Telangana is performing moderately in educational development. The State has overcome its liability in terms of educational backwardness that continued from the Nizam era through the united Andhra Pradesh. Higher education in the State has made remarkable progress during the last two decades. The gross enrolment ratio (GER) of higher education in the State at 36% in 2019-20 is 10% higher than the national average. Telangana stands second among the Indian States in terms of the higher education institutions (HEIs) serving at a rate of one institution per one lakh people.
Certain intricate issues and challenges, however, persist. Unless they are resolved, the progress achieved may be jeopardised. Quality of education is a cause for concern all over the country, including Telangana. Most of the HEIs in the State have low enrolment; the average enrolment per college is around 526, one of the lowest in India. Two-thirds of the colleges hold less than a quarter of total enrolment in the State, and one-third of the colleges hold three-fourths of it. Small size colleges are prevalent across institutions under different managements, both private and public. Most are affiliated colleges and many of them have not obtained NAAC accreditation. Affiliating universities are burdened with regulating them for delivering quality education.
Empowering Higher Education
The NEP-2020 states that the higher education system in India is extremely fragmented, with a rigid separation of disciplines, early specialisation and streaming students into narrow areas of study. While identifying anomalies with the country’s higher education system and proposing systemic solutions, it envisages a complete overhaul to reinforce and empower the higher education system. Its target is to deliver high-quality education while ensuring equity and inclusion.
While classifying three categories of HEIs: Research or Teaching-intensive Universities and Teaching-intensive-autonomous colleges, the NEP-2020 intends to transform HEIs into a large multidisciplinary university, colleges and HEI cluster or knowledge hubs. The pathway in developing three categories of large multidisciplinary quality HEIs is through consolidation and restructuring. It hopes and encourages every college to become either an autonomous degree-granting college, or a constituent college (fully part) of a university, or upgrade itself into a unitary University.
The other pathway is formation of clusters: either a cluster university or autonomous college cluster. These cluster colleges or universities over a period can evolve into a Multidisciplinary Education and Research University (MERU), one in every district as the policy contemplates. In establishing a greenfield, MERUs costs huge burden on public exchequer. So, it is better to transform the existing public HEIs (colleges) into a MERU.
Consolidation of HEIs
Consolidation of HEIs is pertinent in Telangana as it has too many smaller colleges. Telangana has 24 universities, including Central Universities and Institutions, and 2,041 colleges, along with 541 standalone institutions, according to 2019-20 statistics. Along with small-size, a large number of professional colleges are not multidisciplinary institutions; they offer discipline-specific educational courses and programmes. As the NEP-2020 perceives, it is imperative to transform them into large multidisciplinary quality institutions with a minimum enrolment of 3,000.
Only 2% of HEIs in the State have enrolment above 3,000. If one visualises such large HEIs, each with a minimum enrolment of 3,000, the number of HEIs required is far less than the number that exists in the State. With an average enrolment of 3,000, Telangana requires not more than 500 HEIs to serve the current enrolment.
Cluster is a grouping of two or more colleges, geographically closer, into one without displacing them given its advantage of resource (human, physical and financial) pooling and sharing. It is cost-effective and resource-efficient. A cluster approach for better management of educational institutions has been tried and tested for a long time. As early as in the 1960s, the Education Commission of India (Kothari Commission) had floated the idea for school education recommending school complexes.
Cluster models were experimented in India and across the world. The University Grants Commission (UGC) floated the same for its HEIs. Creating Cluster Universities by converting geographically nearby colleges into a Cluster is one of the components of the Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan. Some State governments have taken initiatives in this regard: Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and also Jammu & Kashmir.
The cluster approach initially can be applied to public HEIs in the State. It is easier to implement because all the public HEIs are in fact under a single management structure — State government. It has the advantage of not losing any single public institution in the consolidation by merging or shutting down. Most of the public institutions are, in fact, serving the rural-remote-underserved areas facilitating access to the underserved, backward and marginalised communities.
There are 221 HEIs in Telangana under the State government: 123 degree colleges under Commissionerate of Collegiate Education, 53 Residential Degree colleges under Social/Tribal/Minority Welfare Departments, 6 BEd colleges under Education Department, and 26 colleges related to medical profession under the Directorate of Medical Education.
Leaving apart colleges related to medical profession, there is a need to form a minimum of 50 clusters (each with 4-5 colleges) consisting of autonomous cluster colleges and cluster universities in the State. The cluster formation can be made at the district level, ie, each district would become the base for such a cluster formation as the district represents geographic compactness.
The clustering and its formation process have to be based on a procedure. Some groundwork that looks into the district-wise mapping of government colleges and their resources like geographical density, transportation, infrastructure, etc, is needed.
Following are some of the procedures required for materialising and developing the autonomous cluster colleges and cluster universities in the State, particularly in the public sector: College Mapping; Resource Mapping; Regulatory Framework; Guidelines and Procedures; Funding and Handholding; Recruitment of Teachers and other necessary non-teaching staff; Operational Management Systems; and Mentoring and Monitoring.
The Telangana government can initiate this experiment at the State level or on a pilot basis with colleges of chosen district(s) or region within the State. The success of the experiment depends on the rigour of the ground level preparatory work and regulatory framework, along with guidelines and procedures that would be required in the clustering process. Innovative operational management system for each cluster is a key component of its success.
By clustering the colleges, programmes or courses, optimum utilisation of human resources and infrastructure in HEIs can be achieved. This will enable students to get better access to the HEIs besides, quality education. It will be doing away with the present rigid system of education and underutilisation of resources and will provide flexibility to students in selecting courses of their choice and colleges in the given cluster.
(The author is Chairman, Telangana State Council of Higher Education)