Don’t deter private investment in higher education

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Jun 5, 2020

It has been reported that the new National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 that is being finalized will bring private higher educational institutions (HEIs) under a “progressive regime of fees determination” as also prescribe that at least 20% of their students get freeships and an additional 30% get significant scholarships. But after seeing what the expansion of reservations has done to public universities, it would be unwise and counterproductive to wreck similar havoc in private universities as well.

Micromanaging higher education has brought India to a sorry pass. Both quantity and quality have come to be in short supply. Gross enrollment ratio hovers around 26% compared to Egypt’s 35%, China’s 48% and Australia’s 90%. The gap is even more urgent on the quality front, as too many Indians graduate ill-equipped for the ultra competitive knowledge economy driving the world today. It is these shortages that impel a policy to encourage private investment in higher education. Ideally this means investment in world class infrastructure and faculty, which would create a virtuous cycle of research and scholarship. The proof would be in the placements. The better performing universities would grow in profile and ranking. But overbearing regulatory architecture will put paid to all this, discouraging private investment rather than encouraging it.

Read also: MHRD looking to regulate fees in private universities under new policy

The overall goal should be expanding the higher education sector, allowing different financing models room to experiment and grow according to their merit. Government funded universities and colleges could have one kind of fee structure and privately funded ones another. Why can’t we have it all? Why should everything be dictated by a single centralised and bureaucratic formula in a vast nation such as ours? Indeed if povertarian logic simply extends its dominion over the private sector as well, it will hardly be able to make up for public sector deficiencies. In which case the goal of building new institutes of excellence for India’s talented youth will remain tragically unrealised.


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