India should be at the cutting edge of agricultural research given the huge expansion in agricultural education that has taken places over the past two decades. There are 61 agricultural universities, including a recently opened one in Bengaluru, 15 universities devoted to veterinary and animal sciences, five horticultural and forestry universities, three for fisheries and one for dairying. In addition there are 159 private agricultural colleges affiliated to state agricultural universities (SAUs).
But inflation has come at the expense of quality, writes S S Chahal, former vice-chancellor of Maharana Pratap University of Agriculture and Technology, Udaipur, in the Indian Express. Only 58 universities have full or partial accreditation from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). Only eight figure among the top 100 in the HRD ministry’s National Institutional Ranking Framework, 2017. These are: Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), Delhi; Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) and Guru Angad Dev Veterinary and Animal Sciences University, both in Ludhiana; Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore; Tamil Nadu Veterinary and Animal Sciences University, Chennai; Anand Agricultural University, Anand; Y S Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry, Solan; and Rajasthan University of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, Bikaner.
Less than a fifth of about 30,000 graduates clear ICAR’s National Eligibility Test, which is a prerequisite for recruitment as lecturer or assistant professor in SAUs. Graduates, especially from the newer institutions, are found to be largely unemployable with little theoretical and practical knowledge.
Chahal blames the low and differing quality of education on the states. While they are generous with approvals for new institutions, they have little money to fund them.
ICAR requires a college to have 75 acres in the plains and 40 acres in the hills. But it is merely a recommending body. Colleges can be set up on 25 acres within municipal limits and 35 acres outside municipal limits in the plains. In the hills, the campuses can be of 10 acres and 25 acres respectively. Even this criterion is often not met, writes Chahal.
The former vice-chancellor likes the idea of mentorship. The first six SAUs in the sixties were tagged to a US land grant university. PAU, for instance, was linked to Ohio State University, which prepared the faculty for teaching and research. There should be a similar tagging of SAUs not making the grade with IARI or SAUs in the HRD ministry’s top-100 list. Chahal also recommends that ICAR be given the authority to regulate agricultural education in the country like the medical,bar and dental councils of India.
(Top photo of Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh at inauguration of a new IARI institute at Barhi, near Hazaribagh, Bihar, June 2015. Yet another poorly-funded institute. Photo courtesy PIB).