Will Indian Higher Education Get Freedom from Corruption?

This month, India celebrated its sixty-fourth year of independence, however, freedom from the slavery of corruption is elusive. India has a long history of corruption and some of the recent cases in this “season of scams” are:

  • Commonwealth Games: The Comptroller and Auditor General of India found that the final cost of the Games was 16 times the original estimate of $270 million to over $4billion. The head of the CWG is now serving jail time for charges of misappropriation.
  • 2G Scam: The Comptroller and Auditor General of India found that the goverment lost revenue to the tune of US$ 39 billion due to corruption and favoritism to particular telecom companies during spectrum allocation. Former minister is in jail and Kapil Sibal replaced him as telecom minister, who is also higher education minister.

I have been writing for a while about the lack of quality and professional standards in Indian higher education. There have been numerous reports about the corruption with Indian regulatory bodies and even institutions working as pseudo-non-profits. Of course,  sheer in terms of money, higher education corruption seems tiny as compared to CWG and 2G scams, but the basic cause is no different. The primary cause is a hyper-competitive environment for resources where compromising on ethics and engaging with corruption is the easiest and fastest way to move ahead.

The scope of corruption is at all levels although the scale differs. Politicians blame businessmen, businessmen blame politicians and common man blames both, but even common man is engaged in corruption when he pays bribe to get some work done.

In this environment any reform or change is an opportunity for more corruption as this cartoon strip from K. Raja shows:

I recently watched a Hindi movie ‘Aarakshan’, which blasted the crass commercialization of education in India and how inequality and caste system is even manifested in the business of higher education. It was developed on the background of controversial reservation policy where nearly 50% of seats in public institutions were reserved for students from underserved minorities. I was amazed at how closely it was able to depict what’s wrong with Indian higher education (of course, discounting the melodrama and entertaining songs expected from a Bollywood movie). It simply asked are you participating in the corrupt system or working towards changing it?

Anna Hazare is one man working towards changing the system of corruption. He has emerged as a voice of the middle class which is fed up of corruption. Hazare is asking government to draft a new law an independent ombudsman, to investigate and prosecute corrupt officials. Here is a very interesting debate on NDTV on this topic.

While Anna Hazare movement is not going to solve all the problems of corruption in India, it certainly has shown the frustration of Indian middle class with the rotten nexus of business, bureaucrats and politics. However, the real change lies with one’s will power to say no to corruption at any cost. As Clayton Christensen, Professor, Harvard Business School in his article How Will You Measure Your Life? notes “…it’s easier to hold to your principles 100% of the time than it is to hold to them 98% of the time.”

Many of the problems of higher education will get resolved when the blame game stops and individuals and institutions set high principles for themselves by not engaging with corruption at any level. Of course, a solid quality assurance and regulatory system which is corruption-free will make the freedom sustainable.

Dr. Rahul Choudaha

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