Saturday, June 27, 2009

Higher education: welcome reforms

As a part of the HRD ministry's current move to overhaul the education system in India, the existing regulatory bodies like UGC, AICTE, Medical Council of India, NCTE and Distance Education Council shall be replaced by one single body. This is in line with the recommendations made by National Knowledge Commission and the Yashpal committee. Welcome move indeed !

It will go long way reducing the prevailig malpractices and also contribute towards improving the quality of higher education

The Yashpal committee laments the ill-growth of private educational institutions and deemed universities.The committee recommends granting of deemed universites be put on hold till unambiguous, rational guidelines are evolved. The Committe observes that the behaviour of some private universities has become a matter of serious concern to students and parents. A detailed probe into the basic reasons for the concerns revealed that many of them were professional colleges that got approval from the regulatory bodies for university status. Immediately after, they began admitting five to six times their capacity, without a corresponding increase in faculty strength or infrastructure. The classes were conducted at strange hours like factory operations. The students who paid huge capitation fees felt cheated. The students from the underprivileged sections could not get admission in many of them, due to heavy capitation fees”.

Another big part of the plan is a legislation to prevent, prohibit and punish educational malpractices. The draft Bill has been sent to the Law Ministry. It proposes to give teeth to the government to deal with institutions that do not meet promises made in their prospectus, be it fees, quality of teachers or infrastructure. The recognition to deemed universities, 127 new ones in the past five years, is being reviewed.

Accreditation shall be mandatory for higher education institutions.The entry barriers would be very tough.Once passed, an institute can become a deemed university and even a full-fledged university.

A law to regulate foreign education providers is on the anvil. The Bill proposes to regulate fees and ensure Indian laws are followed. Whether these institutions would have to abide by the quota rule,would be decided on a case-by-case basis. Big foreign universities might be exempted from quotas.

The economically weaker sections will be offered interest subsidy on the educational loans. The scheme might be a part of the budget 2009.

On the planning board is also a scholarship scheme under which money will be directly credited to bank accounts of 41,000 boys and an equal number of girls in colleges.

The Government proposal on educational reforms is a result of continuing discussion and debate that go back to the previous UPA regime and are being monitored by the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has accorded priority to the sector.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Deemed universities: let them bloom

From the press reports it appears that the new UPA government has begun the process of revamping the country's education system, as it has decided not to accept any further applications for Deemed-to-be-University status. Union Human Resource Minister Kapil Sibal on Monday told that, the new mechanism would have steps to check capitation fees by professional colleges and setting up of a national council for higher education as a regulatory body.

It is not clear whether this is a temporary or permanent halt. If temporary, it is welcome till the effective system of checks and balances is put in place. However permanent ban will be a negative step on the long run. The deemed universities have certain unique advantages over the conventional state-run universities. There is no limit to reaching the academic heights, if the attitude of management is proper. It can also quickly respond to the requirements of industry and research due to short response time.
The state run universities with large number of affiliated colleges, are beset with bureaucracy, which is a means of rampant political and governmental interference. What happened in these universities in last sixty years is likely to continue, until systemic changes are brought in.

If India is to achieve progress in academics, it will be only through deemed universities, with adequate checks and balances on their functioning.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Deemed Universities: make them a vehicle to achieve quality in education

The recent newspaper reports suggest that the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), Government of India, has prepared a blueprint to reform the higher education. It is a overdue and welcome move. All reforms aim at improving the quality of higher education. It should be appreciated that academic autonomy is absolutely essential to quality improvement. The deemed university (DU)status given to some institutions under the UGC act was precisely for that purpose. However most deemed universities present an exactly opposite picture. The academicians and the stake holders watching the progress find that the academic standards have actually deteriorated and the malpractices increased. Whilst the Government should grant academic autonomy to these institutions, the following provisions are essential to ensure the quality.

(a) The entrance test for all DU should be conducted by UGC

(b) The tuition fees should be regulated by an independent body, similar to the Shikshan Shulka Samiti at the States level. The tuition fees must be linked to the actual expenditure on education, incurred by the institution.

(c) All DU must be asked to pay salaries, PF etc. according the AICTE/UGC guidelines

(d) All technical courses conducted by the DU should have approval of the AICTE/UGC

(d) The DU should not be automatically allowed to award MS (research) and Ph. D. degrees. A thorough assessment of the research facilities and faculty expertise should be carried out before that.