Private universities

The Independent, 10 June 2002

The advent of private universities should be greeted in so far as they can open up new possibilities for the country's youth and widen the scope of higher education. They are a new kind of venture in the education sector and in fact the setting up of institutes of higher learning under private sponsorship is a new philosophy of education in this country. But this is quite in keeping with the spirit of the time and can serve a very useful purpose. Yet, while private enterprise in different fields of national life is to be welcomed, the greatest caution has to be exercised. Profit-driven entrepreneurship without a commitment to education and social responsibility will not achieve the desired result while it may create more confusion in the field of education and accentuate the frustration of the youth. We say this not because the decade-long performance of the private universities is an unqualified failure. Indeed, some of these universities, the leading ones, have created a positive impact in the educational field. The public universities can enrol only a small minority of the number of students who apply for higher education every year.

However, the way private universities are mushrooming it is difficult to say that all of them are serving the cause of education. Indeed, there are reports that students after spending one or two years and a huge amounts of money have discovered to their chagrin that their university was not registered and the information they were given about its affiliation to a foreign university and facility of credit transfer' was false. The government must also share the blame for allowing these universities to function without verifying the credentials of their sponsors.

Quality of education rather than the size of profit should be the goal. In the West private universities, at any rate the reputable ones, are financed by endowments and philanthropic foundations. That way, the tuition fees come down and students from middle and low income families benefit. As things stand at present, the most talented students have not been attracted to private universities and they still prefer the troubled traditional universities. One reason may be that private universities offer extremely limited choice of subjects. As these universities are profit-motivated, the subjects they teach are only the most marketable ones—Business Administration, and Computer Science. It is true higher education should be employment-oriented but it is also true that higher education should have some moral and philosophical goals—especially as far as the most brilliant students are concerned. Private universities which limit their academic scope to only market driven forces cannot serve the ultimate purpose of the nation. We also feel that too much emphasis on future economic prospects will make the young learners more selfish. A moral education must underlie all academic curricula.