Higher Education – RUSA, NIRF, HEFA, etc.

How to grow better colleges


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Improving the colleges

The article highlights the important role students can play in improving the quality of colleges and institution in India.

Improving the colleges

  • The global QS ranking is out and India has 12 universities and institutions in the top-100 in particular subjects.
  • We have many colleges offering higher education but typically they are not very good.
  • Today, with a huge number of students going to college, education is tied strongly to career prospects.
  • If studying and thinking harder do not lead to even a decent chance of career improvement, it is natural for most students to lose academic ambition.

Career prospects in various colleges

  • For admission in IIT, many work extremely hard to secure admission, but then lose motivation and drift towards near-certain graduation.
  • IIT admission is a value signal to future employers who do not see much relevance in the actual syllabus.
  • The entry wall is high, the exit wall is low, and the four-year syllabus is an obstacle course between the student and an employer with whom eye contact was made from atop the entry wall itself.
  • Students of varied subjects thus remain uninterested in their core syllabi.
  • Lower-ranked colleges may attract a slightly different mix of employment prospects, some in core areas.
  • In many colleges, both good and bad ones, high grades correlate only loosely with career outcomes. 

Improving the college

  • Very few jobs actually require the highest quality education — the best academic and research jobs.
  • In such a system, it may not be worthwhile or even practical for a mediocre college to unilaterally improve itself.
  • Having improved, it remains to convince society that it deserves to displace the pre-eminent colleges at the top.
  • For lower-ranking colleges to improve itself, its students must first see useful value in a better education.
  • That requires system-wide growth in opportunity.

How to achieve system-wide growth in opportunity

  • Such growth cannot be legislated from above. It must occur organically, from below.
  • There are several stakeholders involved in such transition.
  • 1) At the top are policymakers.
  • Policymakers are trying and have achieved many things.
  • In recent years, however, our demographics have caught up with us.
  • We have more than 650 million people under age 25.
  • No other country is close. We need more than policies.
  • 2) Next is industry. It faces a learning curve for technology.
  • Countries that wish to lead must develop their own technology, even at high cost.
  • Indian industry can often choose between importing slightly older technology from outside or developing things in-house.
  • A slow growth in the latter has begun and may pull our college system upward over time.
  • 3) Our next stakeholders are college teachers.
  • For a college to flourish, it needs many students who compete to enroll.
  • Our entrance exams for good engineering colleges are hard.
  • Our nationally renowned degree colleges which admit based on board marks are frequently forced to set very high cutoffs.
  • The need for more engineering colleges, for many students who are clearly good enough, has led to the creation of several private colleges that teach well in large volumes.
  • Quality of teachers’ is improving.
  • College teachers improve as their employers aim higher, and as their students bring more into the classroom.
  • 4) Finally, we have students. If students demand better instruction, colleges will sooner or later supply it.

Way forward for students

  • Students must aim to relate their learning to society.
  • They must see their learning not as an obstacle course but as an initiation into a process that yields tangible long-term value.
  • Indian society does not merely have people looking for work.
  • It also has work looking for people: Work in food, health, design, manufacturing, transport, safety, garbage, water, energy, farming, and a hundred other things that we can do better.
  • Room for improvement is plentiful, though the market models may not be efficient or mature yet.
  • The walls between our classrooms and our lives must be broken, if our colleges are to flourish.
  • In recent decades, India has also attracted much work from overseas. Growth in that direction may well be sustained.

Consider the question “India has many colleges and institutions offering higher education but few could get the spot in the list of top global institutes. Examine the factors responsible for this. Suggest the measures to deal with this issue.”


Such change, driven by student aspirations, will be organic, bottom-up, and unstoppable.

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