When Professor Mahendra Lama took charge as vice chancellor at the newly set-up Central University in Sikkim last year, he had visions of setting up a university that would achieve the heights of academic excellence.
Little did he know about the constraints that he would face. To start with, there were very few quality professionals willing to join the education sector. To compete with the best universities abroad not only do we need to have competent teaching staff but also managers in core areas like administrative management, finance, academic and professional programmes, infrastructure development and mobilisation of resources, says Lama.
While the problem of faculty crunch is often discussed, little attention has been paid to an equally important area: the lack of management bandwidth and the inability to offer a consistent quality of service by most educational institutes.
This lack of professional management could seriously hinder Indian higher education sectors global image and growth prospects.
Challenge of Scarcity
To visualise the extent of the problem lets look at the sectoral growth trends. The CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets Indian Education Sector Outlook reports: As of July 2007, there were 1,617 recognised engineering colleges of which nearly 1,200 were private. The total number of colleges is expanding at a rate of about 100 per yearIndia has more than 300 private colleges offering MBAs and 140 private medical colleges, most operating as stand-alone institutions. A few chains have emerged such as Amity University with 38 colleges and Manipal University with 20 colleges.
While it is difficult to estimate the number of management professionalsthat are needed by these institutions, the growth trends indicate that the number could be anywhere between 50,000 to 200,000. The engineering, management and medical institutes are the ones that have been hardest hit.
Says Bharat Gupta of Ernst & Young, These institutes require well-developed systems, robust administration and strong leadership. Given the scale and complexity of these colleges, the need for professional managers is being felt acutely.
Meeting this demand is proving to be a huge challenge. The greatest need is for managers and executives in the marketing, administration, logistics, finance, corporate relations and IT disciplines. Market positioning, building relationships with alumni, donors, students and society are some of the major marketing and communication challenges that could use professional help.
Cause and Effect
There are a number of barriers that Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) face in attracting the management talent. The most significant one is the not-for-profit nature of the education sector. This limits the ability of institutes to offer remuneration packages that are on par with corporate salaries. Says Raghav Gupta, president, Technopak, HEIs need to be set up and managed as for-profit institutions to ensure high quality of education and provide incentives for private players to participate proactively.
Many believe that true professionalism and high standards of education will continue to elude Indian higher education, unless it becomes an organised industry. Until then, professional managers will continue to give the sector a wide berth. Once it has acquired an industry status, it will become more practical to develop education management as a discipline under the larger umbrella of management studies. This would then help in growing a pool of talented managers who would be trained to meet the unique needs of the education sector.