V-c’s funding plea ‘shows funding struggle’ at Indian universities

While India’s prestigious IITs flex fundraising muscle, others in sector are ‘left in the lurch’

十一月 6, 2022
Source: iStock

An administrator at a leading Indian university has urged alumni to help tackle its “considerable financial restraints” – a plea that lays bare Indian institutions’ need to muster up more cash amid declining government funding, academics said.

In late October, Jadavpur University vice-chancellor Suranjan Das wrote to former students, saying that “government funding, both state and central, is becoming extremely inadequate”, local media reported.

The university is among India’s top-performing state institutions in Times Higher Education’s Asia rankings. Still, its success has not assured it adequate resources.

“In recent years, we are facing considerable financial restraints to maintain our academic excellence, especially in science and technology,” wrote Professor Das, noting the institution’s need for “constant” infrastructure upgrades and to keep its student-teacher ratio competitive.

The plea is indicative of the growing financial crunch faced by many Indian institutions even as top universities – particularly the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), which benefit from a cadre of high-earning alumni working abroad – have proven themselves deft fundraisers.

This May, Indian Institute of Technology Madras said that it had raised a record sum of 131 crore rupees (£14 million) from alumni and other donors in the 2021-22 financial year.

Comparatively speaking, even “prominent” state universities such as Jadavpur University are “disadvantaged” in terms of resources, said Eldho Matthews, a deputy adviser to the Unit for International Cooperation at the National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration, in New Delhi.

Rafiq Dossani, a senior economist at the US-based thinktank Rand Corporation and director of its Center for Asia Pacific Policy, said that most state-owned universities in India were “poorly funded” when it comes to capital investment into buildings and equipment.

“Some government institutions have been able to raise substantial sums from alumni, particularly the [IITs]…however, the smaller government-owned institutions are struggling to raise external funding,” he said.

Shahid Jameel, a fellow at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies and previously chief executive of the DBT-Wellcome Trust India Alliance, a charity funding health research, echoed the sentiment.

Government funding was insufficient for “most” Indian universities, with institutions typically using more than 85 per cent of these funds to pay salaries and pensions, he said.

“With time, it leaves little for development work,” noted Professor Jameel.

While Jadavpur University is a state university and is funded by the state of West Bengal rather than by India’s central government, both types of institution face increased salary and pension costs, rising inflation and static government funding, he said.

He cautioned against the negative effects of India’s declining spending, which he said threatens to limit the country’s innovation potential. But he also said that the government could be more of an “enabler” to direct philanthropists to donate to the sector.

India’s Corporate Social Responsibility act requires all companies with a net annual income of at least 10 billion rupees (£105 million) to donate 2 per cent of their earnings for social good – but higher education attracts “very little” of this money, he said.

“The government can enable that, but the universities must also reform themselves through more transparency and better processes to attract CSR or philanthropy funds,” he said.

Other academics have suggested that, while some universities will inevitably struggle to get funding, the government’s approach today is preferable to its previous policies.

In the past, India fully funded its IITs – something Dr Dossani said did not create incentives for cost efficiency.

“I think it is a good sign of mature government thinking if the government forces publicly owned universities to raise external funding from private sources,” he said.




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