Letter from the Editor
The fact that the worldâ€™s most prestigious and highly regarded schools and universities are non-government private sector institutions is one of the well-kept secrets of socialist India. Yet the plain truth is that not only in the US â€” the aspirational mecca of Indian students who currently constitute the largest foreign students community there â€” but even back home in India, the best schools and colleges are privately promoted and managed. Itâ€™s not so well known that almost all the best reputed universities in the US such as Harvard, Yale, Amherst, Illinois etc are private sector trust-run institutions. In Britain though universities tend to be aided by government, the most reputed secondary schools (Eton, Harrow, Rugby and Winchester), are privately-promoted independent institutions.
For historical reasons in post-independence India the education system has been modelled on the British pattern with school promoters permitted greater latitude than promoters of colleges and universities. Thus itâ€™s undisputed that the best schools â€” Doon, Mayo, St.Paulâ€™s, Bishop Cotton etc â€” are in the private sector. In higher education too, the premier colleges are nominally private sector institutions but under the socialist dispensation of the past half century they have had to suffer backdoor nationalisation through the simple strategem of not being permitted to raise their tuition fees and thus rendered heavily dependent upon Central and state government grants.
Unfortunately the managements of these nominally private colleges have succumbed to the â€˜Stockholm syndromeâ€™ and are content with backdoor nationalisation, notwithstanding the levelling down of academic standards which is the inevitable consequence of government captivity. Nevertheless given intense public pressure for qualitatively superior education, despite complex licence-permit-quota and tuition fee regulations, onerous conditions and severe restrictions, determined educationists and edupreneurs have run the gauntlet of licence-permit raj and established privately managed institutions, including colleges and universities which over the years have unobtrusively acquired excellent reputations. Now with the winds of liberalisation and the WTO accords which have revitalised Indian industry beginning to waft through the dormant groves of academia, pioneer private sector education trusts and groups have an opportunity to assume a leadership role and set new globally competitive standards in higher education. This monthâ€™s cover feature profiles some of Indiaâ€™s private sector education groups which seem all set to stimulate a renaissance of higher education.
This monthâ€™s equally important special report feature written by our indefatigable correspondent Vidya Pandit (who battled a severe influenza attack to meet her deadline) from Lucknow, perhaps the epicentre of student politics and militancy, focusses a spotlight upon student unionism. Once driven by great idealism and co-opted by the Mahatma into the freedom struggle, student unions have degenerated into a vested interest whose prime objective is to retain massive blanket subsidisation of higher education, a defining and indefensible characteristic of higher education in post-independence India.