“PPP model can bring wonderful results in higher education”

Syed Zafar Mehdi

Mr. Ashok Mittal (Chancellor, Lovely Professional University) says involving private players means injecting the system with accountability, which naturally leads to higher efficiency in operations.

Q. There is a general perception that involving the private sector in higher education can improve performance through competition, accountability and autonomy. Do you agree?
Yes, we completely agree with the notion. The simple reason being the involvement of personal stake of one party in the shape of monetary investment, corporate credibility and a natural tendency to deliver in conformance with the organizational culture.

Involving private players means injecting the system with accountability, which naturally leads to higher efficiency in operations. Moreover, private players are more prone to take initiatives and infuse fresher and newer ideas; which is the need of the day to save the current higher education system to slip into complacency and obsolescence.

The rise of LPU in five years’ time to become the largest University in India, in terms of on campus students is a glaring example as to how private players can win faith of students on grounds of competition, accountability and autonomy.

Q. PPP model has the potential to transform the education landscape in India. How should it be implemented for maximum output?
Firstly, this has to be understood that at present the most urgent need confronting the Indian higher education sector is that of ploughing massive investment in augmenting its material and academic infrastructure. Without involving private partnership in the field; it is substantially tough to bring out a perceptible change in the existing set up.

Moreover, letting private players joining the bandwagon means opening the possibilities of seamless initiatives that will have a multiplicative effect in buttressing the quality of education through pioneering steps, which hitherto have remained conspicuous by their absence, in the case of public sector institutions.

So, what we are proposing is that there should be pooling of resources and ideas by both the parties in the PPP model of working; with considerable level of flexibility vis-à-vis operational and decision making aspects of administrating the institution; with assurance of delivery of quality output by both the partners, on their end.

Q. Many foundations like Vedanta Foundation, AzimPremji Foundation supported and funded by big corporate groups have taken a lead in PPP models of education. Do you think more corporate houses are likely to follow the suit now?
Yes, we are optimistic about the possibility of more corporate houses taking lead in PPP model of education. The reason being that in the last decade the corporate culture of the country has matured by appreciable degree, and the big corporate are more aware of the social responsibilities; than ever before.

Moreover, with the booming of economy the India Inc has deeper pockets than ever before, coupled with a desire to contribute to the social development of the country. With an array of corporate heads, with a philanthropic bent of mind; we can expect more of such examples where the companies have shown a vigorous interest in taking lead in PPP model of education.

Even LPU, which is the educational flagship of Lovely Group, is an example where corporate groups have ventured into educational domain.

Q. What are some of the major issues plaguing the public education in India and what practical solutions has private sector to offer?
The first and the foremost is the stagnancy with respect to trying anything new. Secondly, but very importantly, is the paucity of funds, which are required to meet the challenges that the requisite level of higher education demands. Thirdly, limited accountability with respect to the outcome of the inputs, which unconsciously leads to mediocrity in terms of gains, aspired from the operational undertakings. Last but not the least is the relative lack of uniform spread of quality faculty; which I feel applies to private players as well.

But the private players have the autonomy to get it arranged from abroad as well; as has been the case with LPU, where we have recruited faculty members from across the globe. For example: Our current Vice Chancellor, Dr. Rameshwar Kanwar spent 35 years of his stint at Iowa State University, USA before joining LPU.

As I have said earlier, the inclusion of private sector through the PPP route will usher in inventiveness; bring in much needed funds and hefty dose of professionalism in proficient endeavours. The PPP model has brought wonderful results in other sectors, and there is no reason why one should be apprehensive of its success in higher education also.

Q. There are concerns about the quality of education in private universities that have mushroomed across the country. What is your take?
To some extent, the notion may be accepted as true but at the same time, this cannot be generalized. There are exceptions, where private players in higher education are doing enviably well; and setting benchmarks to many counts, for others to follow.

For example, at LPU we have tried to provide good infrastructure coupled with enhanced pedagogy tools. We have also tried to be inventive, when it comes to designing curriculum; and this is having a demonstrating and percolating effect on to other players of the region. But there is no escaping from the fact that in last 3-4 years, many private players have mushroomed and who may not have the required infrastructure.

(First published in The Sunday Indian, The Human Factor and 4Ps)


About Zafar Mehdi
Maverick journalist, irreverent rebel, travel freak, cricket junkie, reluctant fundamentalist, student of life, dreamer, believer.

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