India goes for growth

September 15, 2006

The Indian Government has begun a massive expansion of higher education with the creation of 500,000 university and colleges places.

Academics have welcomed the move, but there is concern that a possible lack of planning and the haste to implement the decision could damage tertiary education.

"There is a shortage of trained faculty, and to meet this demand universities will have to hire industry professionals as guest lecturers," said Anil Sadgopal, a senior Indian educationist.

The Ministry of Human Resource development has responded by raising the retirement age for lecturers in publicly funded institutions from 60 to 65 years and has discussed recalling those who left service recently.

The introduction of a 6am early shift for colleges, to deal with the shortage of classrooms and lecture halls, is being considered, although universities and colleges will probably be free to come up with their own ways to find space.

One estimate for the cost of the initiative is R400 billion (£4.6 billion), more than the total outlay for education this year. The cash might be found by abandoning, or at least postponing, a long-awaited compulsory primary education scheme for 13 million illiterate children.

The sudden expansion of university places has been fuelled by the Government's pledge to provide equal opportunities to poor communities. A law passed by parliament in January proposed the reservation of an additional per cent of places for members of "other backward castes", on top of an existing 22.5 per cent for the lowest - Dalits ("untouchables") and tribal communities.

Countrywide protests forced the Government to compromise by keeping the number of unreserved seats intact, leaving the increase in capacity by 54 per cent as the only alternative.

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