M. Anandakrishnan
Tamilnadu State Council for Higher Education
Chennai – 600 005.

From a status of elitist privilege for several centuries, Education in Tamil Nadu is becoming egalitarian since independence. An even urban-rural configuration of Tamil Nadu induces considerable demands for increasing educational opportunities as a means for economic opportunities as well as upward social mobility. However the accessibility and affordability of a decent level of education continues to elude a mojority of population.

Education used to be largely a private philanthropic social enterprise supplemented by governmental support and intervention. During past two decades it is becomming highly commercialised by unscruplous enterpreneurs beyond the regulatory system. The dominance of English in a crude from very early stage of childhood deprives the scope for real education and inducing a false sense of superior quality in the Tamilian psyche.

The Educational challenges of tommorrow consists of meaningful skill development at all levels, besides making education affordable to a vase majority of the underprevileged people. In spite of its best intentions, the State finds its resources too thin to meet the accumulating demand. The advances in educational technologies combined with appropriate policy changes offer some hope for improvement. While Tamil nadu may be better rates in education than many other States in India, its maximum potentials are far from being realised.

Reducing drop-out rates, improving quality of teachers, providing minimum teaching and learning environments and inserting career goals in the educational process are some of the key issues engaging the attention of the policy makers. Success in these endeavours will require active participation from many sections of the society beyond the efforts of the government alone.


Changing Perception

Until the middle half of this century, education was primarily the pursuit of the elite. During the last five decades, the growth of population, increase in opportunities for school education and the growing desires of all people to seek upward social mobility and improved economic status have exerted considerable pressure for growth of education. A large number of schools, colleges, universities, polytechnics and other professional institutions have been created to cope with the rising demands.

At the same time, the expansion of the economy created sufficient openings for absorbing the educated persons on a significant scale until a stage was reached when the output was far in excess of demand and the level of mismatch between the job market requirements and the capabilities of products from educational institutions became acute. The offerings of the education system were fashioned more in tune with the assumptions of the teaching community and the available facilities of the academic institutions, rather than the needs of the society. Response to rapidly changing demands was somewhat sluggish. In fairness to the academics, there are not many mechanisms to help them to translate the changing needs into educational process especially when a wide variety of needs are expressed but not supported during implementation. This is particularly serious in case of higher education.

The shift from the elitist perspective of higher education to demand-oriented functions require large investment of resources, rapid response capacity, autonomous decision making ability in innovating curricula and adoption of new delivery systems. Most parts of the higher education are faced with the dilemmas of descarding the framework of the elitist system and not sure of the substitute approaches to the teaching and the learning process.

The net result is that the higher education system continues to hover around the periphery of the vastly expanding social and economic system. The significant inputs of the higher education system are noticeably absent in the dialogues on decision-making processes of social and economic development. The academics continue to ignore the mainstream priorities of national development leading to downward spiralling effect on the quality and relevance of the higher education. Thus, the society at large has no particular interest in vigorously advocating the cause of higher education beyond platitudes and pious hopes.

Pressures for Greater Access

Despite its peripheral state, there are continuing pressures for greater access to higher education from a variety of new sources arising out of certain sociological changes. The desires of the first generation learners, the hopes of rural youths, the increasing consciousness for women’s education, the demand for social equity to the weaker communities and minorities, the imperatives of correcting regional imbalances and many such factors contribute to rapid expansion of the higher education system. Conceding the need for providing access to all those who desire, the challenges of maintaining the quality become paramount, if frustrations and disappointments of higher education system at a later stage are to be forestalled.

A major factor influencing the quality of education is the level of literacy in our society. The growth of literacy rate in India and Tamil Nadu during this century as shown in table.1



Year India Tamil Nadu
1901 5.35 7.64
1921 7.16 10.38
1941 16.10 16.19
1961 24.02 31.41
1981 36.23 46.76
1991 42.90 54.61

 It may be seen that the number of persons who could read and write was less 8% at the turn of this century. Only those coming from rich families and from higher social groups had the opportunity to seek education. Even now the literacy level is deplorably low.

Problems of Affordbility

The public investment in higher education seems effectively frozen. The apparent increase in resourses for higher education is not likely to meet the cost of even the existing system. The growing pressures for greater access can no longer be met from public funds alone at their present levels, unless a deliberate policy alternative is available. The convenient alternative to public investment is to relegate further expansion of higher education to private investments. This could prove effective if there are sufficiently enlightened norms for the operation of private institutions. One of the causalities of current system of private investment is the affordability to a vast majority of population. This is counter to the non-elitist perception of higher education.

Public Policy

Education is a key are of public policy in every country, more so in those countries whose social and economic development are intimately linked to the level of human capability enhanced by their investment in education. In the evolution of human civilization the education has played a dominant role in shaping cultural traditions, enriching the knowledge base, influencing the values and attitudes, and enhancing the levels of various skills for human activities. In recent decades the direction for education as an instrument of social and economic change has been influenced by the contemporary social and political values. Those who were left out of this privilege for centuries began to assert their right for equity. The transition from monarchies to democracies introduced civic purposes for education in sustaining liberal attitudes. The evolution of secular values in multiethnic societies made it necessary to delink the educational processes from religious control.

Issues and Options

Present expectations on education tend to stress its critical role in reducing poverty through increased income generation. It is also expected to respond to the shifts in technologies, industries and labour markets. Hence education should be able not only to cater to the expanding knowledge base but also provide the ability to quickly adjust and adopt to evolving changes and thereby contribute to the accumulation of productive human capital and sustained economic growth.

The choice among the available options requires deep and sometimes painful considerations. Should the emphasis be more towards school education than on higher education? Does the skill orientation deserve greater support than knowledge orientation? Should rural and backward communities enjoy preferential access to education? To what extent the private sector be allowed to assume the responsibilities for educational functions? What should be the means to ensure educational accountability? Would education continue to perpetuate the sense of alienation between those with greater access to education than the less educated? How do the priories in fostering future directions for education be determined?

Amidst these and many such issues, what options could govern the changes of excellence? The answer would require a deep and continuous reflections not only by the educationists and educational policy makers but also all other sections of the society concerned with the socio-cultural and economic development of the nation. It is only in those societies where there is a pervasive and serious interest on education among the population as a whole, it has grown as a vibrant force of pride and fulfillment.

Currently a little over 6 million students are enrolled in the colleges and universities in India representing less than 6% of the youth of the age group between 17 and 21 years. If this proportion were to increase, as it is bound to, the demand for educational facilities would be even more acute than at present. The student enrollment in colleges varies among the states. The comparitive enrollment among some of the larger states is shown in Table 2.

Table- 2

State College Enrollments


Population, Millions


Andhra Pradesh 437 652 66.5
Gujarat 416 458 41.3
Karnataka 487 562 45.0
Kerala 180 053 29.7
Madhya Pradesh 375 216 66.2
Maharashtra 950 946 78.9
Tamil Nadu 416 654 55.9
Utter Pradesh 847 263 139.1
All India 6113 929 846.3

 The low enrolment at the college level is partly due to the high dropout rate at the school stage. Though the dropout rate is declining, it is still distressingly high, as shown in Table 3.


Drop-out Rate

  Tamilnadu All India
Year Boys Girls Total Boys Girls Total
1980-81 77.27 85.79 81.09 79.80 86.63 82.46
1985-86 73.93 81.77 77.57 73.97 83.17 77.62
1990-91 64.68 72.97 62.98 67.50 76.96 71.34
1993-94 62.98 69.85 66.17 68.41 74.54 70.90

In order to meet the increasing demand for higher education, the number of colleges has grown significantly as shown in Table 4.

1990-91 1991-92 1992-93 1993-94 1994-95
Andhra Pradesh 592 686 717 747 779
Gujarat 356 370 385 397 410
Karnataka 715 790 846 884 929
Madhya Pradesh 631 631 631 653 674
Maharashtra 1101 1191 1216 1341 1433
Tamil Nadu 357 380 384 396 409
Utter Pradesh 944 949 953 957 962
All India 9436 7761 7993 8317 8613

In recent years the support for higher education in general and for engineering and other professional education in particular has been declining with far reaching consequences for the future capabilities of the nation in the emerging global scenario. The reason for this trend is not difficult to identify. The conflicting demands on government’s resources, declining revenues, necessity to control the fiscal deficit, pressures from international funding agencies to reduce the role of governments in certain sectors and the public apathy are some of the key factors that have contributed to this situation.

Consequently the universities and other higher educational institutions are driven towards rethinking their traditional roles and seek alternate strategies to maintain their viability. It is not easy. This requires changes of perceptions and attitudes not only on the part of the governments and the educational institutions but also from the beneficiaries at large. For nearly five decades the people of India have come to assume that the higher education is essentially an inexpensive privilege. Increasingly many lower income families are encouraging their children to pursue higher education as a means for upward social and economic upward mobility.

The dropout rates in the schools are declining thereby enlarging the volume of eligible children for higher education. At the present rate of unemployment, the youths see the college education as an inevitable alternative to remaining unemployed. The skill development schemes at formative stages of education are too inadequate to divert them from going to college. We are faced with a paradox wherein all the conditions for creating pressures on higher education are increasing without the willingness to pay for it.

Even those who enter higher education by choice no longer consider it a matter of prestige to possess a degree but as a training ground for employment or career. There are growing expectations that the college education will improve their employability almost immediately after graduation. The employers, who are essentially in the private sector, expect a nearly ready made products for their requirements. Only a few of them have the willingness, resources or the means to provide induction training to the fresh graduates. Yet very few of them are ready to support the educational institutions in complementing the teaching and training programmes of the educational institutions substantially.

Configuration of the University System

The development of university system was initially through affiliating a number of colleges started in different locations under a given university which undertook the role of prescribing norms and standards for the various academic functions of the colleges. With the growth of population and the number and variety of colleges various other configurations were adopted. Some large universities were divided to form many new universities with jurisdictions over colleges in prescribed regions. Some colleges or groups of colleges were converted as unitary universities either by legislation or as deemed universities by the order of the University Grants Commission (UGC). To meet further demands for higher education special open universities were created and some universities launched correspondence courses. In all these efforts there has been a continuing concerns about maintaing high academic standards along with relevance to socio-economic demands.

In this process the system of affiliation of colleges to universities has become a matter for urgent and serious attention for several reasons. The participation of private sector in establishing new institutions for higher education in all fields has rapidly increased while the governmental efforts in this direction has nearly ceased. The number, quality and locations of these institutions are so varied that the scope for effective regulation of these institutions by the universities is considerably reduced. While some institutions, both public and private, do strive to maintain high standards of academic performance many others require guidance and monitoring. The concurrent involvement of both central and state agencies in the higher education programmes sometimes leads to difficulties.

The system of autonomous colleges was introduced to overcome some of these difficulties. Initially the UGC initiated the scheme for autonomous colleges mainly for the arts and science colleges that was implemented in Tamil Nadu in a large number of colleges. The All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) proposed similar scheme for engineering colleges.

Vocationalisation of Higher Education

The attention towards vocationlisation of higher education is a recent phenomenon. Traditionaly higher education was understood as “liberal education” meant for free pursuit of knowledge with no concern towards careers or need to work to earn. With increasing demand for higher education from all socio-economic groups, the problems of unemployed graduates is assuming serious proportions. Since a very high proportion of such unemployed graduates are in arts and sciences, the need to introduce vocational or Career orientation to higher education is increasing.

The enrollment of undergraduate students in different faculties in 1992-93 is shown below. The distribution of students is predominantly in Arts, Science and Commerce amounting to more than 80% of total enrollment. Since commerce graduates find relatively better placement than the Arts and Scinece graduates, there has been general decline in the quality of students opting to join the first degree programs in Arts and Sciences.

Arts                             :   40.4
Science                       :   19.6
Commerce                   :   21.9
Engg./Tech.                :     4.9
Medicine                     :     3.4
Education                    :     2.3
Agriculture                 :      1.1
Law                             :     5.3
Veterinary Sci.           :      0.3
Others                         :    0.8

The problem of unemployment is acute mainly among the arts and science graduates who consist of 60% of the undergraduate population. If those who acquire their degree through correspondence education is included, the problems would appear even more serious. At the same time, there is relentless pressure from the increasing output of higher secondary schools to seek college education.

As the graduates with the conventional liberal arts and science degree did not find it easy to secure placements, the new self-financing colleges which sprung up during the nineties found it move attractive to start Job Oriented Programmes (JOP) specializing in areas such as Electronics, Computer Science, Accountancy, Corporate Secretaryship, Food Science, Hospital Management, Hotel Management etc. with the approval of the universities and the State Government.

The necessity for enlarging the national base for skill and career orientation is evident from the demand structure of the workplace of the 21st Century. The country has developed a variety of experiments during the last half a century and has accumulated a large stock of experience and facilities. It appears possible to gain from our past successes and failures and reorient our future efforts to create a sustainable skill-based educational and training culture. A recent review of Career oriented programmes at the under graduate level by the Tamil Nadu State Council for Higher Education reinforces this perception.

Arising out of the above considerations the following propositions are made:

  1. The craftsmanship programmes should be made prolific, accessible and affordable to all those who wish to learn a trade or a technique, irrespective of educational attainments in formal or non-formal mode.
  2. The inferior status perceived for vocational programmes at the secondary school stage should be reversed by offering them to all students and over a longer duration (say 4 years) and in multi skill mode.
  3. Instead of creating special facilities in regular schools or colleges, a tie-up with nearly technical or vocational institutions should be facilitated. Industries and business supporting such courses should be given attractive incentives.
  4. Special community-type colleges should be established, at least one per each district, offering only vocational and career oriented courses. Such colleges should be available to nearby institution for collaboration training.
  5. Retraining of teachers should be launched on a sustained basis. Lecturers from nearby industries, with necessary skill and experience even if lacking in formal education should be utilized.
  6. The funding pattern of the UGC for encouraging growth of job oriented courses as the UGC level should be reviewed to support all innovative programme, essentially on a matching support basis.
  7. University bodies concerned with academic programmes should be encouraged to assist the fulfilment of the new and emerging demands in jobs and skill by a flexible approach to curriculam design and implementation.


The general prognosis of the education system in the country is the inevitablitiy of a few isolated peaks of good institution among a sea of mediocre ones. The organizations intended to guide and regulate their growth and performance seem to have lost their hold on these institutions. Education occupies a low order of priority among the policy makers, who become alive to the issues of education mainly when there are demonstrations discontent. The processes of teaching and learning tend towards stagnation with low levels of active participation or input from the teaching community. The resource crunch has added tendencies of adhoc solutions unrelated to the purpose and goals of educatin. The only silver lining in the face of such a scenario is that the community of educationists continue to maintain hope for a change in attitudes and perceptions on the value of edcuational excellence.

M. Anandakrishnan:

Vice Chairman of the Tamilnadu State Council for Higher Education, which is a high level policy making and advisory body on matters relating to higher education in the state. He went on deputation to the Embassy of India, Washington D.C., as the first Science Counselor from 1974-78. He has published four books and sixty five papers on topics in civil engineering as well as issues on development policies related to education, science and technology. He has prepared thirty reports to the United Nations. Former Vice Chancellor of Anna University, a premier technological university of India.