Editorial Notes

[Editorial Notes] Higher education has become a waste of money

The gap between jobs, needs and knowledge, and the absence of right model in education system, are turning India’s demographic dividend into a nightmare.
By IASToppers
March 07, 2020


  • Introduction
  • Pathetic state of present curriculum
  • Lacunae of engineering curriculum
  • Pitfalls in Social Science curriculum
  • Lack of applied Economics
  • Sociology diverging from societal needs
  • Failure of institutions
  • Structural limitations
  • One-nation one-curriculum
  • Conclusion

Higher education has become a waste of money

For IASToppers’ Editorial Simplified Archive, click here


The present state of education and training at our elite institutions, and consequently, in the national curriculum is more or less rote learning and does very little to empower ordinary students to probe their reality and deal with India specific problems.

Pathetic state of present curriculum:

  • The present curriculum has a fixed set of topics prescribed in all subjects — from physics to geography, and engineering to planning and it is taught in English at our elite MHRD institutions.
  • It has not been designed by politicians but by our elite professors and bureaucrats and is what they believe the nation really needs to know.
  •  It is imposed on ordinary students and parents through competitive exams and on colleges and universities through various central regulatory agencies.
  • Example: UGC-NET, an objective-type multiple-choice exam that decides who is fit to be a college teacher.
  • Much of this does not apply to elite MHRD institutions.
  • For the rest of us, what is taught and who can teach it, has already been decided and what remains for us is to see how it serves our people.

Lacunae of engineering curriculum:

  • The national engineering curriculum fails miserably in meeting regional needs.
  • Engineering for Himachal Pradesh needs to be different from that in Maharashtra or Kerala.
  • And it must address the needs of core industries, local enterprises, the provisioning of basic amenities such as water and energy.
  • None of this is in our national curricula or practiced at the IITs.
  • Moreover, there is no mechanism for engineering colleges to work with their communities.

Pitfalls in Social Science curriculum:

  • Coming to the social sciences, it is the UGC-NET curricula, which is largely what is taught in our elite institutions.
  • At the BA level, it is divided into several disciplines — for instance, political science, sociology and economics.
  • This is unfortunate since much of life in India is interdisciplinary.
  • As a result, many activities such as preparing the balance sheet for a farmer, or analyzing public transport needs, and development concerns such as drinking water or even city governance, are given a miss.

Lack of applied Economics:

  • The UGC-NET curricula in economics has 10 units, the very last unit is Indian Economics.
  • Unit 8 is on Growth and Development Economics, where the student must know Keynes, Marx, Kaldor, and others.
  • There are various mathematical models, for example the IS-LM macroeconomic model, whose validity in the Indian scenario is questionable.
  • The study of sectors such as small enterprises or basic economic services such as transportation is absent.
  • The District Economic Survey, an important document prepared regularly by every state for each district, is not even mentioned.
  • There is also no mention of important data sets such as the census or developmental programmes including MGNREGA in either curriculum.

Sociology diverging from societal needs:

  • Moving to sociology, there is no preamble nor a list of textbooks or case studies.
  • Again, there are 10 units, and each unit is a list of about 30 topics.
  • Unit 1 is “Sociological Theory” which is a breathtaking list of 22 thinkers from the West, starting from Durkheim, wending through Foucault and ending with Castells.
  • We then have six Indian thinkers — the usual four, Gandhi, Ambedkar, G S Ghurye and M N Srinivas, and two others
  • Under “Social Institutions”, we have a list of timeless words such as culture, marriage, family and kinship.
  • Peasant occurs two times, but there is no farmer.
  • This raises the question whether the curriculum has anything to benefit the real needs of Indian society.

Failure of institutions:

  • Indeed, the training at our elite institutions, and consequently, in the national curricula, is not to empower ordinary students to probe their lived reality or to contribute professionally and constructively to the development problems around us.
  • Rather, it is to perpetuate a peculiar intellectualism which is divorced from the community in which these institutions are embedded.
  • Hardly any social science department bothers to translate key state government documents, articles or texts from the vernacular press to English, let alone study them.
  • This shortage of facts leads to a peculiar ghetto mentality which privileges classroom discourse and critique as the primary way of generating knowledge and dissent as an important output of the university.
  • They forget Kosambi, who said the cognition of the material condition and its measurement by the people is the first step to freedom.

Structural limitations:

  • Thus, the social science curriculum has the same structural limitations as engineering.
  • The national curriculum today is antithetical to the idea of India as an organic union of intelligent people, diverse in their ways of life and their geography.
  • It diminishes their intellectual capability and hinders their right to pursue their culture and improve their material conditions.
  • That is the real reason why higher education has become a waste of money.
  • As per the Constitution, higher education is the business of the states.
  • The role of the Centre is circumscribed by items 62-66 of Schedule VII.
  • Much of the conduct of MHRD and its institutions, and certainly competitive exams, is against the spirit of the Constitution.


  • One-nation-one-curriculum certainly has some advantages in enabling mobility of some jobs, especially in the national bureaucracy and a multinational economy.
  • But it is at the cost of the developmental needs of the states and the emergence of good jobs there.
  • This asymmetry is behind the aspirational dysfunction in higher education.
  • It is this disconnect between jobs, needs and knowledge and the absence of role models, which is slowly turning our demographic dividend into a nightmare on the streets.
  • Our top-down elite bureaucrats and professors are not about to loosen their hold over what is taught in the states.
  • The way ahead is political, perhaps for a committee of chief ministers, assisted by regional experts, to decide how to rebalance the role of MHRD and learn from the European Union.


  • Apart from the curriculum which is in the spirit of the Constitution, respects the idea of India and serve its people without discrimination, the demand of a curriculum arises which develops critical and analytical thinking in students and aids them in doing value based research and application of the theoretical lessons in the addressing the peculiar demands and ground situations in their respective fields and regions throughout the country.
Mains 2020 Editorial Notes

IT on Facebook

Facebook Pagelike Widget


Calendar Archive

September 2020
« Aug