Pushing reforms in higher education

Tags: Op-ed
Pushing reforms in higher education
Bloomberg
WAY FOWRARD: A professor addresses students at the Indian Institute of Technology on the outskirts of Mumbai in 2004. The process to initiate major reforms requires wide-ranging consultations to gain acceptance among stakeholders
A new team of young brigade took over the agenda of making reforms in education sector, almost a mo­nth ago. M M Pallam Raju, the newly elevated minister for human resource development formally took over at his Shastri Bhawan office on October 31. In his first interaction with the reporters, the minister said that he would consolidate the achievements of his predecessor, Kapil Sibal and complete the unfinished tasks left by him. He stressed on the need for a value-based education system so that the younger generation does not lose sight of the country’s rich cultural heritage and lamented on the poor quality of engineering pass-outs. On several bills of the HRD ministry pending in Parliament, he was confident that with the support of his colleagues — ministers of state Shashi Tharoor and Jitin Prasada — they would bring all parliamentarians from different parties on mutual understanding and get the pending bills passed.

Kapil Sibal, when he took over in 2009, said in an interview with a prominent newspaper, “I hope to do to education, what the PM did to economy in 1991”. His exit from the MHRD deprives him of fulfilling his dreams to liberalise the education through various bills such as bills to allow foreign education providers; set up universities of innovation, educational tribunals for out of court settlement of educational disputes and a national accreditation authority; a bill to prevent unfair practices, including capitation fee in colleges and create a national academic depository for electronic storage of academic records; and a bill to establish an overarching regulator, the National Commission on Higher Education & Research (NCHER) that would subsume the UGC, the AICTE and all other present regulators.

Human resource development minister M M Pallam Raju had a smooth sailing, probably being the first meeting in just one week after taking over as a minister, in the 60th meeting of the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) held on November 8 and truly, no major decisions were made in the meeting. The minister categorically said on November 21 that the proposed all India engineering admission test will come in force from 2013, thus rejecting the demand to review the joint entrance examination for admission to undergraduate engineering courses in centrally funded engineering institutions.

Higher education system in India has suffered enormously because of no firm policy decisions that cut across the very structure and operations in the education system. The reasons are many, but prominent ones are the non-coherence of legal and operational policies both at the central and state government levels, complete stay-away approach from creation of a flexible legal structure to ensure academic mobility am­ongst youth across the country, undervaluing the public education system, total “shut-your-eyes” attitude for the “we care least” approach of those evolved in creation and running of deemed-to-be and state private universities for governmental rules and regulations; and not addressing the issues related to search for “out-of-the box” solutions for funding of higher education.

Our society and almost every family in a big nation like India are now fully aware that it is good quality education alone that would bring respectability to our graduates in a very globally competitive world. They also are aware that the government on its own would not be in a position to expand the system beyond its financial resources and there is a need to allow private education and foreign education providers to come in the domain of higher education. But, they are equally aware that the private education providers that operate under deemed and state private universities labels are making enormous compromises in quality of education. They feel that the government is unwarrantedly protecting these institutions, who are least bothered even about the governmental regulations of 2010 and are stalling bills that are connected with the expansion of accreditation entities to meet pressures from expansion of institutions and their teaching programmes, malpractices in academic, administrative and financial operations, tribunals for fair justice on grievances of various stake holders, entry of foreign universities and NCHER with an affirmative action strategy. The society is equally worried about the immune thought processes that are now engulfing the entire academic, research and governance mechanisms in public universities.

The process to initiate ma­jor reforms requires wide-ra­nging consultations to gain acceptance among the stakeholders. Any ad-hoc or piecemeal reform tends to invoke suspicion, scepticism and resistance. The opposition to reform measures is sometimes out of well meaning concerns. However, in India, it looks that it is articulated by vested interests. Some of it can be politically motivated. Unfortunately, whether it was the UPA 1 or the UPA 2 government, higher education always got low priorities and government as a whole never took it as a national agenda. The new team in MHRD must be aware of the wrong history in this respect and they should use its larger skills and wisdom to push the reform wagon on the accelerated mode.

(The writer is former chairman of UGC, former vice-chancellor of University of Pune and founder director of NAAC)

arun.nigavekar@mydigitalfc.com

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