Towards a more pragmatic regulatory regime

Brig (Dr) RS Grewal on the necessity of regulation to protect the interests of students so that they get the best possible education

Indian higher education sector is going through a turbulent phase that demands more meaningful governance in tune with the environmental imperatives. Massive expansion has seen a number of private education providers entering the field and providing education has seen a fundamental transformation from being a charity to a vocation.

As in any other sector not all those who have entered the fray adopt business ethics that conform to the noble profession of teaching. Consequently, the private sector is increasingly singled out for criticism. However, all is also not well with our public sector institutions. Lack of accountability and commitment, promotion of mediocrity instead of meritocracy, and political maneuvering at the cost of education are on display in our state owned higher educational institutions. Consequently, despite massive infusion of funds even our elite institutions have failed to deliver. We need a pragmatic regulatory regime that could serve the nation without any prejudices.

Regulation is necessary to prevent anarchy

More autonomy for higher educational institutions coupled with market phenomena makes the system vulnerable to the risk of failing. There are already institutions that had come up with the sole purpose of making money that have either already closed down or are on the verge of closing. Further, there are hardly any institutions that could boast of desired standards in higher education. There is no denying the fact that there is a need to have mechanisms in place to prevent the system sliding into anarchy.

What regulation should do

Regulation is required firstly to protect the interests of students so that they get the best possible education and their parents get value for their money. Secondly, a pragmatic regulatory regime should encourage investment and innovation. Thirdly, regulation is required to ensure excellence both in public and private sectors. Fourthly, we need regulation to establish and, thereafter, sustain the reputation of our higher education system. A closer scrutiny of the existing Indian regulatory regime would highlight that it has failed the nation so far. It may be argued that our regulatory bodies have been able to protect the interests of students and parents to some extent. But that has been limited to the arena of fee structure.

Aspects like quality assurance have generally got mired in bureaucratic tangles due to propensity of those in power to control rather than govern. There are states in the country where regulation is synonymous with strangulating the private sector that has seen massive investments while the public sector institutions display utter chaos. The working philosophy there is that state owned institutions can be allowed to continue to play havoc with the future of students and only the private sector needs to be reined in.

Our regulators have yet to learn the nuances of good practices commensurate with the operational environment that could usher in excellence. Consequently, Indian higher education sector has not been able to establish a reputation that we as an emerging international power deserve.

Adopt an innovative approach to regulation

Our higher education system is generally based on colonial legacy that was meant for a different world. Thus, the fit between the existing system and the emergent environment has come under tremendous strain. There is a need to create academic value propositions that command respect and legitimacy from a variety of stake holders.

That calls for new operational methods and governance arrangements. An innovative approach that could exploit and transform the capacities of the existing system to deal with today’s realities is the need of the hour. It must be realised that innovations in government are circumscribed in scope that could trigger a bigger process of transformation. Further, mechanisms could be developed that provide decision makers with a menu of innovations to adapt to their own context while still abiding by the regulatory regime. That would be more conducive to good governance.

Any regulation that is framed should help sustainability and effectiveness of new practices that, in turn, depend upon many intangible factors. The environmental factors play a big role in shaping up new processes. The capacity of institutions to adapt, implement and institutionalise policies that have been successful in other quarters is a critical aspect of the process that is overlooked. If the recipient organisation has limited capabilities, there is a risk of failure.

Different circumstances require different solutions, and in the case of innovations there is no “one size fit all” solution. India is a country of continental dimensions. Thus, decentralisation and academic innovation undertaken within the boundaries of regulatory mechanism could be a desirable approach.

Our regulators need to imbibe the understanding of innovations and best practices that could help institutional growth based on a collaborative approach. In the present era dominated by ICT, knowledge sharing and replication gains importance.

Facilitating and rewarding collaborations could go a long way in building and sustaining our higher education sector. We are faced with an acute famine of competent faculty. A facilitating process that encourages innovative practices in sharing resources for the benefit of students and institutions could help overcome the problem to some extent.

Reverse the trend

Indian regulatory bodies have a penchant to lay down regulations first and then expect innovation from the players. Faced with such a situation the institutions resort to innovation to bend the regulations! The sooner our regulators realise that regulation follows innovation and not vice versa the better it would be for the system.

Author’s BIO

Brig (Dr) RS Grewal, is freelance advisor on education and is the former VC of Chitkara University. After retiring from the Army in 2002, he joined the Manipal Group, where he was the director of Sikkim Manipal Institute of Technology. Later he was the pro-vice chancellor of Sikkim Manipal University and also the first director of ICICI Manipal Academy.

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