every student has a computer in
the classroom and a teacher well-trained to help, until every student has the
skills to tap the enormous resources of the Internet, until every high-tech
company can find skilled workers to fill its high-wage jobs,
Therefore, time has come for redesigning curricular concerns in higher education. The challenge is to introduce innovative interdisciplinary programmes of study appropriate to the concerns of the 21st century. If teachers continue to work in isolation and curriculum concerns are tackled by each institution individually without drawing benefit of each others experience it may become a race in which goal post is receding at a pace faster than the speed of approach. The end result will be that reaching the target may forever remain illusive.
The key issues that I have tried to bring out are multidimensional and are overlapping. A possible list of such issues as I have tried to argue out can be as follows:
1. communication and information technologies in teaching-learning and in administration
2. matching skills achieved through teaching-learning with employability skills
3. effective learning; flexible learning; problem based learning; collaborative learning
An action plan for reengineering higher education for excellence can be as follows:
Online Learning Resources
I have selected as samples of online learning resources two sites one of which is an international collaborative effort and the other which I have developed.
Project Gutenberg is the oldest producer of free electronic books (e-books or e-texts) on the Internet. It offers a collection of more than 13,000 e-books produced by hundreds of volunteers. Most of the Project Gutenberg e-books are older literary works that are in the public domain. All may be freely downloaded and read, and redistributed for non-commercial use.
Learning-physics site aims at promotion of teaching-learning of physics by solving problems using thinking and reasoning. The objective of this site is to demonstrate the power of physics concepts in understanding nature and expose excitement of learning physics.
In addition to building a programme for learning physics around solutions of some suitably selected problems given as mathematical texts supported with graphics, animations and multimedia, it promotes interactive learning through supports such as Ask Us, Online Classroom, asynchronous multimedia lessons prepared with Teaching Tools, which are accessible even with low bandwidth internet connections.
For this programme about 1000 problems have been selected
mainly from the books Physics by Resnick, Halliday, and Krane, and Fundamentals
of Physics by Halliday, Resnick and
I have taken advantage of
this opportunity in placing an agenda for reengineering higher education in
is no such thing as virtual opportunity. We cannot point and click our way to a
better future. The tools of information and communication technologies that are
available today offer themselves for introducing the paradigm shift that the
higher education system needs for making it relevant to the needs of the 21st
century. Before too long, each student has to be enabled to stretch a hand
across a keyboard and reach every book ever written... For the first time in
our history, it is now possible, in principle, for a student in