The prime minister's 10-point agenda indicates seriousness about education targets even as his government will be acting under the weight of not just a national emergency in education but also pent up hopes and aspirations of a whole generation of young people who are thirsting for access to quality education. It is imperative, therefore, that the new HRD minister acts with boldness, speed and vision.
We need radically big leaps. So, what should the new government do? Five key things, is the answer:
Allow private capital in education: For decades we have limited the supply of schools due to self imposed constraints on volumes by keeping private investment out of education. Estimates suggest that if private capital is allowed to participate in education, it can unleash investment of over 10,000 crore over the next one year: equivalent of building 1,000 new schools.
When you consider it has taken about 60 years to create 1,200 odd Kendriya Vidyalaya schools, the argument for private investment in education makes sense. Allowing bodies, whether forprofit or not-for-profit, to set up educational institutions, will overnight create an investment environment which will attract capital, not just from India but all over the world and it is not unthinkable to assume that $5-6 billion of investment could flow into India in the medium term.
This kind of capital will change the face of Indian education and provide us the "big leap" to make up for decades of underinvestment in education.
Introduce a reformist regulator: The education sector is beset by multiple, conflicting, parallel and in many cases, superfluous regulation. A licensing-based approach to education that only seeks to perpetuate mediocrity and limit education choices should be done away with.
For starters, a regulator will put in guidelines to regulate quality and not have a fixed asset/inputbased approach to education quality. It will rather talk about teacher training, qualifications, results, accreditation, industry-academia relationship, continuing education for professors, curriculum, innovation and research.
It would be a completely different vocabulary for education transformation.
Allow foreign education on shore: It sounds silly that we would be okay with Indian students spending over $4 billion in foreign universities rather than permitting joint ventures and collaborations and the opening of foreign institutions in India. To allay fears of an over-run, conditions can be put in place like compulsory local equity to the extent of either 50% or more for the first three years, not dissimilar to the regulations that are put in place for telecom or insurance.
At the same time we should do away with restrictions on repatriation, recognition of foreign degrees and so on.
Take Indian education global: It is strange to know that an estimated 25% of professors in leading universities globally and a similar percentage of the student population is Indian and the "education transaction" between teacher and student, both Indians, is being carried out abroad rather than here in the country.
To correct this anomaly we must create a mindset for our institutions to become globally competitive and to start targeting first world students. We must give our existing universities a direct incentive or cash credit for attracting non-Indian students.
The more foreign students we get to India, the more credibility of Indian education would be established worldwide, professors will come back to India and Indian students will not need to travel abroad for quality education.
Lastly, there is an urgent need to create viable public-private-partnership initiatives.
The government needs to encourage education rather than run educational institutions directly. So it should better invest resources in PPP ventures and bring in credible private sector partners. A buoyant capital market and a robust FDI regime is the right ecosystem for us to attract serious capital to setting up and running educational institutions.
This straight-forward five point agenda will enable India's dream to be a 21st century powerhouse of human capital. The next 100 days will set the trend. India's next 100 years could be shaped by it.
The author is CMD, Educomp Solutions Ltd