Why higher education needs innovation

Tags: Op-ed
Why higher education needs innovation
Biplav Banerjee
RADICAL CHANGE: If we talk about a ‘knowledge linked economy’, would it not be a pragmatic and positive strategy to put +3 education exclusively in the domain of the central government?
India is such a great country that it creates complexity in every domain that is connected with the growth of society and nation. A classic case that supports this argument is the utter confusion that was created just a few weeks ago by University Grants Commission’s (UGC) “order” to the University of Delhi (DU) to close down the four-year undergraduate programme with immediate effect.

Ironically, just one year ago, the same authority — the UGC — had allowed DU to go ahead with the four-year activity. Indeed, the then education minister had made very positive comments and congratulated DU’s vice chancellor for taking the innovative approach.

It is also interesting to analyse the views and reactions of Delhi University teachers association (DUTA), which itself stood divided on the issue. One group felt the four-year degree programme was ideal for youths looking to go abroad for further education — foreign universities demand 16 years of education whereas we follow 10+2+3 pattern —while another group preferred the old status quo approach of let us not disturb our “academic peace”.

Thus, all the important elements connected with DU’s affairs seemed to be protecting their own domains. None of them were worried as far as the youth was concerned. Probably all of them had forgotten that the university is for the student community and all of them are supporting entities. They are not the supreme powers to play with the young generation’s life.

How should the government react when such a complex situation is entangling the higher education system? Though a lot of changes are required, I would like to make an aggressive suggestion that I have been talking about for the past 15 years. The new government has the opportunity and absolute power to take a proactive approach. The central government should bring all chief ministers, education ministers and bureaucrats to a single table and discuss with them a fundamental question: Is it, in the 21st century, essential to continue with the 10+2+3 pattern that we adopted decades ago? Well, in primary, secondary and higher secondary sphere, each state should have the liberty to decide and implement policies that they deem best. But if we talk about a ‘knowledge linked economy’, would it not be a pragmatic and positive strategy to put +3 education exclusively in the domain of the central government?

Today state governments only bear the financial load connected with payment of teachers and supporting staff salaries. Thus, it does not have money to provide for the academic growth and cannot support innovative delivery of education methods if any college or university desires to take such steps. Development fund to all affiliated colleges and universities come from MHRD and UGC. So making the +3 domain as a non-concurrent entity would make a miraculous change in a country as big as India. We must make such bold decisions to make ourselves a strong nation.

This brave action has enormous power to trigger a magnitude change in India’s identity in the education domain. India as a whole would have uniformity in structures. We are stuck in annual, semester and mini-modular structure for decades. We have dared not to touch the credit based modular arrangement and have never smoothly used collection of credit points as a measure of assessment for judging students’ knowledge base. It is the sensitivity and ability to learn from application-oriented experiences since it is critical in terms of job opportunities. In plain language, +3 has no meaning. A brilliant student may collect points that fetch a degree speedily, whereas a mid-level but hard working youth can take more time in doing the same. However, in a given profession, they may equally do an excellent task. Nowadays, this is the accepted education structure globally.

Hence, suffocating in an age-old atmosphere is not a solution. The need is to be flexible. Innovation — and that too disruptive innovation — should be worked out as the backbone for an India education policy. We are in a phase where complexity is leading to indignity for our country’s education sector. Let India break this barricade.

arun.nigavekar@mydigitalfc.com

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

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