The best colleges of India
India Today Editor-in-Chief talks about a definitive India Today-survey across 12 major disciplines for the Covid world, in the July 6, 2020 edition of the India Today Magazine.
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Last week, we just completed three months of what is arguably the most significant event of our collective lifetime—an unprecedented nationwide lockdown meant to slow the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. These twin developments will have consequences far beyond the already evident economic downturn. A June 2020 UNICEF report warns that the lives and futures of children across South Asia are being torn apart by the Covid-19 crisis. Young adults may be less susceptible to the virus itself, but they could be profoundly affected by its fallout. Nowhere is this more evident than in education. Teaching and examination schedules have been disrupted, and the academic calendar will now begin in September.
Cities like Mumbai and Delhi, which account for the largest concentration of our educational institutions, are the most affected by the pandemic and lockdowns. Students are unlikely to travel abroad in the numbers that they did last year — over 200,000 students went abroad to the US alone — which means competition for domestic college admissions this year is set to intensify. In these uncertain times, the 24th edition of India Today Group’s Best Colleges Survey assumes even greater significance. For the past two decades, our survey has been the most authentic reflection of the state and progress of colleges across the country.
India Today July 6, 2020 cover, The Best Colleges of India.
While we get on with our lives and learn to live with the coronavirus until a cure or vaccine is found, there are important lessons. The pandemic and its disruption have also presented opportunities to expose and tackle some of the long-standing challenges that are otherwise brushed under the carpet. Top among these is the focus on health and education, particularly medical education.
The findings of this year’s survey—as in the past couple of years—once again demonstrate that there is an urgent need to democratise the quality of education in India. Most of the top colleges have remained concentrated in a few big cities, with the national capital region of Delhi leading the pack. That explains the incredibly high cut-off marks of Delhi University colleges and the nerve-wracking competition among students to secure a seat in a college of their choice.
The top 25 colleges in arts, science and commerce are restricted to only eight cities though 175 cities participated in the survey. The top 25 engineering and law colleges are concentrated in just six cities. The medical stream fares a little better, with the top 25 colleges spread across 11 cities. Yet, India has only an estimated 1.2 million doctors, or 9 per 10,000 people, compared to China’s 20. The shortage of doctors aside, they are also distributed disproportionately across the country. Four states—Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Maharashtra—account for 45 per cent of these doctors even though they constitute only 24 per cent of India’s population. India has 541 medical colleges but 47 per cent of our districts don’t have one. Apart from correcting geographical disparities, there are other serious fundamental problems in our higher education system. India has more institutes of higher education than most countries — the number of colleges is close to 40,000 and still rising. Yet, only 20 per cent of the 5 million students who graduate every year in India find employment, a report by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India revealed. The problem lies with quality of graduates our institutes churn out.
For example, India boasts of some of the world’s best technical institutes in the form of the IITs, but at the same time, hundreds of engineering colleges across the country have such abysmal standards of infrastructure and faculty that they inevitably produce unemployable engineers. According to the National Employability Report-Engineers, 2016 by Aspiring Minds, nearly 80 per cent of the graduating engineers were unemployable.
At the root of this is the tragic failure of skill education in the country and the encouragement of rote learning which has had a detrimental effect on learning outcomes. Our colleges, even the better ones, remain focused on churning out useless degrees that provide no opportunity for hands-on learning. India is plagued by the obsession to get a degree of any kind even if it does not get you a job. There is no appreciation of the dignity of labour, and hence the failure of vocational training in India. The systemic skill gap is actually a massive hidden cost to the Indian economy. The corona pandemic has made us realise how pathetic our medical infrastructure is. Sadly, there is no such event that will expose how broken our education system is, yet the fact remains that no country has progressed without a robust education framework. Fixing this is the best gift we can give to the generations to come.
(India Today Editor-in-Chief's note for the cover story, The Best Colleges of India, for July 6, 2020)