Education Reform in India

Excerpts from the foreword by Professor Yash Pal to the Report of ‘The Committee to Advise on Renovation and Rejuvenation of Higher Education.’ December 2009.


(We are gratified that the logic of the report supports the premises of The South Asian Idea.)

We were struck by the fact that over the years we have followed policies of fragmenting our educational enterprise into cubicles. We have overlooked that new knowledge and new insights have often originated at the boundaries of disciplines. We have tended to imprison disciplinary studies in opaque walls. This has restricted flights of imagination and limited our creativity. This character of our education has restrained and restricted our young right from the school age and continues that way into college and university stages. Most instrumentalities of our education harm the potential of human mind for constructing and creating new knowledge. We have emphasized delivery of information and rewarded capability of storing information. This does not help in creating a knowledge society. This is particularly vile at the university level because one of the requirements of a good university should be to engage in knowledge creation – not just for the learner but also for society as a whole.


We would like to point out that there are no great universities in the world that do not simultaneously conduct world class programs in science, astronomy, management, languages, comparative literature, philosophy, psychology, information technology, law, political science, economics, agriculture and many other emerging disciplines. Indeed the emerging disciplines do their emerging because of infection or triggering by other fields in the same university. That is the reason that such universities are so great and our academics keep going to them. Our argument is that they would not be great if they could not accommodate people from many other disciplines. Put together, all the disciplines, breed value into each other. If forced to stay in isolation from each other they would not have the character demanded for greatness. It is our strong recommendation that the new Universities, including those we call Indian Institutes of Technology – or Management should have the character of such world-class universities. Furthermore, the existing Institutes of Technology whose competence as excellent undergraduate institutions we do recognize (also their brand name) should be challenged to play a bigger role – for example similar to that of great universities like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) or Caltech. In addition, like these great universities of the world they should engage with a much wider universe of knowledge, both at undergraduate and post graduate levels.


I would like to mention our deep concern in respect of two matters:

Mushrooming engineering and management colleges, with some notable exceptions, have largely become, mere business entities dispensing very poor quality education. We have made some recommendations in this regard.

Deemed Universities have also mushroomed. Most of them do not belong to the same class as those recognized as such twenty years ago.


You would notice that we are placing supreme importance on the character of universities. They must create new knowledge. Besides making people capable of creating wealth they have a deep role in the overall thinking of society and the world as a whole. This job cannot be performed in secluded corners of information and knowledge. It would be silly to deny the practical role of experts in areas of science, technology, economics, finance and management. But narrow expertise alone does not make educated human beings for tomorrow. Indeed, speaking more seriously, one could almost say that most serious problems of the world today arise from the fact that we are dominated by striations of expertise with deep chasms in between.

The complete report (popularly known as the Yash Pal Committee Report) can be accessed here.



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  • Vikram
    Posted at 01:08h, 31 December Reply

    I think Indian policy makers should be careful here. Like you, I too am completely in favour of universities and graduates with a broader education than what we see in India today, of course along with a significant improvement in quality.

    However, another part of me keeps saying that perhaps the engineering and MBA factories in India today, are perhaps not such a bad thing after all (modulo poor quality of instruction, which is a different matter). After all the overwhelming objective for tertiary education in India is economic, I can see a lot of logic from the economic perspective in producing engineers and MBAs on a large scale at reasonable costs.

    What seems to be happening at my large public university in the US is that a significant chunk of the students end up studying in the neglected liberal arts or other ‘non-industry’ subjects by default, an education which on average tends to have little economic value.

    There seems to be quite a lot of dynamism in the tertiary education sector in India, perhaps it might be a good thing to have an option for a cheap engineering degree rather than a relatively more expensive history degree.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 17:30h, 01 January

      Vikram: We should not frame this as an either/or choice. The aim should be to include enough social sciences and liberal arts in the engineering course to transform a training into an education. Unrelated to this issue, I doubt if a social science degree is more expensive than one in engineering.

  • Vikram
    Posted at 04:24h, 03 January Reply

    Perhaps there is a ray of hope,

    “The real change should be marked by a transition from rigidity to freedom in academic practice and from disciplinary insularity to inter-disciplinarity in terms of the method.

    This change is realised in the scheme introduced in Kerala through a complete overhauling of the undergraduate programme. The courses will now consist of 10 compulsory ones which all students will take, regardless of their area of specialisation. These courses serve to sensitise students to socially important issues and to familiarise them with disciplines other than their field of specialisation. The purpose of such exposure to different disciplines is to equip students to undertake interdisciplinary study and research later on.”

    I must warn you that as far as states and good initiatives go in India, Kerala almost always is an isolated exception.

  • SouthAsian
    Posted at 13:09h, 04 January Reply

    Here is a useful discussion on the state of school education in India:

    “A global study of learning standards in 74 countries has ranked India all but at the bottom, sounding a wake-up call for the country’s education system. China came out on top.”

  • Aleksa Hartog
    Posted at 09:42h, 30 July Reply

    Isha Foundation has launched a campaign to revolutionize India’s public education system. Plans are currently underway to adopt 3000 Government schools across Tamilnadu and conduct teacher training, remedial classes, extracurricular activities and health clinics.

    Visit to learn more and join the movement.

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