It is often questioned as to why the performance of Indian Agricultural (Veterinary, Fisheries and Forestry included) universities are far below compared to China and other countries and why none of Indian varsities figures among the top 200 universities in the world. While asking such questions, a finger is also pointed towards the capacities and capabilities of Indian scientists and teachers as they say that compared to the research publications from countries like China, ours stand nowhere. These are concerned questions for which it has become necessary to analyse the reasons behind our comparatively lower standard of education. This lower standard has also recently been referred to by Bill Gates when he said the quality of education in India bothers him a lot.
It is generally seen that the public funded universities in India are lagging behind their expectation. Most of them depend heavily on government funding. Fee structure in public Indian varsities is also not high to compensate the crunch. It is a matter of record that investment in Research and Development (R & D) in India is only 0.8 percent of its GDP while it is 2.0 percent in China (with much higher GDP than ours), 2.70 percent in USA (with yet higher GDP), 1.7 percent in UK, 2.90 percent in Germany, 2.10 percent in Australia and a hooping 4.30 percent in South Korea for example. With such lower investment, we have to support a robust Higher Education network in the country next only to USA and China. In this era of globalisation of education and related resource generation benefit from foreign students too, it is desired that we assess this scenario as well. Against 9.40 lakh International students in USA, 4.94 lakh in UK, 1.08 lakh in China etc., India has only 34,419 students. Since 2011 to 2015, only 195 overseas students took admission in agriculture in 35 Indian Agricultural Universities. The resource sharing among the institutions is also a matter of concern in India since its number is increasing every year. The number of colleges in General Universities in India has increased; in case of Central Universities, by 88 percent from 25 in 2008 to 47 in 2016 and in case of state universities by 51 percent from 229 to 345 during the same period. The growth in private universities has been phenomenal at 1579 percent from 14 in 2008 to 235 in 2016. The growth in agri-sector has been - central universities from 1 to 4 and state universities up to 68 number. Whatever is the resource, that has to be shared among all these institutions. This large number and an allocation of only 0.8 percent of its GDP to R & D programs in India will amply throw light on answering the often asked questions mentioned above. However, this cannot be the sole reason for us doing poorly in international education arena. Other factor,ould be dealt with below, also count.
Agriculture being a state subject, the onus to support the state agricultural universities falls under the state government. On the issues of low productivity, import of food grains and animal/ fish products etc. from outside the state, I have been asked many a times by the visiting and visited dignitaries as to what the university is doing, knowing or pretending to be unknown about the support mechanism and support per se the university is receiving to conduct, test and demonstrate its research findings. Even the premier most agricultural universities are finding it difficult to live up to the expectations of its clients due to nothing but resource crunch. Agencies like ICAR have been of great help to keep on breathing but definitely not for running. Of late, they also appear to be little helpless due to slicing down of even the allocated budget. The budget to Agricultural Extension Division, for example, for the current year is learnt to be only 232.51 crore. Rs. 232 crore for about 670 KVKs which are an institution in itself. Similarly, an amount of Rs. 694.66 crore was allocated to Education Division of ICAR which might also be slashed. Rs. 694 crore for 75 varsities including the Central universities, Deemed to be Universities and the General Universities with Agriculture Faculty. If equally distributed, this means an amount of only Rs. 9.25 crore per university for the year. Major portion of this amount again is for student related activities including their stipend etc. which is very vital and a crucial need of any university. At least that support the universities, by and large, are receiving from ICAR. Much higher allocation therefore, is necessary to match up the expectations from the client groups. If this support is ensured and if the university authorities are made free from worries like paying the salary of their staff, much more could be done in education, research and extension fronts besides giving that crucial backstop to the development departments with technology, varieties and production and health packages.
Having said the above, other angles for uplifting the images of our universities are also to be analysed. Resetting of faculty mindset is a crucial issue. Productivity per faculty in terms of student's performance, externally funded research project bagged, innovation tried in teaching and research, aptitude towards using and developing digitalised teaching aids, actual peer recognition earned in the form of special invitation by any organisation and not by individuals, participation in institutional growth, aptitude for patent development and to attract sponsored students for PhD research etc. should be the benchmark to earn yearly increment and special positions in the universities. In short, faculty competence as judged by the above indicators needs to be critically evaluated together with their acceptability level in agricultural education, research and extension. Invitation from other institutions as the guest faculty will be an added advantage. Since the expectations of the client groups and the government is so very high from the universities, the universities need also be given liberty to promote the performers and show the door to non-performers either by demoting him/ her or by giving them VRS. Presently, it is gathered that from the excellent contribution of around 50 percent of the faculty and researchers, remaining 50 percent earn their salary with ease and non-accountability. This has to stop if India is to compete with the best of the best universities in the world and create a niche for herself as a sought after destination for agricultural higher education and research.
Yet another issue to be addressed is the rituality of PhD programs. Each PhD program is to be so oriented by the respective supervisors that the output of research either serves the science by opening up further pursuable research gate or the currently perceived agricultural stresses. Each thesis needs to weigh heavily as a vital document to fall back on while searching for an agrarian solution for the state/ region. Research publications have to be of such standard that it attracts industries and commercial houses, an indicator for global ranking. Patent shyness has to be replaced with 'patent earning must' attitude and research project methods, methodologies and processes planned accordingly. Each university must also try hard to be among the first top ten accredited universities and this attitude will definitely help in finding a better ranking than the present one. What we need is 'we can do it' attitude and 'we must do' kind of commitment and confidence. When others can, we also can with little understanding and escalated support from the government and a sense of belongingness of each and everyone who is on the roll of the university.
(K M Bujarbaruah)