Trends, insights and research to inform growth and innovation strategies in international higher education.

July 26, 2009

Guru Mantra: Pawan Agarwal, Author-Indian Higher Education

Pawan Agarwal
Author, Indian Higher Education: Envisioning the Future

Pawan Agarwal is a civil servant from India. He is currently Secretary to the Government of West Bengal. He has earlier served as Director in the Ministry of Human Resource Development, as well as Financial Advisor and Coordinator of new initiatives of the University Grants Commission—a position in which he developed substantial expertise in higher education policy and practice, and gained a broad understanding of the issues and challenges faced by India’s universities and colleges.

During the year 2005–06, he was a Fulbright New Century Scholar on higher education from India. During this period, based inside a Delhi-based think tank, the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, he published a working paper. This was rated among the top recent single country reports and widely circulated and well received both in India and abroad.

As a Fulbrighter, he was a visiting scholar under the Science and Engineering Workforce Program at the Harvard University and at the India–China–America Institute at the Emory University in the US. He has received the prestigious 2009 Endeavor Executive Award from the Australian Government. For which, he will be visiting scholar at the Center for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Melbourne from November, 2009 to January, 2010.

His other important studies / publications cover private higher education for Observatory on Borderless Higher Education, higher education and labor markets for the World Bank. Indian higher education from Latin American perspective for Inter-American Development Bank, privatization and internationalization trends in South Asian countries for South Asia Network of Economic Research Institutions. Apart from his career as a civil servant, he continues to pursue his interest in higher education. His current focus is on higher education governance and regulation at the national, sub-national levels, changing dynamics of higher education and labor markets, private higher education, global student mobility, and use of technology in education.


RC - Please share a couple of highlights of your new book "Indian Higher Education: Envisioning the Future" by Sage.

PA - Indian higher education – currently the third largest, would surpass the US in next the five years and China in the next 15 years to be the largest system of higher education in the world. Indian higher education has a complex structure riddled with many contradictions. Thus, despite its growing importance, very little is known and understood about Indian higher education in the outside world.

The book is, therefore a window to the international higher education community on Indian higher education. It gives them an informative, up-to-date and analytical understanding of the Indian realities. It would also be immensely useful for Indians—policymakers, the academic community and the public—because it provides an overview of the complexity of the higher education system and analysis of its problems. It presents a robust base to build a progressive and forward-looking policy for higher education.

The book facilitates a clear and holistic understanding of the sector’s complex nature and breaks several myths. The empirical overview maps the ground realities providing a nice international perspective. It gives a macro or an aggregate vision and shows variation. Besides the ideas, arguments and suggestions contained, the book is virtually a reservoir of precious data that will be immensely useful for everyone, who may be interested in understanding the state of higher education in India as well as the global trends.

The book is organized in nine chapters covering almost all contemporary and relevant issues concerning higher education. While, each chapter builds on discussion in the previous ones, yet the chapters can be read independently as well as in conjunction with each other. Large volume of useful data on India is presented in comparative perspective. Thus, the arguments are not merely based on perceptions, but are supported by hard facts. Each chapter has a large number of references and endnotes making it a very useful resource for further research on Indian higher education.

The book has evolved from the ICRIER working paper released in 2006. For over three years, this paper was widely circulated and commented upon. Thus the book has benefited from valuable feedback from many people both from India and abroad. The book is written from the vantage point of an insider as well as a detached observer and academic researcher. It will be a valuable resource for centers of higher education in universities and research organizations, as well as think tanks. It would also be a useful tool for consultants and private organizations working in the higher education sector. It is hoped that this book along with its companion website would help in informed debate on higher education in India.


RC - You were also a Fulbright New Century Scholar 2005-06. Please share your experiences as a visiting scholar to US universities.

PA - With ambiguity in defining its purpose and vagueness about its quality, debate on higher education is usually full of rhetoric, and more so in India. My direct association with higher education policy and practice between 1998 and 2005, first as a Director in the Ministry of Human Resource Development and then as Financial Advisor in the University Grants Commission had left me confused with many unanswered questions.

At that time, my selection as a Fulbright New Century Scholar for 2005-06 was the best thing that could have happened. In the year 2001, going beyond the traditional bilateral exchange format, Fulbright had established the New Century Scholars program for multilateral engagement and multidisciplinary research collaboration to examine topics of global significance. Topic for 2005–06 was ‘Higher Education in the 21st Century: Global Challenges and National Response’.

Long association with the sector enabled me to compete successfully. I was amongst the 31 New Century Scholars from 22 countries in the program. This gave me an opportunity to understand higher education in a global perspective and build enduring relationships with scholars around the world.

As a Fulbrighter, I was a visiting scholar at the Science and Engineering Workforce Program at Harvard University and at the India–China–America Institute at Emory University. I visited new places including some of the best universities in the world and attended very intense seminars on the future of higher education. These were intellectually stimulating and gave new insights.

For me, my Fulbright experience has been incredibly enriching and satisfying. I have gained immensely from this experience and it has been a significant part of my professional and personal journey.


RC - Indian higher education is facing several challenges among which improving access without compromising on quality and cost is the most significant one. What are your key recommendations for overcoming this optimization challenge?

PA - With a growing number of young people, gains in school education and rising prosperity, demand for higher education is rising rapidly. India would have the largest population by 2028 and population of its young (15-24 years) already exceeds that of China. This would put enormous pressure on the Indian higher education. Thus, improving access without compromising on quality and cost is the most significant challenge before India’s higher education.

In recent years, higher education enrolment has shown a healthy growth of about 9 percent annually (though not as dramatic as China, where it has grown nearly 20 percent annually). A major part of this has come from the private sector. While private higher education based on full cost recovery is expensive, fee levels for professional courses even within the public institutions have risen sharply. Thus, there is serious concern about ability of the poor to access higher education.

Besides, fees for general higher education (for which there few willing takers) not being raised, very little is being done to put in place an adequately funded scholarship and loan scheme for the poor. Such an intervention is urgently required to promote inclusion in higher education and address equity issues.

To ensure quality, accreditation agencies have been put in place. Admissions and fees are tightly regulated. Yet, the impact has not been to the desired extent due to a hiatus between what is said and what actually gets done. Due to lack of transparency and fair play (or perception of the same), private institutions do not have incentive to do the right things. Therefore standards continue to fall and some private institutions indulge in gross malpractices creating a poor overall image of private higher education.

Standards in public institutions continue to deteriorate. While, funding is an issue, yet with no competition, flawed personnel policies and dysfunctional governance structures, there is little hope that public institutions would improve. Personnel policies and governance system require to be fixed. Public institutions that are starved of funds definitely require more funds. Many countries of the world now use fund allocation mechanisms to create competitive environment and leverage change. Experience has shown that clear financial incentives enable public institutions to deliver better on goals set as per national policy objectives. Thus, besides increase in level of funding, its use to ensure public funds are used to direct change becomes important.

Overall, in the current scenario, several steps should be taken to improve access without compromising on quality and cost. While domineering role of the private sector would bring in dynamism and foster competition in the sector, it needs right incentives to ensure quality. Regulations need to be rooted in the current realities and applied in a fair and transparent manner. While accepting the fact private sector would result in skewed growth; public institutions would continue to play an important role and need to be supported for the same. There is a need to increase the funding level and use innovative financing mechanism to create incentives for public institution to do the right things and change with time.

Thus, at a time when the Indian economy is at take-off stage, taking into account the current realities, the Government should direct and accelerate the change in the Indian higher education for both public and private institutions to grow and flourish.

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July 16, 2009

Balancing Quality and Quantity in Private Higher Education

In my earlier posting, I discussed about the high quality innovative model of ISB, which is a private institution and has not pursued local approvals from AICTE, but still managed to attain global rank of 15 in the Financial Times ranking. In contrast, the quality of a large number of the private higher education institutions in India, even after being approved by the regulator, ranges from pathetic to poor.

In the last decade, share of private institutions in professional education like engineering and management have increased to nearly 90%. But this expansion came at the expense of the quality (see International Engineering Education by Wadhwa et al.). Who is responsible for poor quality of higher education in India--regulators or institutions?

History suggests that when private players were allowed an opportunity to enter higher education, they misused it for profiteering from students. For example, the Chhattisgarh Private University Act, 2002, which gave state government power to grant registration for a private university without prior permission from authorities, resulted in mushrooming of "universities" that ran from a single room setup. The situation became so grave that the Supreme Court of India ordered closure of 117 universities in 2005.

On the other hand, there are genuine institutions like SP Jain, which have struggled to gain well-deserved recognition from the regulator. Even the panel formed by the ministry of human resource development found that universities consistently experience corruption and inefficiency of the regulator (AICTE). Recent raids on the AICTE chairman and several other senior officials found evidence to unreported income.

It is fair to say that both regulators and institutions have shown their areas of malfunction. This suggests that quality assurance process in Indian higher education has failed and it has not kept pace with the local changes and global best practices resulting in a persistent challenge of balancing quality and accessibility. According to Wadhwa et al. "improving the quality of education and increasing the quantity of those educated are often divergent strategies." The challenges for the policymakers is to optimize quality with quantity, a not so easy task.

What is the solution? A recent report by UNESCO entitled A New Dynamic: Private Higher Education argues that "quality mechanisms must find a balance that ensures high levels of provision while at the same time not constraining appropriate innovation that responds to the evolving public and private education sectors." New Minister of HRD, Kapil Sibal, is considering to merge multiple regulator and create an independent National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) with the objective of balancing innovation and consistency. Thus, at the policy level there is a need for a overhaul of regulation and quality assurance process. At another level, higher education institutions need to work towards improving incentive systems and develop professional culture, so that they can attract top talent for building quality institutions.

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July 12, 2009

Quest for World-Class Institutions in India

Prof. Philip Altbach defined India as "A World-Class Country without World-Class Higher Education." Recently, World Bank released a report entitled The Challenge of Establishing World-Class Universities (Jamil Salmi). It highlights that "Becoming a member of the exclusive group of world-class universities is not achieved by self-declaration; rather, elite status is conferred by the outside world on the basis of international recognition" (p. 15). This is critical as numerous institutions in India have declared themselves to be "world-class." For example, IIPM defines itself to be India's Global B-School; proposed Vedanta University aspires to be a world class and even Prime Minister of India has announced establishment of 14 world class universities in XIth five-year plan. Going by the number of "self-declared" world-class institutions in India, we may end up having more world-class institutions in India than in any other part of the world. This implies that:
1. Definition of world-class university is contextual and subjective at one level

2. At another level, there is a need for defining world-class university in the Indian context for better execution of the vision

World Bank report provides a interesting framework for building world-class universities by leveraging three complementary sets of factors:

(a) a high concentration of talent (faculty and students)

(b) abundant resources to offer a rich learning environment and to conduct advanced research

(c) favorable governance features that encourage strategic vision, innovation, and flexibility and that enable institutions to make decisions and to manage resources without being encumbered by bureaucracy

Likewise, Altbach suggested a combination of conditions and resources for creating world-class universities:

1. Sustained financial support, with an appropriate mix of accountability and autonomy

2. The development of a clearly differentiated academic system—including private institutions—in which academic institutions have different missions, resources, and purposes

3. Managerial reforms and the introduction of effective administration

4. Truly meritocratic hiring and promotion policies for the academic profession, and similarly rigorous and honest recruitment, selection, and instruction of students


Indian institutions need to recognize that achieving world-class standards requires strong committment to global best practices adapted to the local context.
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July 01, 2009

Guru Mantra: P Kishore, Founder & MD, Everonn

Mr. P Kishore
Founder & Managing Director – Everonn Systems India Ltd
Mr. Kishore a first generation entrepreneur had his formative lessons at Breeks Memorial School, Udagamandalam; followed by collegiate education at Coimbatore. He later enhanced his academic credentials with a diploma in commerce. His passion for education finds him in constant learning mode...
He stared his career with Synergistic Software and Management Consultants in the early eighties but soon his inclination towards entrepreneurial initiatives saw him change track.
Kishore who is very passionate about education, ventured into this space to leverage his passion. This saw the birth of Systems International (his first partnership firm). Taking technology to the grass root was Kishore’s vision, his first break towards a national presence came when Government of Tamil Nadu decided to take IT education to the rural expanse via Government schools. Systems International bagged the contract for implementing IT Education at all the 17 schools of Nilgiris District in the year 1999.
The success of his first initiative made Kishore leave no stone unturned to take quality and affordable education to the remotest corners of India. Quenching the knowledge-thirsty segment became is focus.
The need for larger resources to interpret his passion saw the advent of Everonn Systems India Ltd. (ESIL) in the year 2000, and it going public in the year 2007 with an unprecedented oversubscription of 145.57 times, a record yet to be equaled.
Kishore’s dynamic leadership saw Everonn enter the virtual space of education and training delivery through the VSAT platform. This initiative made it possible for Everonn to take quality education, delivered by iconic faculty at affordable prices… pan India, empowering every life it touched. Kishore graduated from providing for educational institutions to life long requirements.
“K to life” became his Mantra. He occupied every space; from Kindergarten to Secondary education to entrance examination coaching to colleges to testing to addressing the needs of the employed segment… this elevated him to a “360 degree education and training solution provider status”. Everonn’s high-end content and technology divisions support this.
‘Revolutionalize and Transform the Educational Landscape of India’ by crafting the finest of institutions that would place our nation on a global platform is the next on Kishore’s agenda. He will translate this dream into reality through the mammoth project “Educating India”.
His busy schedule never kept him away from working for the betterment of less fortunate. His compassion for this faction has seen him spearhead several social initiatives. Projects to address basic amenities (education, health) of this group have always been dear to him.
He has had the distinction of being the youngest Rotary President of the District, and the Citizen Forum, Ooty. He also served as the Secretary of the Nilgiris Civil Rights Society and as President of the Nilgiris Deaf and Dumb Association for over 5 years.


RC- What do you find exciting about your role as Founder and MD of Everonn Systems?
PK- I associate the word Passion to “Education” and excitement is a default suffix to it. Everything about education and reaching it to every single child in the Indian subcontinent excites me. The thought of bringing light into the lives of the student community is an unexplainable excitement, an instant gush of adrenaline!

Overcoming challenges and obstacles to take the student fraternity from the taught to learn and then to the experiential learning mode, is a challenge that excites me.


RC- You have built an innovative education model leveraging online platforms and public-private partnerships in the form of Everonn. What are the major trends/opportunities you are witnessing in your domain?
PK- Let me start with how I reached here…
How does one measure education? To me, it is “Good content” consistently delivered by “Good faculty”... The next on my agenda was how to reach this to the remotest corners of our nation. This made me explore and exploit the technology route. That was the advent of Everonn’s Virtual & Technology Enabled Learning Solutions – ViTELS. This VSAT (Very Small Aperture Terminal) enabled virtual platform facilitated delivery of content by iconic faculty from Chennai, through a 2-way live video-audio mode; where the teacher and the taught interacted, peers interacted. Everonn, the pioneers in VSAT enabled delivery, today has close to 1400 networked educational intuitions, which makes Everonn the largest networked Education Company in India.

On the present scenario…
With the liberalization of Indian Education system on the cards, the slated influx of foreign students & universities into India, and the proposed plans of Indian varsities to go abroad, the opportunities are huge in this domain.

We are fast moving into an era where foreign students’ influx into India for studies is on an unprecedented high. And on the other hand, Foreign Universities are awaiting Government of India’s final verdict on their entry to India to set up campuses. With Mr. Kapil Sibal – Union Minister of MHRD, who is keen to allow foreign institutions to come to India, the wait doesn’t seem too long. The Minister adds that the only way to prevent the exodus of nearly 60000 students from India every year is by allowing foreign institutions to come in. (source Deccan Chronicle, Chennai 19th June).

A lot is to be done to improve the quality and access to education and this is where the actual challenge and opportunity lies for the Government and Private players like us.

RC- You are one of the early spotters of entrepreneurial opportunity in education in India. What do you believe are critical success factors for an education entrepreneur?
PK- Education system is most inefficient in India, with 40% absenteeism, 93% dropouts (who don’t get into the higher education space), the biggest challenge is to get them to enroll and to retain. Opening up more avenues for PPP (Private Public Partnership) mode would accelerate this process.

The increase in the outlay by the Government for its flagship project Sarva Sikshya Abhiyan by nearly Rs.3000 crores this year; taking it to Rs.27,042 crores against Rs.24,124 crores in the previous is very positive.

To put it simple the Critical success factors – Execution and Delivery of Excellence
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