Discover Studying Abroad

Straight Talk: Why do junk private colleges survive and thrive?

What's the story behind many of the useless private institutions in India? Pushkar gives his view.
BY Pushkar |   21-07-2014

In a recent blog post, I gloated over the closure of several junk private engineering colleges across the country. Unfortunately, as I mentioned in the same blog, though several such junk colleges die each year, a few hundred others offering ‘professional’ degrees in disciplines such as engineering, management and other areas, survive and even flourish.

What explains the good health of junk private colleges in the country?


Before I answer that, let me at the outset insist that I have no ideological issues with private institutions. While all my college education, in India and in Canada, has been at public institutions, I have happy memories of the Jesuit school in Jharkhand as well as a private school in New Delhi that I attended.

I also believe that some combination of a public-private mix is the only way to address the education needs of peoples in developing countries like India - which have a large young population. If you disagree, just consider the demand side of higher education. It was recently reported that, we already have the largest student population in the world at 315 million. That number is the approximate total population of the US! It will keep growing in the coming years both due to population growth and the government’s commitment to raising the gross enrollment ratio (GER) from the current level of 20 percent to 30 percent by 2020.

The amount of resources required to address the higher education needs of 300+ million people is enormous. Even without the current economic slowdown, the government is hardly in a position to make the kind of investment that is needed. Therefore, private providers must play a big and growing role in higher education. They already are; over 60 percent of India’s students attend private colleges.

On paper, both the government and the private sector have done their bit. We all know about the UPA government’s decision to increase the numbers of IITs, IIMs, and central universities. The Modi government has moved in the same direction. In addition, hundreds of new ‘regular’ and ‘professional’ colleges and universities, both public and private, have come up over the past decade or so. Between 2000-01 and 2011-12, there was nearly a three-fold increase in the number of colleges  from 12,806 to 35,539.

While some progress has been made to address the demand side - building new colleges and universities, the quality of higher education on offer is still dismal, certainly in terms of producing employable graduates.

In the meanwhile, even elite institutions such as central universities, are struggling to set up campuses and become fully functional. As for private institutions, their growth has been so poorly regulated that junk colleges and universities have become the norm rather than the exception.

The true answer to the good health of junk private institutions in the country is that a good number of ‘professional’ colleges and such are run by politicians or their family members. Devesh Kapur, who heads the Centre for the Advanced Study of India, University of Pennsylvania, recently observed (and not for the first time) that India’s "higher education regulatory system has allowed every politician worth her name to start a college."

Really, how can we expect a bunch of men and women who have failed the common people in their chosen profession, to build and run anything other than junk colleges?

However, politicians do not own or run all the private colleges in the country. Most are run by business people, often with close ties to the politicians, for whom higher education is a fantastic opportunity for wealth creation. For these so-called ‘educationists’, it is a trivial matter that private institutions are required by law to be non-profits.

Fake educationists, with little concern for anything except profits, have developed good ‘working relationships’ with members of key regulatory bodies, whether it is the MHRD, UGC, NAAC or AICTE. Many even contribute to the nation’s decision-making process in higher education.

With higher education emerging as a massive business opportunity, India's regulatory bodies have become more and more dysfunctional over time. They have together created and sustain a higher education system where junk institutions compete with each other for a growing number of students because the miniscule numbers of credible colleges are beyond the dreams of a majority of students.

Of course, there are a few private institutions that do provide good quality education despite the failures of regulatory organizations.

Two excellent examples in the Delhi NCR region are the Shiv Nadar University and Ashoka University, which opens its doors this year. Of the older institutions, the Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS) Pilani, with three campuses across the country—at Pilani, Goa (which is where I am located) and Hyderabad—and a few others have also made a mark.

However, the numbers of credible private colleges remains small. For the most part, everything goes, in the name of higher education.

Pushkar is a contributor on India’s higher education for Asian Scientist (Singapore). He previously taught at Goa University, McGill University, Concordia University, and the University of Ottawa. He is currently with the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, BITS Pilani-Goa. You can follow him on twitter at: @PushHigherEd



Can't Read  
Enter Above Code:


Sign Up for our newsletter

Sign Up for latest updates and Newsletter