Will the new policy save India’s higher education?
The ball now is in the MHRD’s court. Will Smriti Irani walk the talk?
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The report of the Committee for Evolution of New Education Policy, also being called the TSR Subramanian committee, came into public domain last week. In the nearly 220 page report, the committee, constituted nearly after 30 years of the last such committee, has among others made recommendations to revive and rejuvenate India’s higher education sector.
The numbers in Indian higher education - 329 state universities, 46 central universities, 128 deemed to be universities, 205 state private universities and 74 institutes of national importance, with a Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) of 23 per cent - often do not depict the largely sorry state of affairs they represent.
Huge vacancy in teaching positions, poor, unavailable and skewed funding for research, pathetic employability of graduates, money laundering in the name of capitation fees, vested interest and political interference in higher education are few of the major problems that plague the higher education sector.
The fact that only 32 per cent of 140 universities recognised by UGC have A grade or above in NAAC accreditation while a meager nine per cent of 2,780 colleges assessed have similar ranks is outright shameful and dangerous for an India of unbound aspiration. If a turnaround is to be made the government of the day has to bite several bullets and be ready to make surgical interventions.
Don’t be a miser
The TSR Subramanian committee has yet again exhorted the government not to be a miser when it comes to spending for education. Global weighted average of government spending as percentage GDP is 4.9 per cent. The call for minimum six per cent GDP spending for education has been on since 1968, but has fallen on deaf ears of rather ‘uneducated’ governments of the country. In the past decade and half India has been spending about 3.5 per cent of its GDP to "educate" its children and youth.
It is a serious anomaly that two areas which determine the future of the country, health and education see grossly poor state funding and thus are financed by households. Added to it are the archaic regulations with socialist underpinnings which act as barriers for raising funds and boost an illegal financial system in higher education.
“Politics mukt” campus
Political recruitment and patronage being the vested interest of the political class in universities, the number of educationist “netas” have proliferated over the last few decades. While the committee subtly identifies them as “influential people backed by money power with little interest in education, taking advantage of a lax or corrupt regulatory environment”, and makes recommendations for a “politics mukt” campus, it does not present pragmatic steps in that direction.
Education and its relation to two important branches of Indian society, caste and religion have been moulded since a very long time. Social re-engineering using education in an environment of identity and redistributive politics is the antithesis to wishing away politics from campuses. While private universities may be immune from such, wherever there is state patronage and influence, political forces continue to have an influence.
Focus on pedagogy
A significant shift in the recommendation has been to move away from a traditional higher-the-degree-better-the-teacher belief by accepting that a PhD for teachers at undergraduate level may not be necessary and mandated. Rather pedagogic merit is instead warranted.
On identifying pedagogy as a crux area, the committee has recommended that the grossly neglected area of pedagogy research in higher education be focused on. Nearly 63 per cent of higher education demand is met by the private sector today. For them to really excel, they must be freed from the archaic regulation that guides both them and state universities. Pedagogical innovation can only happen in such an environment.
The committee has laid stress, and has often repeated the recommendation of use of Information and Communication Tools (ICT) in higher education. It is true that our campuses and a great many faculty members are technologically challenged; however sweeping changes like considerable incorporation of ICT has to be made with caution for the risk of it being counterproductive also runs large.
Teach the teachers
Teacher appointment, with a current 40 per cent vacancy in faculty positions, a grossly defective cog in the wheel of higher education, has been given focus. The committee has suggested, and which captured headlines that integrated teacher training courses after 10 plus 2 be started to capture brilliant minds who would take up the profession. These have been recommended to be completely funded by the state.
However the same report have unsurprisingly identified bureaucratization, litigations, untimely and meager payment, frequent and political transfers and lack of training facilities as impediments in the teacher appointment process. Unless these premises are set right, in a world where lure of technical courses and corporate jobs run large, it will fail to address the issue. Furthermore, once the lacunae addressed are corrected, the state need not subsidize teacher training courses.
Reforming higher education
Other than these, extension of Mandatory Assessment and Accreditation of Higher Educational Institutions Regulations (2012) to all streams of higher education, subsuming of a plethora of regulatory bodies into one National Higher Education Promotion and Management Act, manpower-needs assessment every five years, new systems of recognition, assessment and evaluation and apolitical appointment of vice-chancellors are some of the far reaching recommendations (more about them later), and which has the heart in the right place, made by the committee.
The Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyaan’s (RUSA) goal of 30 per cent Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) can be achieved with opening of new educational institutions. Regulation it is said is about stability. A strong regulator, which importantly is independent in letter and spirit, can set the course right and allay fear of the public and industry vis-à-vis the graduates that our institutions churn.
The recommendations of the TSR Subramanian committee has reiterated long standing demands and have made many recommendations keeping in view the changed educational ecosystem in which we operate.
As the recommendation rightly mentions, in order to not convert India’s demographic ‘dividend’ into ‘disaster’ in few years, it is imperative that dire steps are taken. The ball now is in the MHRD’s court.
Will Smriti Irani walk the talk?
We shall get to see soon.