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Withering Public Sector and Bourgeoning Private Sector in Higher Education


The blossoming of few private sector HEIs as evident from their good rankings and sizeable share among top ranking institutions establishes that self-financed institutions too can achieve excellence, provided there is a strong will. Flourishing private sector HEIs is a positive sign in overall higher education; nevertheless, the shrinking number of public sector HEIs in the top 100 ranks is concerning because of the inadequacy of quality output from the public sector HEIs established and run by taxpayers money.

The annual overall ranking of higher education institutions (HEIs) by the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) demonstrates burgeoning private sector institutions. Top 100 institutions in NIRF overall ranking list of HEIs in years 2019, 2020, and 2021 has around 27% – 30% institutions of the private sector. A closer look at the top 50 ranks points to a rise in the number of private-sector HEIs from 7 in 2019 & 2020 to 10 in 2021. In the university category rankings of 2020 and 2021, the private sector universities constitute more than 40% of the top 100 ranks. Similarly, in the category of engineering institutions ranking list of 2020 and 2021, the number of private-sector HEIs is more than 30% in the top 100 ranks. Flourishing private sector HEIs is a positive sign in overall higher education, nevertheless, the shrinking number of public sector HEIs in the top 100 ranks is concerning because of the inadequacy of quality output from the public sector HEIs established and run by taxpayers money.

All India Survey of Higher Education (AISHE) reports the presence of 31390 private colleges, 396 private universities, and 88 private deemed-to-be universities out of a total of 1043 Universities, 42343 colleges, and 11779 standalone colleges in the country in the year 2020. Because of the affiliation of the colleges being with 307 universities of the public sector, the teaching-learning and allied processes in the colleges can be considered to be under the control of public sector universities. Thence, an honest introspection of critical limitations of public sector HEIs in delivering good performance is inevitable.

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Honest introspection of critical limitations of public sector HEIs in delivering good performance is inevitable.

Prima facie comparison of scores of the topmost public sector institution and the highest-ranking private sector institution in different attributes prescribed by the overall NIRF ranking list shows that the private HEIs primarily lag in ‘faculty qualification and experience’, ‘financial resources & their utilization’, ‘quality of research output in terms of number & quality of publications’, ‘intellectual patent rights & patents’, ‘projects & professional practices’, ‘catering to economically & socially challenged students’, and ‘perception ranking’.

Simultaneously, the shrinking number of public sector institutions in top ranks indicates their poor scores in ‘teaching, learning & resources’, ‘research and professional practices’, ‘graduation outcomes’, ‘outreach and inclusivity’ despite having good peer perception on account of being HEIs in government control. The attainments in these attributes are the culmination of the efficacy of governance, financing, processes, and practices that influence the quality of education, research, and outreach in HEIs. Therefore, the key for speedy amelioration of the quality of deliverables lies in improving critical enablers like governance, financing, human resource, and students in public sector HEIs. 

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For quite some time, the governance of higher education that revolves around its leader has been witnessing numerous controversies. With the conspicuous leadership in HEIs as per frequent news reports, the integrity of its selection process becomes contentious. On the face of it, the recent news of huge cash recovery during a raid on the premises of the Vice-Chancellor of Bihar University illustrates that all is not well. The arrest of Vice-Chancellors of Universities in Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, on charges of taking bribes in the recent past decree the fragile integrity of academic leadership. Also, there are numerous reports of bribery in the process of appointment. Candid news reports about financial corruption, and the appointment of persons with questionable administrative and academic integrities as Vice-Chancellors / Directors in Universities / Institutions puts the whole process under the scanner. The apex positions being adorned by persons of poor integrity, values, and academic credentials push the institutional governance in shambles.

Teaching community can not afford to be immoral, unethical, apathetic, and non-believer of merit.

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Academic leaders are purported to possess utmost integrity, commitment, moral and ethical values apart from requisite academic credentials to act as a role model in the institution. Unequivocally, the teaching community can not afford to be immoral, unethical, apathetic, and non-believer of merit in general. Any deviation will mar the quality of education in HEIs.

The obvious precondition for ensuring good performance from HEIs is the sacrosanct and merit-based process of picking up human resources as its leader, teachers, and staff. Unfortunately, the present circumstances speak of absence in fairness and disregard of merit & other attributes in the recruitment of human resources in public sector HEIs, resulting in such institutions becoming vulnerable to lose on performance indicators.

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In public sector HEIs, primarily it is the lack of individual ownership and accountability of those at the helm, that germinates the possibility of malpractices.  Secondly, the degeneration gets amplified by the vicious trap created due to the corruption breeds corruption. Thirdly, it is the procedural safeguards offering little immunity to individuals, job security, and public financing of wages that do not let them feel the pinch of incurring damage.

Contrary to it, the private sector HEIs have individual ownership, minimum checks and balances for speedy execution of processes, quicker decision making, and the absence of an immunity to individuals except for the promoters. This entrusts them with an opportunity to excel. However, most private sector HEIs fail to unleash their strengths because of the latent intent of promoters to maximize return on investment. As a result, their lesser spending on human resources and inadequate up-gradation of teaching–research support systems constrains them to achieve excellence.

Financial crunch faced by public sector HEIs calls for enhancing public investment in education to 6% of GDP.

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But, the blossoming of few private sector HEIs as evident from their good rankings and sizeable share among top ranking institutions establishes that self-financed institutions too can achieve excellence, provided there is a strong will. However, private sector HEIs need to focus on financial resource mobilization as its deficiency affects the quality of human resource and teaching-research infrastructure. Concerted efforts are required by the regulators of public sector HEIs to ensure fair, merit-centric, and transparent hiring of human resources at all levels through processes of impeccable integrity. Concurrently, the financial crunch faced by public sector HEIs calls for enhancing public investment in education to 6% of GDP as ordained by the Kothari Commission report and NEP 2020 both.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are of the author solely. TheRise.co.in neither endorses nor is responsible for them.

About the author

Prof. Onkar Singh has been the Founder Vice-Chancellor of the Madan Mohan Malaviya University of Technology, Gorakhpur (U.P.). Currently, he is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Harcourt Butler Technical University, Kanpur (U.P.).


Onkar Singh

Prof. Onkar Singh has been the Founder Vice-Chancellor of the Madan Mohan Malaviya University of Technology, Gorakhpur (U.P.). Currently, he is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Harcourt Butler Technical University, Kanpur (U.P.).

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