Need to Focus Beyond Fees in Higher Education

Rajesh Nair on higher education

At the recent CII Higher Education Summit held in Kochi some of the interesting conundrums in the education sector came up for discussion. We are today witnessing a surfeit of institutions and increasing commoditisation of education. The increase in quantity seems to be the key theme, and a trajectory like this is likely to bring in quality issues.

Experts highlighted the decreasing availability of faculty and pointed out how there are no more teachers like in the ‘good old days’. The antidotes were also much like what we have heard in the past few decades: more industry–academia interface, more foreign university collaborations and better return on investment for students. ‘Autonomy’ is also a concept which was mooted in most of these discussions. While there are a lot of facts in all these observations and also there is need to remain focussed and bring about changes through pieces of legislation, it will also be helpful if we could take a look at some of the higher education institutions of repute in the world.

While we discuss the antidotes for problems in the education sector, it will be helpful if we could take a look at some of the higher education institutions of repute in the world, says Rajesh Nair

For the average institution of today, more than 90 per cent of the revenue still comes from the fees they receive from students. The focus too does not go beyond the stipulated syllabus. A common initiative nearly all of them take is the industry–academia interface, which has its own merits. But beyond a point, this is not enough. Look at some of the marquee institutions around the world. A recent article in The Economist had an interesting breakdown of the sources of funds for Harvard Business School: tuition fee (17 per cent), executive education (23 per cent), publishing (29 per cent) and endowments (31 per cent). For us there is a lot to learn from this funding pattern. The crucial thing to note is that tuition fees accounts for only a sixth of the revenue. But if we take a look at IIMs, one of our own premium institutions, we could see that this figure is closer to 45 per cent.

Before we ignore this data as irrelevant on the ground that an established premium brand cannot be compared with a relatively new institution, it will be good if we remind ourselves that this data could at least show us a direction. Increased research and development, white papers, patents and printed articles constitute the skeletal structure of an institution which can attract higher funds and endowments. The student engagement becomes richer when the institution attaches them to the faculty for working on projects which enhance their learning. To start with, a serious internship itself will help lay the broad contours for this. The recent Kerala Technical University directive to make internships mandatory is a great move in this direction and, while institutes will face teething problems in the initial years, it will eventually prove to be a great value addition to the respective courses.

Another avenue is consulting. An actual consulting engagement in the relevant areas of higher studies is a real possibility, which gives an opportunity for students to compare theory and practical day-to-day concepts. It will also help faculty members to streamline their pedagogy by giving students exposure to real-life industry examples.
While placements still figure high on the ‘key performance metric’ of every institution, the point to realise is that the roots of this lie in the students’ enhanced experience and their ability to understand the world around them. The fundamental motto should be to enable them to take on the changing world around them. These temples of higher learning are meant to prepare them to face life and not just help them earn a living. Placements, endowments and higher ratings will always follow.

(The author is Director-Markets, Kerala & Tamil Nadu, EY and President, TiE Kerala)