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Straight Talk: What You Need to Know During Admission Season

Here are a few points for both parents and students to keep in mind to make the best of India’s messy admission season.
BY Pushkar |   29-06-2015
Pushkar
We have got 6,000 applications for English Honours, which has just 30 seats.
(Karen Gabriel, spokesperson, St. Stephen’s College, Delhi)

So – it is that time of the year again. In the coming weeks, newspapers will report on the high cut-offs for admission, (nothing less than 95 per cent or so), to different undergraduate programs at colleges across Delhi University (DU). The engineering and medical types in NCR and elsewhere, if they are successful at cracking the entrance tests, will avoid the trouble of submitting their applications at DU, and the wait thereafter. Others will go through the process and hope that they are admitted to the course and college of their choice in the first or second list or even later (if there is later).
 
Why are so many students and parents still rushing to Delhi University, a public institution, rather than to the dozens of ‘world-class’ private universities in NCR and elsewhere?

This is not a trivial question. Whether you watch television, read newspapers or surf online for shopping or some other reason, you are likely bombarded by scores of private university advertisements, all claiming to be ‘world class’ in terms of faculty, infrastructure and/or more. And yet, everyone rushes to DU first. Why?
 
The decline in quality of education

Let us face the facts. There has been a steady decline in the quality of education at most government-run colleges and universities across the country. At least one commentator has described the country’s higher education system as “broken.” Despite improved funding for higher education over the past decade, most higher education institutions, which were at one time considered prestigious, have lost their sheen and glory. A small number of them, like Delhi University, have just about bucked the trend. However, many public institutions are still considered ‘good’ only because they have little competition, either in the public or the private sector, from old or newer institutions.
 
While hundreds of new private institutions have come up to meet the growing education needs of our young population, they typically 1) focus on ‘professional’ courses; such as engineering, tourism, and hotel management, rather than humanities and social sciences; and 2) offer poor quality education. Their singular purpose is to profit from the desperation of students who want college education and have nowhere to go. To that end, they receive plenty of ‘help’ from the skewed regulatory environment that the Indian government has put in place. Under current conditions, credible private universities that provide decent education are harder to set up and operate than those which do nothing more than literally fleece students.
 
The high demand for humanities and social sciences

The problem also is that despite the apparent obsession with engineering and other ‘professional’ courses, there is still a very high and growing demand for half-decent education in the humanities and social sciences. This is also because more girls are opting for college degrees than in the past and most of them are choosing arts over science or engineering. On the supply side, unfortunately, both the government and the private sector appear to be indifferent to this demand.
 
As a result, hundreds of thousands of students flock to the better public institutions, such as Delhi University, each year, many of them for degrees in humanities and social sciences, in preference to dozens of ‘world-class’ private institutions. Only those who cannot typically get into good public colleges opt for private universities. Of course, the preference for government institutions is also due to the high costs of studying at private institutions. However, it is also true that many students and parents know or at least suspect that most private universities are running a scam.
 
Faculty check

Now, if one does not get admitted to the undergraduate programme at Delhi University or Ambedkar University (which has emerged as a great option), how does one choose a good-enough private university?
 
There is one simple indicator to consider – faculty. Before deciding to apply for admission to any private university, students and their parents must check whether or not the university has what it often claims to have – world-class faculty.
 
A casual visit to the department websites of most private universities will reveal one or more of these things:
 

  1. The faculty is either not listed, or the faculty listing is very difficult to locate by department/discipline. Any private university which does not provide easy access and reliable information about its faculty has something to hide (public institutions are simply callous about providing such information);
     
  2. Most of the faculty members at private universities do not have a PhD; when they do, the institution from where the terminal degree (PhD) is earned is almost never mentioned. Knowing the name of the PhD granting institution is important because most universities in India award sub-standard degrees;
     
  3. It is not uncommon to find faculty members highlighting the number of years of teaching experience before everything else. Teaching experience is hardly an accurate indicator of the quality of teaching. What matters as much if not more is the institution(s) where teaching ‘experience’ has been gained and the PhD granting institution. At the very least, universities have an obligation to indicate whether the faculty has cleared NET/SLAT;
     
  4. Most faculty members list a fairly good number of publications against their names, but they tend to be in obscure or fake journals. This is a growing disease afflicting Indian academia and it is spreading quite rapidly;
     
  5. Many of the well-qualified faculty members do not actually teach at the department/university, but are simply listed to enhance the status of the institution. Many universities pay well-regarded professors, usually those who are retired or based abroad, for this purpose;
     
  6. Overall, most private universities (as well as public ones) run many courses without proper faculty.
     

What are the consequences of acquiring an expensive degree from a private university lacking in half-decent faculty?
 
A number of organizations such as Aspiring Minds and Ernst & Young publish employability reports annually or at fairly regular intervals. They tend to be very repetitive in their findings – that a majority of India’s graduates are not employable, whether from public or private institutions. Therefore, the one thing you must consider before seeking admission to a ‘world class’ private university in the NCR, or elsewhere, is whether the degree the institution will hand out is worth the hole it will burn in your pocket (or that of your parents).

Pushkar is assistant professor, department of humanities and social sciences, BITS Pilani-Goa.

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