What is common and what is uncommon?
Higher education in India can’t be dictated by middle class mania like merit only. We have to design a higher education system that shape and strengthens the Indian social and cultural fabric and also enriches life of the common man with a unique Indian personality. With traditions and India’s long history of colonialism and social oppression a more modern and more equitable and libertarian social order is needed.
November 1st is the deadline for college admissions in the USA. There are 7,800 “higher education institutions” in the USA. There is a fierce competition for entry as it is widely considered that a college degree is the only route to a successful middle class career in the USA. There is a well-funded federal education loan scheme and there are also rankings of students who take what is called the SAT and other entrance exams.
As we know that among the best performing ethnic groups, the Indians and the Chinese and other Asian groups do well in these exams but lately, there is a certain Indian type quota system in admissions, specially, into the Ivy League colleges, MIT, Harvard, Yale and Princeton and others of this category.
The new information is (as reported in the two page essay in the latest The Economist magazine, October 31, 2015) that now it is not the entrance scores that matter but also other factors like the emergence of what is called “for-profit” universities. In other words those private universities give competition to the elite and old fashioned government/state funded public universities.
It emerges from the latest write-up that, surprisingly, it is not the top names, like Harvard or MIT that offer the highest paying jobs but the humble ones, the names are obscure, some pharmacy colleges: the Massachusetts, St. Louis and St Albany college of pharmacy which guarantee six figure salaries within a few years. The article says with certain irony, that those who fill up the prescription forms behind a counter are earning more than the well-qualified 28-year old surgeons who are lagging behind the 28-year old pharmacists!
While the latter know that this salary figure is the only route to upper middle class status in America why bother about the merit and elite college tag at all? One more area of high earning employment is in the maritime services. The article names some colleges root for this subject.
So, what comes out clearly in the latest higher education scenario in the USA is that while there is recognition of academic merit in the Indian sense, scoring high marks in your many entrance exams as we have here in India, there is also the new reality of the market forces dictating which sectors offer higher wages and which not.
We can suspect that very soon in the USA too it will be all job market dynamics that would devise the courses, very much like what we had a few years ago and what is still very relevant that the mushrooming of the engineering colleges almost upset the educational field with more and more second and third grade engineering graduates who had all went on to render the engineering courses to ridiculous levels.
We are also seeing more and more the latest argument that our higher education doesn’t turn out graduates with required ‘skills’. In the USA too there is now talk about graduates turning out without the needs of the job market. Americans are known for their elaborate data and analysis about the trends in higher education. In India we don’t have such data. We don’t even know how many graduates are coming out of our colleges and also the very quality of these degrees. For example we have in India the deemed university products. Also, we have the graduates from open universities, why the distance schools of education.
In fact, the every state-funded public university themselves are turning out substandard products.
We have our own sources which say that sometimes the government college students where there is no capitation fee, are better motivated, they are willing to work hard and satisfy the employers than the ones who enter college by paying capitation fee with no merit and so they are less motivated and prove to be a drag in the job market. Capitation fee college education, be it a medical degree or an engineering degree, is a subject that needs to be debated by educators.
It is not the case that all IIT graduates do well in later life. What about Satya Nadella who went to a capitation fee paying engineering college and yet ended up as the world’s top Microsoft man!
The point here is what should be the future pattern of higher education in India? What is the future of the liberal arts degree courses? How the future of higher sciences courses to be organized? How long we are going to be obsessed with computer and engineering degree courses? How competitive a nation we would become in terms of higher researches in the social sciences, sports and arts and many other cultural and humanities fields?
The new government has constituted an education commission. That’s fine. Unfortunately, it has all officials, no independent and credible names. It is a pity.