Reimagining Indian Higher Education: A Social Ecology of Higher-Education Institutions
by William G. Tierney & Nidhi S. Sabharwal - 2018
Background/Context: Developing countries desire institutions ranked as "world-class," and want to increase postsecondary participation. Limited public monies require decisions that usually augment the welfare of one objective at the expense of another. An additional conundrum concerns the need for quality assurances. Research needs to be rigorous; students need to be well trained. The authors suggest that the social ecology of higher education has a crucial role to play in India. The challenges are whether to accommodate rapid expansion, how to improve the overall quality of the system, and invest in a research infrastructure.
Purpose/Objective/Research Questions/Focus of Study: The article’s purpose is to ask if the social ecology of postsecondary education that has been created in India is in its best interests. Social ecology refers to the universe of postsecondary organizations that account for the 35,357 institutions in India. Insofar as the ecology is "social," the citizens and government determine the shape of the ecology. The authors first offer a traditional definition of what has been meant by the public good and then turn to a consideration of India’s social ecology of higher education. The article’s purpose then, is specific to India and more generalized to postsecondary education in a globalized world. The text situates the institutions and systems of higher education into a social ecology that until recently has been framed by the idea of a public good.
Setting: The study took place in India during 2015–2016.
Research Design: The text is an analytic essay that utilized secondary texts pertaining to the structure and quality of the postsecondary system in India.
Conclusions/Recommendations: The authors suggest that the ‘“alphabet soup” of institutional forms that currently exists in India does not serve the country well; the taxonomy tends to obscure, rather than clarify, roles and responsibilities. They argue that a new social ecology of higher education needs to be put forward that streamlines relationships, clarifies roles and regulations, improves data analysis, and focuses on quality rather than quantity.
In much of the world, those concerned about developing policies for higher education in a country are on the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand, a countrys politicians and people increasingly desire institutions ranked as world class in one of the various rankings (Altbach, 2003; Salmi, 2009). On the other hand, most, but not all, countries believe they have a need to significantly increase participation in the postsecondary sector in order to meet workforce needs (Varghese, 2015; Varghese & Panigrahi, 2015). The goals of enhancing the research output of an institution and creating policies geared toward massification are frequently, but not always, in conflict with one another (Tierney & Lanford, 2017). Insofar as there are not unlimited resources to spend, federal and state monies require decisions to be made that usually augment the welfare of one objective at the expense of another.
An additional challenge pertains to the degree that public monies support the infrastructure for colleges and universities to stimulate economic development and/or enable more students to attend a postsecondary institution to acquire jobs (Tierney, 2012). Such a goal highlights the need for quality assurances. Research needs to be of a kind that assumes rigor and excellence. Students need to be educated in a manner that enables them to be well trained for the workforce and citizenship. The point, of course, is not simply to do research of questionable quality or to have students attend an institution where they learn nothing. Indeed, such an issue has been a concern for over a generation.
Perhaps nowhere are these issues more pressing than in the worlds largest democracyIndia. India has no institutions that are ranked in the top 100 of any league tables. Although the government has called for the expansion of higher education, participation rates remain low relative to other countries. Extensive criticism exists about what is learned in the nations postsecondary system either because students cannot find employment upon graduation or because employers claim that students are not well educated. As Naik (1979) has observed, the simultaneous pursuit of equality of opportunity and improvement of standards in the face of scarce resources confronts Indian education with a dilemma common to many countries (p. 167).
India, then, is both emblematic of the challenges that higher education faces throughout the world, but also unique. A country with a population of 1.2 billion people matters not only to the citizens of the country but also to the rest of the world. A well-educated citizenry for a country of the magnitude of India has national, regional, and global implications. However, the call for the rapid expansion of higher education has been coupled with a belief that the country cannot afford to pay for public higher education. The route that has been taken has largely been through the privatization of the system. Approximately two-thirds of Indian students are currently enrolled in private colleges and universities.
As we shall elaborate, until late in the 20th century education through most of the world was seen as what we shall define as a public good. The assumption was that education benefited the nation; hence, funding for education should be borne by the citizenry rather than the individual. At the same time, private colleges and universities also have co-existed in many countries such as the United States. Other countries such as Brazil, Korea, Japan and the Philippines have had a private higher education system that may account for as much as 80% of the student population. Nevertheless, public higher education has been more the norm than the exception throughout the world.
In this paper, we shall argue that an obsession over whether private higher education is good or bad is largely flawed. Assumptions that private postsecondary institutions are inevitably better than their public counterparts or that, to ensure access and equity, the public system must be the sole provider benefit neither the country nor the consumer/student. Instead, we shall suggest that both private and public higher education have a crucial role to play, and we shall do so by an informed analysis of Indian higher education. We acknowledge the twofold desire to have world-class universities and, at the same time, enable millions of new entrants into higher education in order to improve the economic prospects of the individual and society. The challenge for India is to accommodate rapid expansion, to improve the overall quality of the system, and to simultaneously invest in a research infrastructure that enables some institutions to be listed among the top 100 institutions in the world. The conversation, however, all too frequently turns on the notion that the private sector is the answer, or that the public sector must reassert itself after a generation of dormancy.
Our purpose here is to ask if the social ecology of postsecondary education that has been created in India is in its best interests. By social ecology, we are referring to the universe of postsecondary organizations that account for the 35,357 institutions in India. Obviously, insofar as the ecology is social, the shape of the ecology is determined by the citizens and government. To understand how these institutions have been constructed and how they might be reconstructed, we first offer a traditional definition of what has been meant by the public good. We then turn to a consideration of the system of higher education in order to demonstrate what the social ecology currently entails. We then rethink the various forms of institutions in Indias higher-education system and suggest that the alphabet soup of institutional forms that currently exists does not serve the country well insofar as the taxonomy tends to obscure, rather than clarify, roles and responsibilities. In essence, we are arguing that a new social ecology of higher education needs to be put forward that streamlines relationships, clarifies roles and regulations, improves data analysis, and focuses on quality rather than quantity. Through our analysis, we shall suggest that, rather than propose even more expansionof either private or public institutionsto a system that lacks quality control, for the near-term future, the emphasis should be on increasing the overall quality of the system.
Our purpose here, then, is both specific to India and more generalized to postsecondary education in a globalized world. We wish to situate the institutions and systems of higher education into a social ecology that, until recently, has been framed by the idea of a public good. Our suggestions matter to how one thinks about Indian higher education, but they also highlight how to think about the social ecology of other countries. We are purposefully trying to move away from the notion of a system that needs to support either a privatized or a public system. Instead, we shall suggest that various forms have a role to play if they are understood in the framework presented here. At present, however, as we shall demonstrate, Indias system seems largely intended to obscure relationships, and the result is a system in disarray that serves no one particularly well.
DEFINING THE PUBLIC GOOD
A robust literature about the nature of public goods has existed for well over a century (e.g., Carnoy, Froumin, Loyalka, & Tilak, 2014; Hansmann, 1987; Pusser, 2002). Initially, a public good was merely something that the citizenry held in common and lost if they did not collectively maintain it (Calhoun, 2009). A public park, a clean marketplace, and roads were common examples. Over time, however, a theory of public goods has developed: A public good is something a nation-state provides to all citizens that is of benefit to the country. Everyone will be able to utilize the public good, and the cost does not rise or fall based on the individual. Defense of a countrys borders is the clearest example of a public good. All citizens enjoy the defense of the country; the cost does not change because of additional individuals, and different individuals do not pay different costs to be protected. Sanitary conditions in a country are another example of a public good. There is a public benefit to containing malaria and other diseases so that they do not spread; the cost to contain the disease varies little based on the population, and if a concerted effort is made to contain the disease, then all benefit, not merely a chosen few.
Traditionally, public goods have been characterized by three key terms: non-rivalry, non-excludability, and externalities (Vaknin, 2003). The idea of non-rivalry is that providing the good to an additional individual or group is insignificant. As opposed to a private good that is enjoyed only by those who own it, a public good is available to all. A private good is a personal car; the owner decides who rides in the car and where it goes. In part, the subway is a public good because it is subsidized; everyone is able to ride on the subway. Even though a passenger usually pays a price, the real cost is borne by the citizenry through public monies. Non-excludability suggests that no one can be excluded from a public good or from participating in the cost. The citizenry pays for the construction of the subway; no one is barred from traveling on it. Individuals also do not have the option to opt out of the cost of the creation and maintenance of the public good. Public goods, stated Vaknin (2003), impose costs and benefits on othersindividuals or firmsoutside the marketplace and their effects are only partially reflected in prices and market transactions (p. 1). Such a comment underscores the idea of externalities: Public goods defy market classification because they are worth more than they cost, although their actual cost often cannot be determined.
The decision about whether something is a public good shifts over time, and will be defined differently in different nations. In the 19th century United States, for example, protection from a fire was the responsibility of private companies that individuals paid to protect their homes. If a fire started in someones house, then the private company arrived to put out the fire. If the fire spread to a neighbors, but the neighbor did not have fire insurance from that specific company, then the private company let the house burn. Eventually, such a strategy seemed ill advised, and fire protection became a public good. Fire companies, supported through public monies, existed in local communities and raced to put out fires irrespective of whose house was burning.
Conversely, police are a public good that is becoming privatized in industrialized countries. A generation ago, security in a city meant that the police patrolled the streets as a public good. Over the last generation, however, the upper class in urban centers has felt unsafe, and the result is the rise of private security firms and gated communities. Although a causal relationship cannot be established, surely there is a linkage between those who lobby for lower taxes, which results in fewer public services, and an increase in private services that once fell within the domain of the public, such as a police force.
Higher education has been seen as a public good in many countries and as a quasi-public good in others. The United States, as a decentralized system where state funding and support for higher education is critical, varies from state to state. A general proposition, however, is that the costs of a postsecondary degree, especially a bachelors degree, should at least involve the individual and the state. In other countries, such as Mexico or Saudi Arabia, the state assumes virtually the entire cost of higher education because it is seen as a public good. In many respects, higher education is neither strictly public (such as national defense) nor strictly private (such as a private business).
Higher education is not a pure public good; instead, it might be thought of as an impure public good. Universities are able to exclude individuals, for example, although some systems have open access for all via community colleges or a national university. Not everyone has access to universal higher education. Private research universities have received significant public funding to conduct basic and applied research because the outcome has been viewed as benefiting the public.
Further, higher education is a site where externalities exist such that the user bears neither all the costs nor all the benefits. That is, externalities certainly occur where a student will reap benefits not only for him or herself, but also for society, by the inculcation of values and job skills. Research and knowledge generation is another externality, if that knowledge is freely shared and made available to everyone, regardless of who had a hand in producing it.
How one defines a private, nonprofit university may differ from country to country. In the United States, for example, a clear distinction exists between for-profit and nonprofit private universities. A for-profit college or university may be publicly traded, and the Board will generate revenue for the shareholders. Alternatively, the institution is privately owned, and the owners seek to generate a profit for themselves. A nonprofit generates no external revenue for Board members or senior staff. A for-profit institution generally spends much more on recruitment because it wants its product to increase, whereas nonprofit institutions generally have very little incentive to increase. In India, for-profit postsecondary institutions are not allowed. However, many postsecondary observers in India view private universities as profit-making entities. A family, for example, may provide the funds to start the institution, but the senior administrators may pay themselves significant salaries and pay consultants. While some critics in India criticize this practice, the same sorts of salaries are being paid to senior administrators (though not Board members) in the United States. The salaries of senior administrators at private (and, to a certain extent, public) universities are beginning to generate criticism in the United States. Further, the sorts of land deals that are frequently made to start a private university in India that could generate significant revenue or savings for a founder and his/her family are relatively unheard of in the United States with regard to private nonprofit (and for-profit) institutions.
We now turn to a consideration of how India creates and maintains its postsecondary system in order to understand its current social ecology. Although, as noted above, the country has forbidden for-profit higher education, there has been a tradition of private higher education.1 More recently, the private system of higher education has experienced enormous growth largely by investors or privately held companies. Some have argued that the country is not well served by a private system of providers, even if they are ostensibly nonprofit (Kapur, 2010; Kapur & Mehta, 2007). Proponents of private higher education will argue that the real problem pertains to the red tape and regulations of the government that strangles innovation (Kumar, 2013). The result is that few individuals are proponents of the current system, and virtually no one will suggest that Indias postsecondary institutionsprivate or public are close to being ranked in the top 200 universities in the world at a time when a competitorChinahas had seven ranked in the last decade. Further, even though there are no formal projections about specific workforce needs, many argue that the system needs to expand dramatically in order for students to be able to learn the skills required to be effective in a job. Virtually everyone bemoans the quality of private and public institutions. Many will ask what utility is expansion if the product is poor and the outcomes for students are negligible.
The result is that the way forward to meeting the needs of current and future students remains unclear and controversial, largely because its social ecology has been framed in a particular manner. Of consequence, what role the private and public sectors should play is uncertain and much debated. After offering a new way to think of the social ecology of Indias postsecondary system, we shall suggest that both private and public providers have a crucial role to play, that better data are essential in order to accurately forecast workforce needs, and that for the immediate future, quality over quantity should be the goal. Such an analysis is framed by a reinvigorated notion of the public good that should shape the social ecology of higher education.
THE STATE AND HIGHER EDUCATION: THE CASE OF INDIA
India, like virtually all other countries in the world, has seen a dramatic increase in the number of students attending postsecondary institutions and the number of institutions that have been established (Agarwal, 2007). However, the massification occurred when Indias per-capita income and GDP were far below that of other countries with similar enrollment ratios (Kapur, 2016). As we discuss below, the nomenclature used to define a postsecondary institution in India can be confusing, and, we shall suggest, counterproductive. However, in 1950, by comparison, the country had 605 postsecondary institutions (MHRD/GOI, 2007), and in 2013 it had 35,357 (MHRD/GOI, 2015).2 In 1950, approximately 0.4 million (MHRD/GOI, 2007) students enrolled in those 605 institutions, whereas in 2013 there were 32.3 million (MHRD/GOI, 2015). The greatest increase in institutions and students has occurred in the 21st century. In 200203, for example, there were 12,080 institutions and approximately 10.7 million students (MHRD/GOI, 2007). The result is that India currently has the second largest postsecondary sector in the world, following China, and is set to have the most students attending postsecondary institutions within a decade (Kapur, 2010).
Such an increase, both over a 75-year period and since the turn of the century, is not particularly surprising. As has been suggested elsewhere (Tierney, 2015), education has long been seen as a route out of poverty and as a primary means for economic development in a country. The result is that massification has become of critical importance, particularly in the developing world. The challenge for India has been that its increase has come at a time when the resources were not available in a manner similar to its counterparts (Kapur, 2016). For example, Indias GDP per capita is around $5,000 when its GER is 25%, whereas the GDP per capita of the United Kingdom was more than $15,000, and Chinas $10,000, when the GER was 25% (Kapur, 2016). Nevertheless, globalization has only increased the perception that more individuals need some sort of postsecondary education as the world moves from an economy based on goods and services to one increasingly described as a knowledge economy (Tierney, 2009). However, Indias increase in students is not based on projections of needs in the workforce; rather, the push for an increase turns on the numbers of students who graduate from high school. In many respects, such an assumption seems warranted for a country concerned about equity. If the middle and upper classes gain a postsecondary education, why should the system not expand in order to enable more people to have access to higher education? The challenge turns on the dilution of quality as the system expands and the lack of jobs when students graduate.
This increase in institutions and student enrolment reflects our earlier points about globalization and tertiary education. As Muhammad, Chan, Suhaimi, and Suzyrman (2006) have noted, like many developing countries across the globe, education, particularly at [the] tertiary level, is seen as an instrument of social mobility (p. 4). Indias assumption is that a high-school degree is no longer sufficient for gainful employment for a significant percentage of a countrys population, even though there are no data to suggest that the needs of the workforce requires the current number of graduates, much less an increase in graduation rates. Successive Indian governments also decided that the demand for tertiary education exceeded their capacity to provide public higher education solely through the traditional mechanisms of taxation and appropriations (Altbach, 2014).
Although the surge in enrollment deserves a great deal of critical analysis on multiple levels, six key points warrant discussion before considering a new social ecology of higher education:
APPRECIATING THE RISE IN PRIVATE INSTITUTIONS
Private higher education has experienced massive growth over the last quarter century. As noted above, although some countries, such as the United States, Chile, Japan, and Brazil, have had an established private nonprofit postsecondary sector, India did not have a particularly significant number of private institutions until the 21st century (Tierney, 2010). The government has outlawed private for-profit institutions, but, beginning in 2005, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of institutions defined as private colleges or universities. One additional important point here is that there has been an increase in the number of private institutions in the post-independence era but a decrease in private investment in education in general. It is because private institutions depend on tuition fees rather than donations. Private philanthropy contributed 24.3% of the total expenditure in India in the beginning of the 20th century, at the time of independence it was 14% and in the 1990s it was 3.5% (Azad, 2008, p. 116).
In 1950, for example, there were 578 colleges; many of these were private colleges (Agarwal, 2009; MHRD/GOI, 2007), but there were no private universities. Roughly 70% of these were general colleges, and the remainder were for professional education. In 2006, there were 10 private universities and 13,400 private colleges (Agarwal, 2009, pp. 3, 91). By 2013, there were 153 private universities and around 22,100 private colleges (MHRD/GOI, 2015). As we discuss below, how one defines private is not particularly clear; however, the number of institutions that are now thought of as private colleges or universities has grown exponentially. Indeed, the fastest growing postsecondary sector in India is its private universities and colleges.
UNDERSTANDING WHERE STUDENTS ATTEND
Private institutions are experiencing significant growth. The vast majority of Indias 37,357 institutions3 are private collegesapproximately 22,100 (MHRD/GOI, 2015). The size of institutions, however, covers a dramatic range. Some private institutions such as Patel College of Education, Bhopal MP, and Nalanda College of Education, Uttrakhand, only have 98 and 94 students, repectively (Patel College of Education, 2015; Nalanda College of Education, 2010). At the other extreme, CMR College of Engineering & Technology, Andhra Pradesh, and Thapar Institute of Engineering and Technology University, Patiala, have 1,266 and 6,226 students, respectively (CMR College of Engineering & Technology, 2014; Thapar Institute of Engineering and Technology University, 2015).
In India, the absolute number of public institutions compared to private colleges and universities is in the ratio of 1:3 (see Table 1). In addition, there has been a shift in college-going attendance. The private sector currently accounts for approximately 59% of all postsecondary enrollment (Varghese, Malik, & Gautam, 2015). In 2001, and then again in 2006, the share of enrollment of private, unaided postsecondary institutions increased from 32.90% to 51.53% (PC/GOI, 2008, p. 23). Many observers assume that private higher education will continue to grow while the public sector atrophies (Kumar, 2008; Kapur & Mehta, 2007).
It is also useful to note who attends public and private institutions. That is, India has a long history of students who study abroad, usually in the United Kingdom, the United States, or Australia. The most recent data point out that, in 2012, there were 189,472 students studying abroad (MHRD/GOI, 2014). Except for the few exceptional students who warranted either governmental or institution-specific grants, these are students who largely come from the middle and upper classes, where their parents can afford not only the costs incurred by sending a child abroad, but also the costs of tuition and fees.
Table 1. Delineating Private and Public Colleges and Universities, 201314
Note. From MHRD/GOI, 2005.
The result is that, as in every country, a divide exists across economic class with regard to where students attend college. The reasons for the divide are not that different from what occurs in other countries. Low-income students are more likely to live at home, because they do not have the funding to pay for lodging. Middle and upper class students have the ability to attend institutions far from their homes because they can afford travel costs. Family responsibilities are often greater for the poor; students may need to take a job in order to help support the family. In addition, of course, the fees associated with attending a private institution may be too burdensome for low-income students. The upshot is that low-income students are more likely to attend a public institution, where fees and related costs are lower than a private institution. In 2007, for example, when one divides college attendance into low, middle, and upper class, we see that 56% of students considered poor attended public institutions, whereas 45% of middle-class and 57% of upper-class students attended private higher education institutions (Table 2a).
In 2014, with respect to excluded social groups such as scheduled tribes (STs), scheduled castes (SCs), and other backward classes (OBCs) that experience a high incidence of poverty,4 we see that 59% of the students from the STs, 49% of the students from the SCs, and 38% of the students from the OBC group attended public institutions. However, 59% of students from the higher caste (others) attended private higher-education institutions (NSSO/GOI, 2014).
Table 2a. Public/Private by Class: 2007
Note. From NSSO/GOI, 2007.
Table 2b. Public/Private by Social Group: 2014
Note. From NSSO/GOI, 2014.
CONSIDERING HOW PUBLIC MONIES ARE SPENT
In the previous section, we pointed out how public goods largely have been defined as public funds used to support a public institution. Only in the last generation has there been a shift, and individuals have argued persuasively that public funds might go to a private organization that supports a public good. The result in the United States, for example, is that public funding in some cities and states is utilized by private charter schools that educate elementary and secondary students.
In India, however, this has been the course that has been pursued with increasing aggressiveness over the last half-century. The government became heavily involved in the financing of private institutions beginning in the 1960s (Agarwal, 2009, p. 71). By 2013, 4,379 private postsecondary institutions received formal public support from state governments (MHRD, 2015). The states of Haryana and Maharashtra, for example, have publicly supported private colleges such as the DAV College of Education, Punjab, and the DAV College, Mumbai (DAV College of Education, 2013; DAV College, Mumbai, 2015).
Table 3. Fee structures: Public and Private
Note. Compiled from various fee structures of the respective colleges and universities.
EXAMINING THE FEES RELATED TO ATTENDING AN INSTITUTION
Related to where students gain a postsecondary education and what public monies support is the question of how much an institution costs to attend. Although calculating costs can be confusing and contradictory, such an exercise does provide a baseline on which consumer choice often revolves and could highlight how a government spends its monies. Poor students in the United States, for example, often eschew consideration of a private college or university because they believe the costs will be exorbitant, even though federal and state support may make the institution less costly than a comparable public institution. Similarly, public funds that go to the student/consumer, rather than the institution, ostensibly provide the individual with public monies to attain a public good. The government, from this perspective, is providing the citizenry with a choice about where to gain a public good instead of assuming the good must be provided by a public entity.
Prices vary according to the institution one attends. Moreover, some private institutions provide grants for students who are unable to pay the costs of attending. However, average costs across institutions vary according to institutional type and form. In 2013, for example, the average cost of one year of attendance at a public central (federal) university for a bachelors degree was around Rs. 370 (JNU, 2016).5 Moreover, the cost of attending a state university ranged from Rs 4719 at Lucknow University, Uttar Pradesh (Lucknow University, 2015), to Rs 5113 at Kurukshetra University, Haryana (Kurukshetra University, 2016). The cost associated with attendance at private universities at an undergraduate level, such as Shiv Nadar University, Uttar Pradesh, is Rs. 2,64,500 (Shiv Nadar University, 2015); for OP Jindal University, it is 7,65,000 per year (OP Jindal University, 2014). Private-aided college costs were Rs. 3,742 (Jai Hind College, 2013), and private-unaided costs were Rs 76,200 (excluding hostel fees) and Rs. 1,26,000 (including hostel fees; KITM, 2015). The result is not that surprising and follows a historical trajectory: Public institutions cost less than private institutions. At the same time, fees are rising at all institutions.
DETERMINING THE QUALITY AND COSTS OF POSTSECONDARY INSTITUTIONS
The cost-benefit of attending a postsecondary institution is arguably one of the most complex and debated areas of higher-education research. The analysis hinges on a great many factors that turn on how one interprets existing data, as well as data that presumably will exist once an individual attains employment. One question, for example, pertains to the ability of a student to get a job when he or she completes the requirements for a degree. In part, colleges and universities need to train individuals for jobs that may not yet exist. Prognostications about what jobs the economy will need in a decade are marked by historical inaccuracy, although some information is known. Obviously, there will be a greater need for graduates with computer skills than simple secretarial typing skills. Similarly, a student may be trained for a job that provides employment, but the costs associated with that training may be so high as to be prohibitive. Is it possible, for example, that another institution can provide a similar education at a lower cost? Such a question is particularly pertinent with regard to the rise of online and distance learning. The assumption has been that online learning can be done at a much cheaper cost than traditional formats of education, although that has yet to be realized. These two questions also are critical for an analysis of Indias higher-education system. Many suggest that students are not being trained for the right jobs (PC/GOI, 2013, p 139) and that they face unemployment upon graduation.
Although such data are far from perfect and comes with multiple caveats, we do know, ironically, that the rate of unemployment in India tends to increase with the level of education. For example, in the year 200910, the unemployment rate for those who were not literate was 0.3%, for high-school graduates 5.2%, and for college graduates 6.9%. The highest unemployment rate is for those who have one or two years of postsecondary education; the unemployment rate was 9.6% for those with a diploma. (PC/GOI, 2013, p 162). Such a finding stands in contradistinction to developed economies where more education suggests a greater likelihood of employment. However, in a country where 85% of the workforce is casual labor, those at the very bottom of the economic ladder will be employed, albeit with wages that barely enable them to survive.
The same confusion exists with regard to the costs associated with attaining a degree. The private sector, historically, will argue that it is able to provide basic services at a lower cost when public subsidies are factored into the overall costs of a public institution. Critics will counter that the wages and benefits that private boards and senior staff receive are exorbitant and cost taxpayer monies that could otherwise be used for public goods and services.
DEVELOPING DATA ON WORKFORCE NEEDS AND QUALITY ASSURANCE
Current models of expansion have been based on the desire for more people to participate in higher education, with little understanding about the need for more citizens with postsecondary credentials. That is, rather than an output modela particular number of graduates are needed for the workforcethe system functions on an input modelthe number of high-school students who will graduate.
Such a push for expansion is understandable. Those who are committed to access and equity want those who are the poorest in society to reap the benefits of higher education. In addition, constant messages about the knowledge economy suggest that more people need to participate in higher education.
At the same time, there is widespread discontent about the quality of private and public institutions. Corruption is rife, which in turn has led to a deterioration of academic quality. Before the system expands even more, an analysis of workforce needs seems warranted, as well as a determination about what sorts of skills students must learn in order to ensure that the system is functioning properly.
We have attempted to delineate six key issues that pertain to how one views postsecondary education in light of our previous definition of a public good. These ideas about how one frames the social ecology of postsecondary organizations and how those institutions are defined within that ecology are the subject to which we now turn.
THE SOCIAL ECOLOGY OF POSTSECONDARY PROVIDERS
The social ecology of higher education can be confusing, given the various names provided for universities and the forms that they take. Such confusion also makes systemic change more difficult. So many sorts of institutions exist that individuals misunderstand foundational terms such as private or public. Simply stated, as we elaborate below, there are six forms of postsecondary providers in India. As an entry point for discussion, it is also useful to note that, at present, India neither allows for-profit providers nor permits other countries to offer stand-alone, credit-bearing degrees. Regardless of institutional form, any postsecondary provider has six characteristics that largely define all institutions within any countrys postsecondary social ecology:
Ownership and governance refers to who has legal control of and authority over the organization and how it is governed;
Funding arrangements pertain to how the organization supports itself and what it does with the income (e.g., in some countries, an organization might be a private for-profit entity seeking to generate revenue, a not-for-profit entity independent of the state government, or a not-for-profit entity that is part of the public sector);
Decision-making delineates the manner in which decisions are made;
Curriculum pertains to what kind of teaching and learning take place;
Clientele accounts for the type of students who attend the institution and where they are geographically located; and
Faculty highlights who the faculty are and what is expected of them.
These six forms of institutions have overlapping, as well as distinct, purposes.
Table 4. Characteristics of Postsecondary Providers in India
Note. Adapted from Tierney, 2010.
We employ these forms as ideal types to highlight the overall social ecology of the system. Some institutions with a particular form are in direct competition with one another, whereas others have carved out a distinct niche. Some institutions have the potential to capture the clientele from another group of institutions, while many are in competition for the services of the same faculty. These forms may be found in many countries but may not have existed only a decade ago in one or another country. Finally, what we have not included are the myriad number of stand-alone institutions that offer diplomas and certificates that might be thought of as paraprofessional careers; although those need to be reconfigured as well, we will save that discussion for another time.
We are attempting to rethink the current taxonomy that exists in Indias social ecology for its postsecondary institutions. Currently, there are 15 different types of institutions in India, with overlapping and contradictory roles and responsibilities. Such complexity tends to stymie change rather than enable it; it makes functioning less transparent and more susceptible to atrophy. Our challenge here is to rethink the current taxonomic structure that currently exists based on what we have conceptualized as a countrys public good, the role of private institutions in that framework, and how best to balance the needs of research excellence, the perceived need for massification, and quality.
Table 5. Types of Institutions
Note. Prepared from MHRD/GOI, 2015.
To be sure, additional forms may be created and/or unique arrangements arise within a country because of a specific regulatory environment that influences the entire social ecology. Different forms of institutions also have unique characteristics. Accreditation, for example, is a critical characteristic for some providers and taken as a given at others; research is a defining purpose for what we call traditional public institutions at a federal level, but irrelevant for many other colleges and universities. However, the alphabet soup that currently exists has no overarching public philosophy but instead seems to parade as a grab bag of institutional types. We are suggesting that this sort of grab bag has stymied research excellence and been a roadblock to quality assurance.
THE TRADITIONAL PUBLIC UNIVERSITYFEDERAL
The majority of the worlds universities have been, and remain, public. Although the manner in which they are governed differs from country to country, control of the institution ultimately resides with the federal body that has granted the university its charter. Frequently, the governing authority is the state itself or a governing board appointed by the state. Although the faculty has some role in the governance of the institution, public institutions outside the United States and Latin America, in general, are centralized entities with a hierarchical decision-making structure.
Until recently, most public institutions in India received approximately 90% of their funding from the government. Student fees were low or nil, revenue from donors or corporations was meager, and capital investments were virtually nonexistent. The student body consisted primarily of students of the nation, most of whom were of a traditional college-going age (approximately 1824 years). As students attend university in large part to be trained for employment, the curriculum is aimed at the professional workplace, as well as the arts and humanities. The manner in which teaching and learning occur is not very different from a century ago. Faculty members provide lectures, or advanced students have small seminars where a professor leads a discussion. The faculty is professionally trained, and, over time at the better institutions, all faculty members hold doctoral degrees.
Under this new schema for a social ecology, India has three forms of public universities. Those that are federally chartered receive their authority and funding from the federal government. These are generally thought of as among the best universities in the country. Of the 16 Indian institutions listed among the 200 best universities in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings of BRICS and Emerging Nations, for example, 10 are what we define here as federal public universities (2015). Examples of universities that fall under this classification would be Delhi University and the Indian Institute of Technology. Indira Gandhi National Open University, an online institution with four million students, is a second form of federal public university.
A third form of public or private university is what has been known as a deemed university. Heretofore, a traditional university had been created by an act of Parliament or a state legislature. Deemed universities, however, as well as four other institutes, are set up by an executive order of the Central Government on the recommendation of the University Grants Commission. They are funded by the government or aided by funding from the government. Universities are usually, but not always, premier institutes and discipline-specific, and they offer programs at advanced levels. Institutions that apply for this status are monitored for five years and then granted deemed university status. The Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, and Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, are examples of premier institutes that have been granted deemed university status. The problem with such a category is that to outsiders they are constantly seen not as deemed, but as less than a university. Rather than be placed in a category that appears to be temporary, they should either be a university after a period of time, be absorbed by a university, or be closed. Recently, for example, a number of institutions have been recognized as deemed universities, and their quality has been questioned. In a national report commissioned by the government, of the 126 deemed universities reviewed, 88 institutions had deficiencies (MHRD/GOI, 2009). The commission decided that the problems of 44 institutions might be remedied if significant improvements were to be made, but that the other 44 institutions with deficiencies should be closed.
THE TRADITIONAL PUBLIC UNIVERSITYSTATE
The second form of public university is that which is funded by one of Indias states. A state-funded institution may be an institute or an open university, but is more commonly a geographically based institution. Although research may be a focus, these institutions are more concerned with training the states citizenry for employment. Nevertheless, five universities were listed among the BRICs and emerging economies major institutions (Bothwell, 2016). Funding comes primarily from the state, and, as with the other categories, the quality of the faculty and training is variable. Examples of universities that fall within this category are Lucknow University, Uttar Pradesh, and Nagpur University, Maharashtra. The majority (85%) of postsecondary students in India attend this form of university (MHRD/GOI, 2015).
THE TRADITIONAL PRIVATE UNIVERSITYPRIVATE
Traditional private universities have a long history; in some countries, such as Brazil, they actually outnumber public institutions. Traditional private institutions, in general, parallel the national public universities with regard to student body, curriculum, and faculty. They often have distinct traditions: Some are religious or single-sex; others have a unique pedagogical focus, delivering instruction through small seminars or a narrow curricular focus on a particular field of study (e.g., law, medicine, engineering). Nevertheless, traditional-age students and doctorate-holding faculty members are involved in a teaching and learning experience more similar to than different from that at federal public institutions.
Ownership and funding arrangements are what separates these institutions from public universities. A traditional private university is a nonprofit organization with a governing board that is separate from the federal or state government. In most countries, the state has granted the organization the right to offer courses as a university, but the organization acts as any nonprofit organization does, rather than receive direction and authority from the state. The funding scheme relies on student tuition and, quite frequently, the donations of wealthy alumni and other benefactors. Many private universities also receive funding through research grants and community-based projects, but the bulk of their income derives from student tuition and fees.
The organization may be centralized or decentralized, but the direction the university takes is decided by the board. That is, the faculty may have a significant say in the governance of the institution, or their power may be circumscribed, but the organization does not receive centralized direction from a ministry or government. Vice-chancellors tend to have more authority in a traditional private university than in a public institution, primarily because their role is akin to that of a chief executive officer of a private company rather than that of a senior administrator of a government ministry-controlled public university.
Over the last generation, several private universities have been created in India based on the munificence of a benefactor or family foundation. These universities largely rely on the state to provide the land for the campus and continue to operate through fees and donations. They claim to offer a quality curriculum with full-time faculty and to minimize government interference, bureaucratic structures, and lethargic decision-making. Examples of this sort of institution would be Ashoka University, Shiv Nadar University, and OP Jindal University. Of the 16 Indian universities listed among the Times Higher Education survey, one is a private institution (2015). The government also has approved private deemed universities that would fall within this category.
Finally, private universities in India mostly cater to undergraduate students; approximately 61% of their students are pursuing undergraduate programs, as compared to 1.2% enrolled in research programs (M.Phil./Ph.D; MHRD/GOI, 2015). We also find that out of the total number of students pursuing research programs in India, the share attending private universities is much lower (3.7%) than that of public universities (35%) (Sabharwal, 2015).
PUBLICLY-SUPPORTED PUBLIC COLLEGES
This type of institution is common in the rest of the world as well. The publicly supported public college receives funding from the state and charges students little or no tuition and fees. There are currently 7,230 publicly supported public colleges in India (MHRD/GOI, 2015). Their clientele is largely full-time and local or regional, traditionally-aged students. In addition, if the college is affiliated with a federal university (for example, Delhi University), then the students can be from any state in the country. These institutions offer a variety of degrees in relatively traditional formats with a standardized curriculum. As public entities, they are nonprofit and state appointed and administered; their employees are public employees. Decision-making tends to be centralized and external.
PUBLICLY-SUPPORTED PRIVATE COLLEGES
The vast majority of postsecondary institutions in India are colleges affiliated with a university in some fashion. Public federal universities have colleges attached to them, but the distinctions revolve around difference in curriculum and clientele, rather than differences in finance, governance, or decision-making.
As we noted above, of Indias 37,357 postsecondary institutions, 22,100 are private colleges. There are two forms of private colleges, and their differences pertain to funding, governance structures, and decision making. A publicly supported private college is not a new form of privatization in India. As with any private company, the state has to grant permission for the private entity to function. Nevertheless, in this example, it also financially supports the private entity. The state retains a voice in what curriculum the college will develop and offer. In effect, the state is a major supporter of the private college, as any investor would be of a private for-profit company, and, as a consequence, has a say in curricular offerings. However, the incentives for the state to support these institutions are not fiscal; instead, the educational and social benefits accrued by its citizens who attend the institutions are presumably why a state invests in a private entity.
This institutional form is a departure from the idea of education as a public good that not only derives from public monies, but is also administered as a public entity. Education remains a public good because the funding is largely public, but the purveyor is private. These institutions do not grant degrees on their own, but instead are affiliated with a public state university. The university has control over the public colleges with regard to curriculum, clientele, or faculty. Some public state universities, such as the University of Delhi, have 20 public-supported private colleges affiliated with them (UGC/GOI, 2014). The assumption is that it is irrelevant whether the purveyor is private or public; what matters is the outcome for the citizens. One might enquire why a public entity, such as a public university, does not offer courses and degrees for the same or lower cost than the private entity and provide similar or better quality. The answer would be that the government provides insufficient support. A fair amount of concern has been levelled at these institutions with regard to academic and faculty quality.
PRIVATELY SUPPORTED PRIVATE COLLEGES
Another form of public college is one that does not receive federal or state support and instead is able to set its own tuition fees within limits set by a state government. This sort of institution is frequently defined by the curriculum that it offers and increasingly emphasizes training in engineering, science, or medicine. The result is that these colleges are able to charge relatively high feesperhaps as much as 303,380 rupees for a B.Tech. course of four years (KITM, 2015). These colleges must also be affiliated with a state public university, but their relationship is equally tenuous. The college is able to hire faculty and admit students; governance and decision making are through the college and not the affiliated university. The institution adheres to government standards for curriculum. Because the consumer/student pays the fees, the institutions also are largely unregulated. It is fair to say that, over the last decade, the greatest degree of concern has had to do with this form of postsecondary institution. Students pay a premium to attend the institutions, and some critics allege that the costs are justified by neither the quality of education, in terms of faculty, nor the learning that enables individuals to get a job upon graduation. Agarwal (2009) has pointed out that quality and accountability in private higher education is often uneven (p. 232).
CONCLUSION: RETHINKING THE PUBLIC GOOD
What can be made of such a dynamic market other than to acknowledge how fast the system is evolving and how many different players are involved in these changes? More important, what suggestions might be made about the worth of these changes for a nation such as India? Varghese (2012) has concluded about private higher education that the Indian policy response to private higher education has gone through a process of evolution from a reliance on public institutions to promoting private higher education institutions to expand the system (p. 149). We agree, but wish to return to the question posed at the outset of the text: Is the social ecology of postsecondary education that has been created in the best interests of the country? As we stated, given that the ecology is social, its shape is determined by the citizens and government and can be reconfigured. China, for example, has followed a quite different model, where the federal government has invested heavily in higher education, and its ecology is largely public. One of Chinas public universities has the research budget of 16 Indian institutes (Bothwell, 2015). Indias system is largely privatized, whereas Chinas remains largely public. Accordingly, we conclude with four observations about how to think of Indias social ecology of higher education, based on the foregoing analysis.
PRIVATIZATION AND NEW PROVIDERS WILL INCREASE
All of the changes we have discussed are possibly little more than new players trying to enter a market that is expanding because of globalization. From this perspective, the gold rush that many believe exists in the education market is likely to continue unless the government provides more accurate projections about workforce needs and more forcefully focuses on academic quality.
Other possibilities are that the government will revert to a previous stance and restrict new entrants, or that a fiscal crisis will force fledgling companies to close and/or not attempt new ventures. Although these scenarios are, of course, possible, we do not believe that they are likely in India. Although the last 20 years have been long enough to demonstrate that education is, indeed, a growth market, and globalisation suggests that developing countries need an educated workforce, two social facts exist: First, the public sector cannot meet the increased demand by itself, which is why a carefully regulated, but not overly bureaucratic, private sector is necessary. However, given the serious questions about academic quality and legitimate concerns about the need for expansion before the sector increases yet again, some attempt needs to be made to ensure that the product that is being producedacademic credentialshas some kind of quality assurance for the consumers/students.
Nevertheless, one might more accurately predict that additional entrants will try to gain a toehold in the tertiary education market, rather than fewer. It is entirely plausible that, if we were to update this article a decade from now, additional forms of privatization might be categorized. The either/or dichotomy of public or private is an artefact of the 20th century, and there are likely to be new entrants to meet the needs of specific niche markets. In particular, as technology improves, the potential for virtual universities that know no geographic boundaries is considerable (Marginson, 2007). The public sector must determine which markets it is to serve; then it needs to make an argument for why it, rather than institutions in the private sector, can better serve those markets. After all, why would a nation spend tax dollars for a service that the private sector can provide for the same or lower cost, especially if the quality is comparable?
DATA ABOUT SOCIETAL NEEDS AND ORGANIZATIONAL PERFORMANCE NEED TO BE IMPROVED
The provisional framework offered here necessitated an intellectual treasure hunt for verifiable data that was often contradictory and confusing. There are four critical reasons to collect systematic, verifiable, and understandable data.
First, without trustworthy data, there is no way of knowing who is or is not participating in tertiary education, and what they are learning. This is important for any country concerned about educational equity for all citizens and is a key part of the idea of transparency as essential for good government. It is likely, for example, that some portions of a population have greater educational opportunities than others. Without an awareness of why some groups are participating at a lower rate than others, the country cannot create policies that increase participation among all constituencies.
Second, the institutions in the forms outlined above educate students for different kinds of employment. Some lead to working-class jobs, others lead to professional employment, and far too many others lead to no employment. Without data to track the success of employment for an institutions graduates, a nation will not know if an institution is actually doing what it promises. Further, as pointed out earlier, members of some groups are more likely to attend institutions that place them on one sort of career path, and other groups end up on another career path. If a nation espouses educational equity, it will want to know if some groups are being tracked for lower-skilled jobs so that they might develop ways to overcome such problems.
Third, no one benefits if a student does not complete the intended degree or certificate. Certainly, the reasons for noncompletion are multifaceted, and frequently the onus falls on the individual student. However, not all institutions are similar, and some do a better job than others at supporting students toward degree completion. All institutions exist because the state has granted them permission. If an institution fails to meet its goals, then the government should have that data to determine which institutions to support.
Finally, there appear to be no adequate workforce projections of the kinds of skills India will need in the near future. The result is that the countrys tertiary-education system has wild swings where there is an undersupply of engineers and then, five years later, there is an oversupply. Scaling up and down in such a manner is neither efficient nor effective for private or public providers. To be sure, predicting the kinds of jobs that will exist in a decade is always just thata prediction. Yet forecasts in developed countries help postsecondary systems tailor course offerings that are needed, rather than simply expanding a system in order for politicians to curry favor with a particular constituency. Postsecondary education is an expensive undertakingfor the student and for the country. On the one hand, if the country will have no jobs for students when they graduate from university, then one needs to slow down the admission rate. On the other hand, if the prediction is that the country will have jobs that require a postsecondary education in greater demand than colleges and universities can currently provide, then organized expansion is needed. A country without accurate projections for manpower needs not only shortchanges employers, but also makes creating a viable postsecondary system that much harder. In addition, expansion makes quality assurance that much more difficult.
QUALITY ASSURANCE MECHANISMS NEED TO BE PUT IN PLACE AND FOLLOWED
Because globalization is an evolving term, there remain few hard and fast rules about how a nation should respond with regard to education and privatization. We have suggested here that privatization is likely to increase and the number of providers likely to expand, and that to revert to strict market control or to believe that the trends will reverse is probably mistaken. What, then, is the role of the government, other than to monitor traditional public institutions in the same manner as in the past? The response is twofold.
On the one hand, the movement toward privatization and the erosion of the traditional public institutions market share suggests that the government needs to provide greater autonomy and leeway to public universities to allow them to compete more successfully against their private counterparts. Privatization in the marketplace means that competition is a given. For an organization to compete successfully, the focus and goals of the institution need to be driven by those closest to the decision making, rather than to be managed from a distance. A concomitant point is that each institution has to distinguish itself with regard to purpose and constituency. India, for example, currently has 45 public federal universities. If the government takes seriously the suggestions offered here, they will provide greater autonomy to each institution. At the same time, the Ministry will ensure that each institution has a distinctive niche in the higher-education marketplace, rather than all trying to be similar.
On the other hand, the governments role is to ensure that the product of any entity is of the highest possible quality, regardless of whether that entity is public or private. The consumer needs enforceable protections to ensure that an organization actually delivers what it promises. The government needs to protect the citizenry from fraud and its many ramifications. Simply stated, individuals are at risk of losing their income if their money is not well spent because of the low standards or false claims of an institution. Moreover, there are currently far too many claims about academic corruption and low quality (Tierney & Sabharwal, forthcoming). A simplified taxonomic structure with a more straightforward regulatory structure is a start. The 15 types of institutions outlined in Table 5, which require 16 regulatory agencies, create problems rather than solutions.
Further, education is more than simply a product, such as a food. To be sure, if samosas or jalebis are tainted, and individuals get sick, then a government needs to oversee the recall of those foods and deal with the local or foreign producer to ensure that they improve their quality. Education, however, affects more than an individuals physical well-being. In a globalized world, a nation will not prosper if it does not have the assurance that the system that provides educational goods and services is of the highest possible standard. In the 21st century, whether the provider is private or public is of less importance. What matters is that the provider turns out a product that will enhance the well-being of the individual and the nation, and this should be the focus of government. The result is that tenure, for example, is not simply a benefit one receives if he or she has worked a set number of years; instead, it is earned based on whatever rigorous criteria the faculty desire to evaluate.
Just as the governments role is to protect the citizenry from health hazards such as smog, or to ensure that clean drinking water exists regardless of the provider, a government needs to have regulations in place to protect citizens from nefarious postsecondary providers. Consumer protection of a public good has to mean more than that the responsibility is entirely upon the individual to gauge an institutions effectiveness. A knee-jerk reaction by those providers will be to bemoan red tape and the like. However, a system can surely be devised that is not cumbersome and affords citizens confidence in the quality of the product it is buyinga postsecondary degree.
THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT NEEDS TO SIGNIFICANTLY INCREASE ITS INVESTMENT IN PUBLIC HIGHER EDUCATION
As others have suggested, even with an expanded private sector, public disinvestment in higher education has been a long-term cost for India (Kapur & Mehta, 2007; Kapur & Perry, 2015). The purpose of having institutions ranked as world-class universities is relatively meaningless if it is nothing more than an exercise in national hubris. Insofar as basic and applied research stimulates economic development, the government is obligated to move aggressively to restructure and refinance Indias premier federal universities so that some become internationally ranked. Such an undertaking is not like putting a man on the moon or other such efforts, but it will take coordination and sustained support. The private sector also does not yet have the infrastructure or private support to become internationally ranked for at least a generation. The economic well-being of India depends in part upon having a vibrant public postsecondary sector with approximately a half-dozen internationally ranked universities.
Virtually all public institutions face two immediate problems: Their physical plant is in serious need of repair, and all institutions also face significant vacancies in their academic departments. Although one might argue that the budgets of Indias institutions can be much better managed, without more public investment the quality of Indias institutions will not significantly improve.
The governments role also has to be to invest public monies in technological innovations that enable broad and widespread learning modalities to be implemented across the country. To remain wedded to traditional teaching and learning formats because most students do not have access to the Internet, websites, and the like today overlooks what will be available to students tomorrow. Such an investment may well come through innovative forms of public-private partnerships, but it is the public sector that needs to oversee and fund the attempts in a manner that ensures quality outcomes at minimal cost.
Our goal here has been to argue that the social ecology of higher education is framed by how a country defines the idea of a public good. We have suggested that the definition of the social ecology of a country is not static, but instead protean. Globalization has resulted in worldwide reformulations of how a country defines public goods and, in turn, encouraged the privatization of goods and services. The result is a particular kind of social ecology that has created particular problems and challenges.
The example of India has delineated how the countrys commitment to public higher education has shifted and the challenges and opportunities that have resulted from the increase in private colleges and universities. We are trying to walk a delicate line. As noted, we do not foresee in the immediate future a reversion to a largely public postsecondary social ecology. At the same time, because higher education remains vitally important for a countrys health, the citizenry and government have to have a more vigorous response to improving its postsecondary system.
1. India has had a tradition of private higher education that was largely philanthropic before independence.
2. This number has been arrived at by adding the total numbers of colleges (36,634) and universities (723), which totals 37,357 (MHRD/GOI, 2015). This number does not include stand-alone institutions.
3. As indicated earlier, this number has been arrived at by adding the total number of colleges (36,634) and universities (723), which totals 37,357. However, based on MHRDs survey, an exact count of private colleges is impossible, because approximately 20% of the institutions offered unclear responses (MHRD/GOI, 2015, p. iii).
4. For example, in rural areas, the STs had the highest level of poverty (47.4%), followed by the SCs (42.3%) and the OBCs (32%), as compared to 33.8% for all classes (Planning Commission, 2012).
5. This does not include hostel/rooming charges (Rs. 1620, partially refunded after completion of course) and room rent, which is Rs. 240.
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