President Mukherjee, who attended the 90th Annual Convocation of University of Delhi and conferred medals to meritorious students here today, said true empowerment comes only with knowledge.
"If our country has to continue on its path of higher growth, then the relentless pursuit of higher educational standards is an indispensable requirement for its achievement. If we look at the statistics, the nation has been able to make remarkable progress in this direction. During the Eleventh Five Year Plan period, 65 new Central Institutions, including 21 Central Universities, were started and the number of Central Institutions increased by about 75 per cent," said President Mukherjee.
"Except for one State, today there is now at least one Central University in every state of our country. But the question that we should now ask ourselves is whether we are satisfied with the progress that we are making in the educational sector. An honest answer would reveal that we have miles and miles to go before we can say that we have arrived," he added.
President Mukherjee said the education sector is today confronted by problems relating to both quantity and quality.
"It may be heartening that the density of educational institutions in India has increased from 10 to 14 institutions per 1,000 square kilometres during the Eleventh Plan period. But it is disheartening that many places in our country do not have a higher educational institution that are within the practical reach of aspiring students," he added.
President Mukherjee said a conference of the Vice Chancellors of the Central Universities in Rashtrapati Bhavan in February of this year while realising that it is time for us to make innovative changes in the educational sector.
" During the meeting, we had arrived at some conclusions on the immediate, short-term and medium-term measures that need to be taken to bring in the necessary changes in our education system to address the nation's requirements. The Prime Minster, the Human Resource Development Minister and the Vice Chancellors were agreed on the urgent need to address the challenges that we are facing in the sector," said President Mukherjee.
"I am happy to note that the Ministry of Human Resource Development has started the implementation of the decisions taken in right earnest. We hope to show substantial progress by the time we hold the next conference in February 2014," he added.
President Mukherjee said India has the second largest higher education system in the world, but the gross enrolment in the country in 2010 was only about 19 per cent, which is much below the world average of 29 per cent.
"Adding to the woes is the low enrolment rate of the disadvantaged sections which is much below the national average," said President Mukherjee.
"To make education accessible to more students, our efforts must be directed at bringing higher education closer to our population to particularly those in remote corners of the country. We must remove the imbalances in the reach of higher education across states, regions and sections of society," he added.
President Mukherjee emphasized that open and distance learning can aid in enhancing the reach of higher education.
"The enrolment in such programmes in our country increased from 27 lakh to 42 lakh during the Eleventh Plan period. The time is now ripe to deploy innovative technologies for greater coverage and for improvising modules that can enable better learning," he added.
President Mukherjee further said inclusivity in higher education should be based on affordability as well.
"Various student aid programmes such as scholarships, education loans and self-help schemes should be appropriately structured into the academic system," he added.
Stating that affiliated colleges are the core of our higher education system as they enrol about 87 percent of all students, President Mukherjee said: " But affiliation alone would not suffice. The affiliating universities must be particularly careful in guiding these colleges to ensure high standards in the curricula and evaluation systems. Particularly, the Central Universities which are seen as the centres of excellence, should promote high standards and act as centres of inspiration to other institutes of learning."
"If we are to redefine the way education is imparted by our educational institutions, the time is now. According to an international ranking of universities, no Indian university finds a place amongst the global top 200 universities. This you would agree, is simply unacceptable. We must develop our universities into global leaders, and for that, the best practices in other countries should be carefully studied and adopted with necessary changes to suit our conditions," he added.
President Mukherjee also pointed out that shortage of faculty and low standards of instruction are at the core of our concerns.
"In Central Universities, close to 51 per cent of posts of professor are lying vacant. While we take urgent steps to fill the vacancies, new ways of employing technology-based learning and collaborative information and communication sharing should be evolved," said President Mukherjee.
"Lectures by eminent professors could be transmitted to educational institutions situated away from the main towns and cities using the facilities offered by the National Mission on Education through Information and Communication Technology (NMEICT). Refresher courses for teachers conducted by the Academic Staff Colleges can also be similarly transmitted," he added.
President Mukherjee further said every university should identify a group of 10 to 20 'inspired teachers' who can ignite the minds of the students to learn beyond the textbooks.
"If such teachers interact with each other as well as with the students, the quality of teaching could be enhanced. Their lectures could also be relayed to remote educational institutions through NMEICT Networks," he said.