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Revitalising Higher Agricultural Education in India

Agricultural education and R&D in India have grown overwhelmingly over the years but funding levels have not kept pace with growth in the number of programmes, institutions, colleges and universities. Restricted funding and vacant faculty positions are not allowing institutions to modernise the programmes and infrastructure to catch up with the changing needs of agriculture and agro-processing. This article proposes a comprehensive programme to revitalise higher agricultural education.

REVIEW OF AGRICULTURE

Revitalising Higher Agricultural Education in India

J Challa, P K Joshi, Prabhakar Tamboli

through innovative approaches and partnerships. This article hopes to (1) diagnose the issues concerning HAE in India, (2) document the successful models of HAE in India and in the US, and (3) assess the possibility of networking and public-private partnerships in HAE.

Agricultural education and R&D in India have grown overwhelmingly over the years but funding levels have not kept pace with growth in the number of programmes, institutions, colleges and universities. Restricted funding and vacant faculty positions are not allowing institutions to modernise the programmes and infrastructure to catch up with the changing needs of agriculture and agro-processing. This article proposes a comprehensive programme to revitalise higher agricultural education.

This article is a part of the invited keynote address at the Special Session of the 98th Indian National Science Congress held at SRM University, Chennai during 3-6 January 2011.

J Challa (challa@naarm.ernet.in) and P K Joshi (pkj.ncap@gmail.com) are at the National Academy of Agricultural Research Management, Hyderabad, and Prabhakar Tamboli is at the University of Maryland, US.

H
igher agricultural education (HAE) is the backbone of the nationa l agricultural research system. A strong network of HAE institutions is the foundation for quality and need-based human resource and research for a range of stakeholders in the food chain. One of the largest networks in the world, the Indian HAE system has at present 57 state agricultural universities (SAUs), five deemed universities and one central university. Apart from such a vast network, there are many private colleges (more than 100) affiliated to several general and agricultural universities. These offer 11 undergraduate and more than 95 postgraduate programmes apart from doctoral programmes in 80 disciplines. On an average, more than 20,000 students enrol into these programmes every year.

India adopted the modified land grant pattern of the United States (US) in establishing SAUs starting from 1960. The agricultural universities follow the model with prescribed norms and standards, academic regulations, curricula and syllabi with minor variations as per the local needs. SAUs are autonomous institutions established by an Act of the state legislature by the respective state governments. A majority of the SAUs follow the Model Act proposed by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) of 1981, which has been modified in 2009. These are funded by the state governments with developmental and special grants from the ICAR. Central agricultural universities are largely supported by the ICAR.

During recent years, agricultural universities have been facing numerous challenges. It appears that development in states has bypassed this critical branch of higher education. It is therefore important to diagnose the constraints and limitations of the present state of HAE in the country, and evolve ways to overcome the problems

1 Constraints in the HAE System

Agriculture is a state subject and so is agricultural education. During the past few years, the HAE system has been showing signs of stagnation. The key issue is that agricultural universities lack funds as well as faculty. The agricultural research and education intensity ranged from a low of 0.08% in Uttar Pradesh and 0.15% in Orissa to a high of 1.37% in Himachal Pradesh (Table 1). During recent periods, it has come to light that the establishment cost of agricultural universities has risen substantially to as high as 87% while the operational budget has reduced to about 13%. This situation clearly reflects that the universities are starved of operational funds, which constrains them in expanding innovative approaches in HAE, thereby adversely affecting the quality.

Table 1: State-wise Intensity of Agricultural Research and Education*

Hill region Himachal Pradesh (1.37%)

Northern region Haryana (0.42%); Punjab (0.31%); Uttar Pradesh (0.08%)

Southern region AP (0.24%); Karnataka (0.42%); Kerala (0.52%); Tamil Nadu (0.51%)

Eastern region Assam (0.39%); Bihar (0.23%); Orissa (0.15%); West Bengal (0.12%)

Western region Gujarat (0.54%); MP (0.21%); Maharashtra (0.59%); Rajasthan (0.24%)

* Measured as investment in agricultural research and education as a proportion of the state agricultural gross

domestic product (excluding forestry). Source: Pal et al (2005).

Ironically, higher agri-education and R&D have grown in recent times but funding levels have not kept pace with the growth in the number of programmes, institutions, colleges and universities. Challa et al (2007) conducted different rounds of surveys of 4,810 students, 1,800 university teachers, and 970 heads of departments in 88 colleges of 30 SAUs across the country. The results (presented in Tables 2, 3, 4 and 5, p 327) reveal that the number of faculty has markedly declined overtime. Only about 43% of the approved

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Table 2: Average Faculty Strength in Colleges of Agriculture and Allied Sciences (%)

Agriculture and horticulture 40.3

Agricultural engineering 45.3

Total 43.0

Source: Challa et al (2007).

Table 3: Faculty Profile: Educational Qualification (%) All three degrees from the same university 51.4

At least PhD from a different university 29.9

UG, PG and PhD from three different universities 18.6

PhD or postdoctoral fellowship from abroad 5.7 UG – undergraduate, PG – postgraduate. Source: Challa et al (2007).

Table 4: Faculty Profile: Years of Teaching Experience (%)

0-5 17.0

5-10 18.0

10-15 19.0

15-20 22.0

More than 20 24.0

Source: Challa et al (2007).

Table 5: Faculty Participation in Seminars/Workshops During a Five-Year Period (%)

Event Professors Associate Assistant Professors Professors

Seminars/conference 28.9 31.5 25.8

Workshops 16.8 18.5 15.9

Source: Challa et al (2007).

faculty strength is in place (Table 2). Interviews with a number of vice chancellors from agricultural universities revealed that there are several recruitment hurdles, which are often beyon d their control. There is an urgent need to have flexibility in and priority for recruiting the best talent in higher agri-education .

Pal et al (2005) and Jha and Kumar (2006) have analysed the HAE system, and concluded that the number of faculty decrease d significantly during the 1990s and has further depleted in recent times. Research capacity in agricultural universities is slowly eroding because of nonreplacement of retiring faculty. Another problem is related to high inbreeding; about 51% faculty members have degrees from the same university (Tables 3 and 4), and 46% faculty have more than 15 years of service in the same university. This shows high inbreeding in higher agri-education, which adversely affects the quality of academics and the research programmes.

The problem is further accentuated with the creation of multiple universities in the states and bifurcation or sectoral division of universities, which have added to the already increasing pressure of establishment costs of creating administrative infrastructure. Many SAUs have split up into a number of universities based on the specialisation (such as horticulture, fisheries, veterinary, forestry), leaving aside the regional and state agenda. The growing number of agricultural universities based on disciplines must be checked. The criteria for new universities should be agro-ecoregion rather than discipline, as agriculture-related issues are multidiscipli nary. With the division of any university, a large share of resources is diverted to create new infrastructure, leaving a meagre amount for improving the quality of research and education to meet the new and more complex challenges. Restricted funding is not allowing agricultural universities to modernise their programmes to catch up with the changing needs in HAE. Thus, if India is to achieve global standards in HAE, pan allocation for investment in agriculture education and research needs substantial enhancement.

The other problems confronting agricultural universities include: (1) traditional methods of teaching material, methods and aids with age old notes, (2) lack of good textbooks combining theory and case studies in the Indian context, (3) inability of most of the faculty to inspire and motivate students and promote interactive classes, (4) ineffective communication skills of faculty with few exceptions, and

(5) weak social interactions of faculty with students. It was noted that despite several human resource development (HRD) programmes introduced by the ICAR, there has been inadequate faculty development. Unfortunately, HRD has been neglected at every level in the hierarchy. A study conducted by the National Academy of Agricultural Research Management revealed that about 30% of the professors and associate professors, and 26% of assistant professors attended any seminar or conference during a five-year period (Table 5). Their attendance in workshops is indeed very low (16%-18%).

With a few exceptions, faculty upgradation programmes (like summer schools or winter schools) are attended to merely complete the formality of promotion, and not to improve skills. Another major problem in most agricultural universities is inadequate and poor internet connectivity and access to reputed national and international journals.

2 Successful Models of HAE

As stated earlier, India adopted the modified US pattern of land grant model based on the United States Morrill Act of 1862 and 1890. The first university was established in 1960 at Pantnagar and the next was at Ludhiana, and after that a vast network of universities came into existence in different states and regions in the country. During the evolution period, many successful models of agricultural universities emerged, which witnessed green revolution, horticulture revolution, and agribusiness. A sizeable amount of resource generation from the university farm at Pantnagar was one of the key reasons for the success of this university. The university launched its own commercial wing in the form of the then Terai Development Corporation (TDC) where it had a share of 51% and 49% was of farmer-members. The seed production of improved varieties at the university farm and farmers’ fields was a win-win proposition for the university, farmer-members and the farmers. In recent times, the University of Agricultural Sciences at Dharwad has adopted an innovative model of resource generation, and has generated more than Rs 10 crore of revolving fund through seed production and other agri-research products in a partnership mode with different stakeholders. More agricultural universities are adopting innovative ways to generate resources but the pace is too slow.

The key conditions for a successful agricultural university are (1) well-trained faculty from developed countries, especially from the best universities in the US,

(2) most of the faculty members are outstanding researchers and known leaders in their own specialisations, (3) there exist incentives and reward systems for the faculty, (4) effective and strong international and national collaboration in research and higher education, and (5) less dependence on state funding and generatio n of own resources.

The universities in the US, from where the agricultural university model has been adopted, have transformed dramatically

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over the years. To cite an example of the University of Maryland, the funding is sourced from the state (34%), fee (33%) and grants and contracts (33%). Most of the universities under the Land Grant Act have effectively linked themselves with all the stakeholders in the agri-supply chain. For example, business models have been evolved by linking universities with farmers and the industry. These include

  • (1) providing business assistance to farmer entrepreneurs, agri-industry, and other stakeholders, (2) developing business incubators, offices and service laboratories,
  • (3) providing instrumentations and service facilities, (4) creating research and technology parks, (5) extending technical advisory and assistance, and (6) assisting in commercialisation of technologies (for example, patenting, licensing, etc). Besides, the promotion policies are very stringent, based on (1) publication record, (2) professional recognition and awards, (3) professional presentation and evaluation by students, and (4) resources generated.
  • Successful models of Indian agricultural universities have adopted similar practices. Indian agricultural universities need to transform to meet the domestic and global needs of providing quality human resource and need-based technologies in changing the landscape of agriculture. The time is opportune to practise the lessons from successful models from India and abroad by introducing innovative processes to strengthen the current and future agricultural research system.

    Networking and Partnership

    The existing agricultural education institutions are functioning with their own faculty. Only some specialised courses involve and invite guest faculty. Though there is some networking and partnership in the research schemes of the ICAR, agricultural education is completely cut-off from this. Most of the universities handle their own curriculum agenda without involving any outside faculty, and there are no memoranda of understanding between different universities for academic activities. Moreover, there is weak networking between agricultural colleges of the same university.

    The well-known National Agricultural Technology Project (NATP), and now the National Agricultural Innovation Project (NAIP) mandates for partnership with the public, private and civil society. Each programme has to function in a partnership mode. To get a research project approved, the precondition is to have domestic and/ or international players in the food supply chain for improving the quality of research . Such a partnership does not exist in academic activities.

    The private sector is emerging in agrieducation, especially in agribusiness, biotechnology, nanotechnology and many frontier areas, where public sector institutions are weak and not responding to the changing demand. Some private universities have launched these programmes in partnership with reputed universities in developed countries. The lukewarm response and strong rigidity in the public sector agricultural universities is forcing the entry of the private sector in the academic arena. Though this is a positive sign, it would be better to have it in a partnership mode as the public sector has excellent infrastructure and a non-profit motive. In the present context, where more job opportunities exist in the private sector, it is important to have a strong partnership with the agri-industry for curricula development, guest faculty, market research, etc, for meeting the future manpower requirement.

    3 Policy Implications

    The above discussion clearly reveals that the agricultural education system calls for a complete transformation to improve the quality of human resource. We propose the following suggestions to revitalise the agricultural education system in the country.

    3.1 O&M Reform

  • (1) The introduction of best practices in the HAE system needs radical reforms at different levels. It is the right time to develop a National Agricultural Education Project (NAEP) on the lines of the earlier NATP and the present NAIP to introduce best practices, improve teaching quality through faculty development and reform the HAE. The reform measures need to be proposed and implemented during the Twelfth Five-Year Plan.
  • (2) Both agriculture and agricultural education are at present state subjects. In
  • the context of changing regional, national and global issues confronting the agricultural sector, agricultural education may be placed as a subject under the concurrent list. There is a need to setup a National Agri-education Council on the lines of the University Grants Commission.

  • (3) The vice chancellors of agricultural universities were invited to be part of the Plan processes till the Seventh Five-Year Plan. Subsequently, the needs of agricultural universities were not reflected in the Plan allocations. In addition, the Fifth and Sixth Pay Commissions have increased the financial burden on agricultural universities, and many universities have overdrafts. There is an urgent need to revisit the participation of vice chancellors in Plan processes to clearly and distinctly reflect the needs of agricultural universities.
  • (4) There is a scramble to open new specialised agricultural universities (such as horticulture, veterinary, fisheries, forestry, etc) in each state. Only in a few states (such as Gujarat and Maharashtra) are agricultural universities being bifurcated based on the regions having all the disciplines. Specialised agricultural universities are distorting the basic concept of the farming systems approach. Specialised as well as regional universities are also adversely affecting the quality of education as the majority of faculty and students are from the same region. In addition, such a trend adds to the administrative and financia l burden. There is a need for convergence of disciplines and regions to improve efficiency and quality.
  • (5) Since agriculture is a state subject, the Accreditation Board of the ICAR does not have statutory powers or the mandate to regulate HAE. Accreditation from the Board is only voluntary for the universities. It is important to create a central statutory authority for the regulation of HAE to make the agriculture sector science and technology (S&T) based.
  • 3.2 Human Resources

    (1) Lack of trained manpower is one of the main issues for colleges in agricultural universities and it is also an issue of quality assessment. There is a need to build a cadre of master trainers in different subjects. It is equally important to build capacity in

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    education methodology and technology. HRD programmes for deans and senior faculty need to be organised to introduce the best practices in education technology.

    To overcome the shortage of faculty, there is a need for creating a national level database of retired teachers. A rolling faculty scheme or a pool scheme of retired teachers may be launched, wherein such faculty may travel to any place and teach courses. This may be discontinued when faculty becomes adequate.

  • (2) There is a felt need for systematic manpower planning and forecasting in agricultural education to offset shortfalls in the number of graduate and postgraduates vis-à-vis the global job opportunities.
  • (3) Career advancement policy has become “promotion-for-all” policy due to time-scale positions. Originally introduced as an incentive mechanism for quality research and education, it has now become a mere formality. Hence, there is a need to develop a realistic performancebased personnel and promotion policy. The promotion sequencing should be done in such a manner that there is incentive till the faculty reach superannuation.
  • (4) As pointed out earlier, inbreeding is rising in SAUs. To discourage this, ICAR financia l support through Junior Research Fellowships may be enhanced in terms of numbers and the fellowship amount. It will encourage students to move to other states and agricultural universities.
  • (5) A thorough review and monitoring is required in the functioning and performance output of the Centres of Advanced Studies, the “niche areas”, and the summer and winter schools.
  • (6) Only 4.5% of students opt for agricultural education and that too not by design. It is their third, fourth or sometimes even the last choice. School education does not inspire interest or liking for HAE, with the result that the intake of quality students in agricultural universities has reduced considerably. It is imperative to bring agri-education into the mainstream of education and strictly scrutinise the quality of students admitted to undergraduate programmes. The old concept of rural background as a statutory requirement for students’ admissions is long forgotten . With the enforcement of common entrance tests along with medical
  • and engineering sciences, it has only allowed a large number of urban and suburban students to enter agricultural universitie s who choose agricultural education for jobs alone, and not for their passion for agriculture.

    3.3 Content Development and Delivery

  • (1) Curriculum development is critical to meet the demands of all the stakeholders. Though the ICAR-sponsored Deans’ Committee finalises a uniform curriculum for agricultural universities, there is a lack of good quality indigenous textbooks. Therefore, it is important to give due emphasis to develop textbooks with good case studies . This can be done by developing a consortium of professionals in different subjects as is being done for implementing research projects. Additionally, the syllabus needs to be reviewed frequently to update it with the changes taking place at the national and global level.
  • (2) At present the curriculum is taught with the sole aim of delivering within the semester time, irrespective of evaluation of the students’ learning. Moreover, the evaluation system predominantly tests the memory to recall the information provided, irrespective of whether the students understand, synthesise, analyse, evaluate and apply the information gained. There is a definite need for the teachers to understand the science of educational technology and the evaluation system.
  • In view of the declining numbers of faculty, there is a need to effectively make use of information and communication technology (ICT) in teaching agri-educatio n by popularising multimedia-based teachin g and use of other media such as e-learning and virtual learning. This would require agricultural universities to enter into partnerships with leading ICT institutions to jointly develop complex Learning Management Solutions, multimedia tools for developing simulations and analysis and course content development .

    4 Conclusions

    The agriculture sector is radically changing with new problems and opportunities in the offing. There are enormous opportunities envisioned in the agribusiness sector with the entry of the corporate sector and the possibility of more foreign direct funding in agro-processing and retailing. The curriculum needs to be reoriented to meet the demands of the agri-industry. A partnership with the agri-industry in developing curricula, involving guest faculty and offering internship programmes would provide a new dimension to HAE. A beginning has been made in this direction in the courses related to agribusiness, but this is lacking in other disciplines.

    Policy directives may allow universities to attract private funding into agricultural education, and to create an endowment fund of their own. Finally, agricultural universities may be given permission to earn profits from education, research and extension, though initially the profitmaking margin should be kept low. This would eventually ensure that these universities are self-sustained and depend less on the mercy of the state governments.

    References

    Challa, J D Rama Rao and S K Nanda (2007): “Assessment of Qualitative Rating of Colleges in State Agricultural Universities”, ICAR-AP CESS Project Report, NAARM, Hyderabad.

    Jha, D N and Sant Kumar (2006): “Research Resource Allocation in Indian Agriculture”, NCAP Policy Brief No: 23, New Delhi.

    Pal, S, P Mathur and A K Jha (2005): “Impact of Agricultural Research in India: Is It Decelerating?” NCAP Policy Brief No: 22, New Delhi.

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