With a Little Push and Planning, Goa Could Emerge As a Major Higher Education Hub

Goa is one of the most liveable states in the country, permits a good quality of life, is relatively safe and is well-connected to the rest of India and the world.

A building in the BITS-Goa campus. Credit: abhishek_kr/Flickr, CC BY 2.0

A building in the BITS-Goa campus. Credit: abhishek_kr/Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Location is a key determinant of how good a college or university is or will become, especially in India. Cities are nearly always better in this regard. Small, highly urbanised states like Goa are also good locations but they need more support from state governments.

All things being approximately equal, an institution at a better location – understood as one which permits access to modern amenities such as city life, good schools and medical care; offer employment opportunities for spouses; and law and order – is more likely to attract and retain competent and well-qualified faculty than another at a less desirable place. Over time, the former attract more students and better students. This combination of well-qualified faculty and good students typically serves as a solid foundation for building good institutions or elevating the quality of pre-existing ones.

Of course, for colleges and universities to become ‘good’ and begin to count as such, other ingredients are necessary as well: adequate infrastructure, financial resources and an enabling administrative architecture, to name a few. These are all needed to attract and retain qualified faculty and to attract better students. However, location matters a lot, certainly much more than it is believed.

India’s major education centres are in cities

If one maps the best Indian colleges and universities, they are primarily in/or close proximity to large cities or those liveable cities which offer access to modern amenities. They may not have some of the other ingredients in plenty but because of the location advantage, they prosper more than those institutions which are disadvantaged by their location.

In a survey I conducted in 2013, I found that India’s best undergraduate institutions in arts, commerce and science are heavily concentrated in tier 1 cities (population > 25 lakh). More than 90% of the top 50 institutions in each of the three areas were in tier 1 cities. The one half-exception was engineering colleges, with only 38% of the top 50 institutions located in tier 1 cities. However, fully 82% of the best engineering colleges are either in tier 1 or tier 2 cities (population 5-25 lakhs). Overall, at that time, nearly 80% of the top 200 institutions across arts, science, commerce and engineering were in tier 1 cities: New Delhi (37), Mumbai (33), Bengaluru (26), Chennai (23), and another 34 spread across Ahmedabad, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Pune. I doubt that the numbers have changed much.

If I have my doubts about how successful Nalanda University will be, a large part of the skepticism comes from its location in rural Bihar, a state which is among the least developed in the country. If someone insists that the law and order situation in the state will have no impact on the university’s success, she is in denial. If I am optimistic about the success of Shiv Nadar University, Ashoka University or the South Asian University, it is because of their location in the National Capital Region (NCR).

Goa as a higher education hub

In the months leading up to the 2014 general elections, PM Narendra Modi declared that the government would be building more IITs and IIMs, one of each in every state. The decision came in for criticism for good reasons. Since 2006, India has more than doubled its IITs and IIMs and most of the new institutions are still to take off. Many are under construction after more than a few years and both new and old ones are short of qualified faculty. Unsurprisingly, there are genuine worries about the dilution of Brand IIT. Leaving aside the merits of building more IITs, IIMs and central universities, however, what was of interest in the prime minister’s announcement from Goa’s perspective was the government’s decision to build an IIT there.

Difficulties in acquiring land have meant that IIT-Goa will begin functioning only this year, from a temporary campus with a small intake of 30 students each in computer science, electrical and mechanical engineering. Interestingly enough, 2016 proved to be a bumper year for IIT aspirants in Goa with 22 students qualifying for a spot.

With the arrival of an IIT, there is a real potential for Goa, a state widely known for and dependent on mining, tourism and remittances for its prosperity (not necessarily in that order), to become a major educational hub in the country, comparable perhaps to Hyderabad and Bengaluru in the bottom half of the country. Goa now boasts of BITS Pilani-Goa (currently undergoing  significant expansion), NIT-Goa and Goa Engineering College (GEC) for engineering education; Goa University (which counts as a credible comprehensive institution with a NAAC A rating); the prestigious National Institute  of Oceanography (NIO) and Goa Medical College (GMC); and the Goa Institute of Management (GIM). An Indian Institute of Information and Technology (IIIT) is also slated to come up. In addition, there are several colleges and other kinds of higher education institutions spread across the state.

Interestingly, in 2014, Manohar Parrikar, who was then chief minister, had brought up the issue of setting up other brand institutions in the state: “We are positively inclined to set up AIIMS, Indian Institute of Technology and Indian Institute of Management in the state.” The idea has not moved further much but it needs to because it makes good economic sense. Laxmikant Parsekar, the current chief minister, recently indicated that his government wants to make Goa an educational hub by attracting reputed institutions.

The Goa advantage

Goa has several advantages which makes it uniquely positioned to develop as a higher education hub.

First, Goa is one of the most liveable states in the country. It ranks high on both per capita income and human development indicators, comparing favourably with the most developed states in the country. Though mining and unplanned development in coastal areas have done their bit of damage, it still is one of the ‘cleaner’ states in the country.

Second, Goa permits a good quality of life, approximately comparable to cities, in terms of easy access to urban life, thanks primarily to the flourishing tourism sector which brings large numbers of international and domestic tourists to the state. So while there are no big cities in the state, one is never too far away from city life in terms of food and entertainment.  

Third, law and order and safety of women are among the major problem areas in many parts of India. They are not in Goa. There are occasional unpleasant incidents like anywhere else but overall, Goa is a safe place for women and children.

Fourth, Goa is well-connected to the rest of India and to the world. Famous for its unique history of Portuguese rule, and for its churches and beaches, it has been for a long time on the international tourist circuit. With the building of the Konkan railway and development of India’s road network, Goa has become better connected to the rest of the country. A new international airport is due to come up in the near future. In short, Goa has both a strong national and international appeal backed with good connectivity that many locations in India cannot match.

Of course, Goa has some disadvantages too,. For one, the state has a particular image in India and among Indians as a place for fun. People think of Goa to spend their holidays, not to work. For that reason perhaps many higher education institutions in Goa have struggled to retain faculty. In recent years, the state has attracted an interesting bunch of accomplished people from other parts of India but they are still few in number. The old image of Goa holds sway. The government needs to work hard at changing Goa’s image.

Why Goa needs to become a higher education hub

Goa’s economic health has been traditionally tied to mining, tourism and remittances from abroad. In the recent past, the mining ban shook up its economy and even though it was resumed, it will not reach its previous levels in terms of its contribution to the economy. Brexit and economic troubles in the Middle East may adversely affect remittances in the coming years. Tourism remains a draw but Goa certainly needs to diversify its economy. With a push from the state government and good planning, higher education could emerge as an alternative and more reliable source of revenue for the state than tourism, mining or remittances. To achieve that, however, Goa’s government needs to go beyond statements of intent. Parrikar’s statement on the state’s willingness to build other brand institutions needs to be taken up again and pursued to its logical conclusion. There is no better time than now to do so.

A government committee led by the Goan educationist Madhav Kamat recently prepared a report which drew up a roadmap for higher education in Goa. Released in mid-2015, this report recommended that three education estates and one educational hub be set up in the state. Identifying and developing the education estates and a higher education hub were seen as necessary to attract reputed international institutions to set up campuses in Goa. A year later, there is no news of any progress in this regard.

The way forward

Goa’s status as a tourist attraction can be better positioned to build and develop higher education institutions in the state. Its connectivity and good living conditions add to making the state especially well-suited for international faculty and students. The potential for developing higher education institutions is huge. Higher education is a growth area. The number of students seeking college degrees will continue to grow for at least another decade or more. The demand for education is less affected by economic conditions, unlike tourism, mining or remittances, and it can provide a stable and growing source of revenue.

Developing higher education in Goa has many advantages over tourism. Unlike tourism, students are not driven by high and low season. Students, faculty and staff become stable contributors to the economy. Educational institutions are also a non-polluting sector (unlike mining) and if some of the ongoing activity in the real estate sector could be diverted to building academic institutions, Goa would have taken a big step forward in diversifying its economy.

It needs to be kept in mind however that the state is better suited for smaller liberal arts colleges or specialised institutions which do not need large pieces of land. As chief minister, Parrikar himself had noted that the land allotted to higher education institutions will need to be restricted because Goa does not have much free land. It is also important to consider that the private sector must be called upon to play an important role in developing higher education in Goa.

One option for Goa is to follow N. Chandrababu Naidu’s lead in Andhra Pradesh. In December 2015, his government approved the Private Universities Bill that will pave the way for setting up good universities in the state. Interestingly, the bill privileges the role of eminent educationists/industrialists as members of the expert committee in promoting, facilitating and assisting the establishment of new private universities in Andhra Pradesh. The question is whether Goa is prepared to walk the talk anytime soon.

Pushkar is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Humanities & Social Sciences, BITS Pilani-Goa.