Inauguration of the
Confederation of Indian Universities
Inaugural Address by
Dr. K. Venkatasubramanian
Member, Planning Commission, Government of India
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
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
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
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 education channels.
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 Plenty”.
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 millennium”.
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
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
l Economic and business strategic alliances built on capabilities and
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 dollars...”
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 their economy”.
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 development.
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
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 efforts.
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