Why is there a lack of quality in Indian universities

Ennio Vivaldi Véjar provided the motto of the conference. "In Chile it is easier to open a university than a liquor store," said the President of the University of Chile in Hamburg last week. 47 university presidents from 26 countries came to discuss the state of higher education. And although the wild growth does not sprout as unhindered everywhere as in Chile, some heads nodded at his bon mot: We know the problem.

The world is becoming academic. The run on the universities is enormous, as Philip Altbach, educational scientist at Boston College, calculated in Hamburg: 200 million students sit in seminars and lecture halls today, twice as many as at the beginning of the millennium. This "massification" has mobilized far more young people for academic education than the traditional system can provide. Which is why private, profit-oriented start-ups are booming, often uncontrolled and without professional examination of the teaching staff. The American Altbach speaks of a "phase of anarchy", in most states the education system is not organized rationally and certainly not efficiently. "But we need differentiated systems everywhere so that institutions that offer degrees and certificates pull together instead of just competing."

The presidents, who came from countries as diverse as India, Russia, Canada, Egypt, France and Taiwan, shared this opinion. In a resolution passed on Friday, they state "nothing less than a global academic revolution" in view of the rapid pace of development. Their unanimous opinion: Without private universities, the demand cannot be satisfied, but it is also not possible for everyone to do their own thing. As a basis for meaningful differentiation, they demand a clear division of tasks between the types of university. There is no other way to do justice to today's students with their very different needs and previous knowledge. In principle, the governments would have to create the framework for the differentiation. They should regulate the conditions under which institutions are approved and financed and which educational mandate they have to fulfill. This has largely happened in European countries, but not in many others.

From the presidents' point of view, international rankings are not a good means of quality assurance

Even if they give the state a major role, the presidents believe that universities should play a key role in shaping the criteria for regulation. Although they only represent the traditional research universities - two to five percent of the approximately 22,000 universities worldwide - their self-image as alma mater, which spreads its arms across the entire educational landscape in a knowledge-donating way, automatically establishes a claim to leadership. In the jungle of colleges, institutes, academies and types of universities, the rectors believe that their own institution is the best role model. "You confidently say of yourself that we are the substantial authority where the unity of research and teaching is lived and knowledge is not only conveyed, but also produced," explains Matthias Mayer, Head of Science at the Körber Foundation, who together with the University Rectors' Conference and the University of Hamburg founded the Hamburg Transnational University Leaders Council.

Above all, the rectors want to share responsibility for quality assurance, because the universities are at risk of losing their level, they say. While in some places there is simply a lack of control, elsewhere the problem is more who exercises it. "Academic professionals" demand the resolution - and not agencies commissioned by the state as in Germany. "We have to keep our standards high ourselves. The Federal Constitutional Court also sees it that way," says Mayer. In 2016, the court held that this type of assessment of degree programs violated the freedom of science.

From the point of view of the university bosses, even international rankings of universities are not a good means of quality assurance. On the contrary, the compulsion to compare distorts and even threatens the diversity that higher education needs. Mayer explains it like this: "This creates the wrong pressure. In the end, everyone wants to be like Harvard. For most universities, it doesn't make sense at all to train Nobel Prize winners in a row."