Private universities damage education quality, says president of India

Comments come amid debate over whether to permit for-profit institutions to operate in the country

January 16, 2016
Indian flag

The president of India has blamed private universities for lowering the quality of higher education in his country.

Pranab Mukherjee, who is not a party political figure, warned that the share of private education in India was rising and that the country had too few universities that were highly ranked.

Growing levels of private higher education “has resulted in a greater access but has made an alarming distress in the quality of the education”, he said in a convocation address at the Birla Institute of Technology Mesra on 10 January, reported the Times of India.

President Mukherjee said that he had repeatedly warned of low quality higher education, and that Indian universities were failing to compete with others globally.

“Except [for the] Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore and IIT Delhi no other institute ranks in the top 200 universities of the world,” he said.

Whether India should turn to private, for-profit universities and colleges to provide places for its burgeoning young population has been fiercely debated. Currently rules prevent universities to be run for a profit.

Allowing institutions to make a profit would allow India to attract huge amounts of capital to educate its young people, argued Karan Khemka, a partner at the consultancy Parthenon, at last year’s Times Higher Education BRICS and Emerging Economies Universities Summit in Delhi.

“The private sector is the solution to this. Will there be a bad apple in the cart? There will. But the market will sort itself out, as it has for telecoms, as it has for healthcare,” he said.

But others have contended that markets failed to weed out sub-standard universities.

“After the sub-prime crisis, after the economic crisis, we can’t seriously be saying that markets will correct themselves,” countered Raj Kumar, vice-chancellor of O.P. Jindal Global University, at the same event. “The market doesn’t correct itself, you need huge intervention."

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