Inauguration of the
Confederation of Indian Universities
Inaugural Address by
Dr. K. Venkatasubramanian
Member, Planning Commission, Government of
on 15 April 2004
HIGHER EDUCATION IN THE TWENTYFIRST CENTURY :
FROM VISION TO ACTION
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen ! I am thankful to all of
you for inviting me to inaugurate the Confederation of Indian
Universities (CIU). It is a wonderful concept to have such an
independent platform and umbrella of all recognised universities
of India for discussing a masterplan from time to time for
optimising their available resources and for exchanging their
views for reducing the wastage in education and for stopping the
duplication of efforts.
The higher education in India, as elsewhere, needs a blending of
vision and action in order to become truly purposeful. But we
have too much of vision in India, but very little of Action. I
can quote the great jurist late Nani Palkhiwala who said in a
meeting presided over by me at Mumbai “We have too much of
government but too little governance in India. We have vast
vision but perhaps very little action. These words are ringing
in my ears even today.
We all desire to develop India as a Super Knowledge Power. Our
exalted President and our Hon’ble Prime Minister have given us
the vision. It is for us to realise this dream and turn this
vision into action. Hence I welcome the magnificent efforts of
Prof. P R Trivedi in gathering intellectuals have to construct a
road map for development in this great nation. In this mission
higher education plays a notable role. Based on my advice Prof.
Trivedi took the trouble of contacting almost all universities
in the country and I am glad that he could get a favourable
response from more than 37 universities consenting to co-sponsor
the birth of the Confederation of Indian Universities (CIU)
being inaugurated today. I am sure that many more universities
will be joining the CIU as Partner Institutions by entering into
the CIU's domain at the earliest.
The 21st century witnessed the global economy changing fast
where knowledge substitutes mere physical capital as the
fundamental source of wealth. Technology is the major driving
force with Information Technology (IT), Bio-Technology (BT)
adding to this tremendous force to bring forth outstanding
changes in our thinking and our ways of living and working.
As knowledge takes the driver’s seat higher education naturally
gets priority. All nations of the world have to take their young
men and women to superior education of a higher standard. A
university degree becomes today perhaps the basic qualification
for skilled work. Therefore, the quality of instruction and
contents of knowledge taught in our higher institutions of
Education become very important. The governments have to see
that this is available to wider reaches of the economy, as this
step is really crucial to national competitiveness, which is the
hallmark of progress today.
The World Bank’s significant Task Force on Higher Education and
Society (2000) in its report entitled Higher Education in
Developing Countries - Peril and Promise rightly underlines this
aspect. This poses a serious challenge to the developing world.
Since the 1980s, many national governments and international
donors have assigned higher education a relatively low priority.
This narrow- and, in our view, misleading - economic analysis
has contributed to the view that public investment in
universities and colleges brings meager returns compared to
investment in primary and secondary schools, and that higher
education magnifies income inequality.
Funding resources, governance and curriculum development pose a
real challenge to the developing nations.
In the fast emerging knowledge economy, highly motivated
specialists, with special training along with broadly educated
generalists will be on demand and both these sets of people
should continue to learn, as everyday, their working scenario
and environment widens.
I would like to quote here Malcolm Gills, the noted President of
Rice University, USA :
“Today, more than ever before in human history, the wealth - or
poverty - of nations depends on the quality of higher education.
Those with a larger repertoire of skills and a greater capacity
for learning can look forward to life times of unprecedented
economic fulfilment. But in the coming decades the poorly
educated face little better than the dreary prospects of lives
of quiet desperation”.
The emphatic fact we have to realise here and now is that today
our wealth is seen less and less in the old sources of
factories, land, tools and machinery. The new sources are
knowledge, skills and response born out of resourcefulness of
people, which go to constitute their dynamism. It has been
clearly established that the human Capital in the USA is three
times more important than mere physical capital. A mere 100
years ago this was not the case.
The fast developing world has therefore given rightful political
priority to develop human capital through education. Naturally
education has been recognised as a major force of development.
This means bringing into existence really high quality
educational institutions. Quite a few developed countries have
witnessed a significant rise in the number of students seeking
higher education. Life long learning techniques feed continuing
The developing countries also should face the challenge equally
if they want to climb to a developed status. These developing
nations are also alive to the problem. For example I can cite
here President Benjamin W. Mkapa of Tanzania who is concerned
that higher education in Africa is becoming increasingly
obsolete. He says “higher education must produce men and women
willing to fight an intellectual battle for self-confidence and
self-assertion as equal players in the emerging globalized
world”. Tame graduates with paper degrees can never ring in
The World Bank Task Force report clinches the argument for the
need to upgrade higher education levels when it records “After
all education is associated with better skills, higher
productivity, and enhanced human capacity to improve the quality
of life. Education at all levels is needed if economies are to
climb from subsistence farming, through an economy based on
manufacturing, to participation in the global knowledge
I would like to quote here the 1998/99 World Development Report
entitled “Knowledge for Development”. It significantly records
that “Knowledge is like light, weightless and intangible, it can
easily travel through the world, enlightening the lives of
people everywhere. Yet billions of people still live in the
darkness of poverty- unnecessarily”.
Perhaps these unfortunate people live in darkness, as they could
not switch on the light of knowledge which is nothing but
education. We have the switch but we don’t know how to operate
this. Perhaps James D. Wolfonsohn, President of the World Bank
referred to this state of affairs as “Poverty in the midst of
If you analyse in depth the needs of a developing knowledge
society higher education inputs has never been so vitally more
important as it is today. Hon’ble Prime Minister of India, Shri
Atal Bihari Vajpayee, has recently unveiled a five-point agenda
for India’s development as Knowledge Society. The Prime Minister
stated “a knowledge based society will enable us to leap-frog in
finding new and innovative ways to meet the challenges of
building a just and equitable social order and seek urgent
solutions” in his inaugural address to delegates attending the
ASSOCHAM summit recently held on “India in the knowledge
The five-point agenda points to the following:
l Education for developing a learning society.
l Global networking.
l Vibrant government-industry-academia interaction in policy
making and implementation.
l Leveraging of existing competencies in IT, Telecom,
Bio-technology, Drug Design, Financial Services, and Enterprise
wide management economic and business strategic alliances built
on capabilities and opportunities.
l Economic and business strategic alliances built on
capabilities and opportunities.
The agenda for shaping India as a Super Knowledge Power is not
merely a dream but it is a real vision. Already sure signs are
visible that India is scaling heights. India’s IT market today
has grown from $1.73 billion in 1994-95 to $16.5 billion in
2002-03. The country’s software exports grew at 26 to 28 percent
during the current last year ending March 2004. As if in
response to this striking growth we are beginning to hear the
expected anti globalisation noises from the West. The result of
the fear of our monumental growth is the proposed introduction
in the so-called developed world of legislation seeking to clamp
down on outsourcing. This also is a sure indication of the
growing weakening of American confidence in the strength of the
dollar. Gopal K. Agarwal states that “the US has been running up
a higher and higher deficit which has crossed half a trillion
But these protective legislation may not be able to stem the
tide there. Even Alan Greenspan, the Chairman of the U.S.
Federal Reserve has gone on record that “efforts to protect US
jobs through legislation could end up in a serious damage to
The outsourcing Research Council has estimated the global
outsourcing market to be of the order of 5 trillion dollars even
in 2002 and 20 percent of the total business is done by the TT
and TTES market, which grows by 15 percent per annum. Of this
India gets only about two percent. This indicates the huge
opportunities that are available and indicates the future
potential, which is great.
Our Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) are doing superb work
in this knowledge era. Many people are not perhaps aware of the
fact that the IIT Delhi excelling in the rare area of drug
design. Researchers at this premier IIT have developed a
comprehensive indigenous Bio- informatic software called
SANJEEVINI for Drug Design. They have also developed novel
methodologies for Protein structure prediction and genome
analysis. These software and methodologies will help
pharmaceutical companies and R&D Units in drug discovery and
Thus in frontier areas we are forging ahead but from Yojana
Bhavan I could still feel we can do better in the higher
education front. I quote an episode in the life of Ashoka the
Great. When young Prince Ashoka asked his father his blessings
on standing at the top of his school the emperor replied to his
son “Very well my dear boy, you could still do better”
For a nation as big as India with more than 300 Universities,
13000 colleges, 350000 teachers and about 80 million students we
are doing extremely well today but still these are areas where
we could excel. For example our catering to foreign students
needs to be upgraded.
The WTO (World Trade Organization) has recognised 12 sectors of
services for foreign Trade, which includes Education also, and
so the urgent need arises for us to hone up our education
Education today is an Internationally tradable commodity. We
must make our commodity salable.
As a result of this WTO announcement the UGC (University Grants
Commission) has identified 10 Universities in the country to
start with for the promotion of India Higher Education abroad
(PTHEAD). These universities have to showcase their academic
programmes and superior infrastructure facilities during series
of education fairs to be held in developing and developed
countries. These select Universities are named as Ambassador of
Indian Education by the UGC.
GATS (General Agreement on Trade in Services) has recognised
four main modes of trade in educational services: cross-border
supply of services through distance education; education of
students abroad; setting up courses or institutions in other
countries and movement of people between countries to provide
education. Education of students abroad has been the most common
form of trade in educational services; So far, it has been a
one-way traffic for India. The number of Indian students going
abroad for studies has been increasing year by year and the
number of foreign students studying in Indian universities has
been declining steadily since independence.
Thus the need for honing our higher Education efforts to global
standards is clear and urgent. But the grave problem facing
higher rducation today is the financial crunch. Every university
in India today feels it. China had come up very fast in science
research in the post-cultural revolution era. They spend five
percent of gross domestic product for science and eight percent
on education, while we allot just three percent for education.
We, therefore, have to invest in a big way in schools and
colleges. Higher education alone needs a spend of 2-2.5 per
cent. We are alive to this issue and the Yojana Bhavan has taken
a lead here.
According to a recent Goldman Sachs report,” Over the next 50
years, Brazil, Russia, India and China - the BRIC economies,
could become a much larger force in the world economy” and India
could emerge as the world’s 3rd largest economy over the next
four decades”. Peter Drucker has declared, “India’s time for
economic hegemony has come”. These predictions will become
realities once you combine vision and action together and give a
more active role to higher education. Some countries in Asia
have fixed graduation as the minimum qualification to enter
To conclude, Dr. D.S. Kothari, the celebrated Chairman of the
Kothari Commission said in his Dr. Dadabhai Naoroji Memorial
Lecture on Education, Science and National Development in April
1968. I was present at this memorable lecture. He said :
“Let us now turn to the most significant thing about education
in the modern world. The modern world is science and technology
based, and this more than anything else, has made education, as
never before, the most important element in the life and
progress of a nation. Economic development, welfare and security
are all closely dependent on the extent and quality of
education. Knowledge and survival now literally go together”.