India is witnessing a decline in standards in the quality of higher education and the trend needs to be reversed, President Pranab Mukherjee said Tuesday.
Addressing a conference of vice-chancellors of central universities, Mukherjee also said that universities should not only provide knowledge and skills but also inculcate values of humanity and virtue.
"We are witnessing declining standards in the quality of higher education in our country," the president warned.
The National Knowledge Commission in its Report to the Nation of 2006 referred to it as a "quiet crisis that runs deep", he said.
"We have to reverse this trend and for that collective wisdom is needed," Mukherjee said.
The president said access to knowledge was fundamental to the country's bid to empower its people.
"The enrolment of the disadvantaged sections is a matter of great concern. For example, for Scheduled Tribe population, the gross enrolment ratio in higher education is only half of the national average," he added.
"The simple fact is that much more needs to be done to ensure availability of opportunity to aspirants, to pursue higher education near the place of their residence."
Even though India has the second largest higher education system, a report by the Planning Commission and industry released last year pointed out that gross enrolment ratio (GER) in India of 16 percent was much below the world average of 27 percent.
Ninety percent of colleges were found average or below average on the basis of their accreditation from the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC), the report said.
He said that besides being a powerful tool for the realization of the nation's technological and economic advancement, higher education had to fulfil the aspirations of the youth, who are restless and looking for directions.
He also stressed that the flight of intellectual capital had to be discouraged by addressing service conditions of faculty and offering them incentives to serve the institutions within India for longer periods.
He said universities were "custodian of culture" and they should not only provide knowledge and skills but "also inculcate values of humanity and virtue".
The president is a Visitor to the central universities. The last such conference was convened in 2003 by then president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.