Higher education in Odisha – much to long for

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If you check the ‘Activity Report 2016-17’ of the Higher Education Department of Odisha government, you will find something very odd. The report, a PDF file is actually scanned from pages torn from the hard copy of the activity book. If you can spot the irony there, then that is precisely what the condition of higher education in Odisha is. The opening of two new higher education directorates last week can only be seen as cosmetic and in order to improve indices a more surgical approach is needed.

Odisha has 11 state universities, 5 private universities, 102 government autonomous colleges, 287 aided, 120 block grant colleges, 294 un-aided colleges and 143 self financing colleges. Of the 11 state universities, one (Utkal University) was accredited with A+ ranking in 2016 and 6 others with A grade. The Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) of Odisha remains at a lowly 17.5%. The ambitious target of 30% GER will take much more than just establishing new institutions.

272 posts for Junior Lecturers and 513 posts for Lecturers are lying vacant. Only in 2016, State Selection Board, coming to life after 24 long years in coma, appointed 1625 Lecturers in non-government aided colleges. How knowledge imparting would be happening at the face of such vacancy is anyone’s guess. A comment on quality, training, skills of these faculty members would demand another essay altogether.

Scholarships given are scanty and paltry. Schemes like KSSY which make provision for education loan for higher education at 1% repayment interest exist only on paper. While the announcement is there, banks have no clue about it as they have not received any communication from the government. Some scholarships are broad based, like a mega scholarship for 10,000 students, it provides for Rs 10,000 per annum. Anyone aware of the skyrocketing cost of higher education in the country will scoff at such an amount of scholarship.

There already exists District Infrastructure and Quality Monitoring Cells headed by District level Consultants, and up to 30 in few districts. Odisha State Higher Education Council was set up in 2014 which aims to “provide for the benchmarking, coordination and maintenance of standards and promotion of higher education and research”. Then there are regional directorates, with two new established last week, which oversee affairs of few districts under them. The ghost of overregulation thus continues to haunt higher education. While only recently the government has shown promise by creating autonomous institutions, it needs to be granted broadly for institutions to improve.

Rs 957.2 crore under Plan, 1239.8 crore under non-Plan and Rs 50 lakhs under Central plan has been allotted for higher education in Odisha. The per capita funding received from MHRD, Govt of India, is one of the lowest for Odisha. This discrimination does not augur well for Centre State relation but then it also does not receive much attention. Odisha government last year requested World Bank to provide assistance of Rs 1019.7 crore for improving higher education in the state. It has not received the amount yet. A country which invests very little in higher education of course has states which do so, and Odisha is no exception. If the outcomes are to improve, higher funding has to occur.

Why cannot there be a university for cultural studies which encompasses studies on cultural heritage, dance forms, language, Buddhist studies, etc? Why cannot there be more engineering colleges modelled on NIT-Rourkela, which stands out as only credible institution in that category? Why cannot medical colleges, including the proposed new ones, have state-of-the-art facilities? Why cannot employability of graduates be improved? There are many such questions that haunt higher education in Odisha. A concerted effort beginning from government, civil society, education entrepreneurs, higher education bureaucracy and academics can answer these.

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