Sunday, April 18, 2010

Reforming higher education

There is no need for any government regulation. Let private institutions come up and students can make their choice based on the information on which institutes provide quality education.

This is what Lord Meghnad Desai, Professor Emeritus, London School of Economics said at the fifth Oxford India Business Forum 2010, at New Delhi, on 25 March 2010.

As a manifestation of the Central Government’s  resolve to reform and restructure the higher education sector, the draft Bill on formulation of the National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER) has been placed before the Indian Parliament. The Commission seeks to replace institutions such as the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE). Noted educationists all over the country have expressed concerns over the efficacy of the Bill bringing in the desired changes in the higher education system. As higher education is an area that concerns a large number of people, the Central Government should be more pro-active in seeking feedback from stakeholders and that should be the norm all the time. The major concerns expressed are as follows:

(a) NCHER Bill undermines the autonomy. It tends towards centralisation of powers and control over academic initiatives. The Preamble lays down two basic objectives, firstly, ‘to provide for the determination, co-ordination, maintenance of standards in and promotion of higher education and research' and secondly to ‘promote the autonomy of higher educational institutions, for the free pursuit of knowledge and innovation and for facilitating access, inclusion and opportunities to all'. There is a mismatch between what is proposed in the preamble and incorporated in the body of the Bill. The terms of the proposed Bill are such that they may not improve the quality of education or make much needed autonomy a reality.

The statement in the preamble is in favour of autonomy. Both academic and administrative autonomy are necessary if the universities are to become real centres of learning. But autonomy without democratisation is likely to lead to an authoritarian system. The Bill is silent about democratisation. Even the colleges should become autonomous, as the affiliating system is under severe strain. But the character of the Bill, despite the claims to the contrary, undermines autonomy rather than advancing it. The commission's powers to make regulations are likely to impinge upon autonomy rather than promote it. It has assumed powers far greater than what was exercised by the UGC. Moreover, UGC was essentially an advisory body in academic matters.

(b) NCHER is not sufficiently rooted in academic imperatives. NCHER is mainly a management remedy. The problems that higher education is facing are not essentially because of inefficient management but because of the inability of the system to ensure quality. Whether a new apex body which would exercise ‘national' control is the ideal solution for the problem deserves very serious consideration.

(c) NCHER is not an umbrella organisation. The resolution on the National Policy on Education (NPE) passed by the parliament few years back envisages creation of a single regulating organisation replacing as many as 13 different regulating organisations approved by the Parliament. For example, the education in agriculture and medicine still lie outside the purview of NCHER. 

(d) NCHER may remain organizationally inadequate. The commission is a highly centralised body manned by a chairman and six members, supported by a collegium, consisting of core and co-opted fellows to ‘aid, advice and make recommendation to the commission'. The commission is a pretty isolated organisation without any window to the society. The collegium is at best a deliberating body and would not exercise any control over the commission. Eminent personalities like Nobel award winners, Jnanapeeth Award winners shall be appointed members of the collegium. Notwithstanding the eminence of these personalities, they may not be fully aware about the ground realities and problems faced by the higher education in the country. The management of higher education in the country would thus be left in the hands of a committee of seven who have no prescribed channels of feedback. Therefore, even if well intentioned, the commission would be starved of necessary democratic connection.

(e) Compulsory accreditation as envisaged in the Bill may not be effective. There are considerable reservations about the manner in which the accreditation system is working now. Whether a national system can function effectively is doubtful. After many years of the system being in operation, only a small percent of colleges have so far been graded. The National Knowledge Commission (NKC) has proposed the idea of licensing accrediting agencies, probably involving private agencies. It is not clear as to if the provision in the bill which refers to accrediting agencies registered under the commission would involve the implementation of NKC proposal. In principle, the authority to regulate and accredit should rest with public authorities. The process of accreditation should be participative and the purpose ameliorative rather than punitive. It is perhaps time to review the system. One possibility is an internal assessment with external participation at the State level. The accreditation today primarily looks into the ‘process’of imparting education. Rather it would be better to evaluate the ‘product’ of education. The product based evaluation shall call for total review of the methodology. That is what perhaps Meghnad Desai means (see quote at the top)

To sum, the NCHER should be a single umbrella organisation at the national level with necessary monitoring and regulatory functions. ‘Autonomy at all levels’ should be the watchword while drafting the Bill. The collegium, with advisory role, should consist of eminent personalities from the field of education with a feel of local conditions obtaining in different parts of the country. An effective system should be established to seek sustained feedback from the stakeholders as well as to maintain adequate checks and balances over the functioning of the Commission. The accreditation today is ‘process’ oriented. It may be worthwhile making it ‘product’ oriented.  



Saturday, March 27, 2010

Parents choose proper engineering college


As a Principal of an engineering college I met number of parents, especially while seeking admission for their ward, asking about which engineering college or engineering branch will be good. Here are some tips.

     Choosing a College: 
(a)Read the information given in the brochure provided by the Director technical Education (DTE) and also that provided by the college

(b)Go to the website(s) of the college and click on the “Compulsory Disclosure” and read the information carefully. If the college has not disclosed the proper information, report to DTE

(c) Ensure that the college/society does not run any unauthorised courses.

(d) Go through all 'Heads' displayed in the website

(e) It is necessary to visit the concerned college and the department where you intend to seek the admission. Look for the following information:

(i) College management and their track record

(ii) College principal and his reputation

(iii) Department head, his/her reputation, number of faculty and their qualification, teaching experience. As per the current AICTE norms, the engineering colleges are required to maintain 1:2:6 ratio among Professors:Associate Professors:Assistant Professors. Note how many faculty have Ph. D.

(iv) Department laboratories, equipment

(v) Research currently undergoing in the Department and the involvement of faculty members and students in therein. This is important, as the
        quality of teaching is almost proportional to the quality of research.

(vi) Research papers published by the faculty in the international journals. national events organised by the College for students and the professionals

(vii) University Results and consistency: Students in the university merit list (first ten) for last three years. 

(viii) College fees: should be proportional to the reputation

The following aspects speak good of an educational institution, however choosing an institution only on any one or two of these, ignoring the points given above, could be a pitfall: 

(a) The college building and surroundings are highly impressive (Take a look at the college laboratories, class rooms and toilets)
(b) The College name figures many times in the news channels
(c) The college organises mega events (organising a mega social, sports or competition event, with budget more than INR 5 million, takes nearly 4-5 months organisational work by the college faculty and staff, which is likely to cause negligence towards academics)

Engineering Branch: 

All engineering branches are good. The branch should be chosen without any gender bias. 
In order to secure good job, it necessary that your ward secures First Division, consistently. All reputed companies look for consistency in the academic performance.

Seek admission for your ward, once you are satisfied with these aspects.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

India: Union cabinet clears foreign universities bill

The Union Cabinet: India on 15 march 2010 cleared the Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operation) Bill, 2010, for introduction in Parliament. It seeks to allow foreign education providers to set up campuses in the country and offer degrees.

Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal said: “This is a milestone which will enhance choices, increase competition and benchmark quality. A larger revolution than even in the telecom sector awaits us.”

The Foreign Universities Bill, 2010, has been pending for the last four years owing to opposition from various quarters, including the Left parties, over certain provisions. Last year, it was referred to a Committee of Secretaries, which brought modifications to certain provisions.

The Bill was approved by the Cabinet, presided over by Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, without any change. It prescribes an eight-month, time-bound format for granting approval to foreign educational institutions to set up campuses. They will go through different levels of registration process during this period. Finally, they will be registered with the University Grants Commission or any other regulatory body to be put in place that will scrutinise the proposals of the aspiring institution as per India's priorities and advise the government whether to allow it to operate in India.

Though 100 per cent foreign direct investment through the automatic route is permitted in the education sector since 2000, the legal structure does not allow granting of degrees by foreign educational institutions here.

Three other reform bills, slated to be taken up in the Cabinet, were deferred to the next meeting. These are the Prohibition of Unfair Practices in Technical, Medical Educational Institutions and Universities Bill, the Educational Tribunal Bill and the National Accreditation Authority Bill. A Group of Ministers has already cleared the Bills.

Higher educational institutions, including IITs and IIMs, today hailed the government's go ahead for a bill to allow entry of foreign education providers in India and sought to allay any threat posed by the institutions from abroad.

Four years ago, when India first flirted with the idea of opening its doors to foreign universities, optimists said Harvard, Yale and Oxford would line up to get in. Now it seems few big-tags are interested in investing in India, although, Imperial College, Duke College, Georgia Tech and Schulich School of Business (York University) — are among those who have so far met senior officials in the HRD ministry and spoken of setting up a full-fledged campus.

One thing is for sure, the foreign universities in India shall initiate a competition among educational institutions, give boost to the research activity in the universities. These universities will also be able to offer attractive pay package to the faculty to attract good candidates.

The establishment of foreign university campuses in India shall provide an option to the students going to foreign countries in large numbers to obtain higher degrees.

This Bill along with the three other related Bills (mentioned as above) will be an effective package after the approval of the Parliament.

As whole, it appears to be a good move. Three cheers to the HRD Minister !


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Relevance of MBA

Many engineers prefer to join MBA after BE. There is fundamental difference between MBA and BE. Whereas BE is knowledge-based, MBA is skill-based. For example an engineer wanting to design a reactor or design a structure must know and understand the mathematical formulae required for the purpose. On the other hand, there is no formula or a set path to manage a business. Managing a business is a skill till date. Every businessman evolves his style of management, based on the manpower (skill sets), equipment and materials required for the purpose. The structured training in management helps him manage better. The importance of work experience before joining MBA needs to be understood in proper perspective.

After graduation, one joins a job. The real nature of the job, say production, services, finance, marketing, etc., is known only after working in a particular area for few years. After some years (3 - 5) of working, one comes to know about the additional skill sets required to become efficient and successful in the profession. That is the stage when MBA course, with a specialization in the relevant area of management, should be joined.

As an engineer, I would say, every graduate engineer joining the industry should go for postgraduate qualification in management. After some years of work experience, most engineers rise to the level of GM and above. At that stage, the management skills are more important than the technical knowledge.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Deemed doomed

The HRD ministry has decided to de-recognize as many as 44 "deemed universities", spelling uncertainty for nearly two lakh students enrolled with them. The ministry's decision amounts to an acknowledgement of irregularities in conferring the "deemed" tag to these institutions.

The 44 "deemed" universities are spread across the country, including one promoted by a minister, three government-sponsored ones and some in the National Capital Region. These deemed universities were found deficient on many grounds -- ranging from lack of infrastructure to lack of evidence of expertise in disciplines they claim to specialize in, according to the findings of a high power review committee appointed by the University Grants Commission (UGC).

The ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) emphasized that the affected students would be taken care of. The ministry's task force recommended that institutions not found fit for deemed university status revert back to the status quo ante as an affiliated college of the state university of jurisdiction, so that students complete their ongoing courses and obtain degree from the affiliating university. Similarly, medical and dental colleges not found suitable can affiliate to state university or state medical university. While these safeguards have been recommended, the students are nonetheless likely to go through a phase of uncertainty as they move from one university to another.

In an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court of India, the HRD ministry said the review committee found only 38 institutes fit to have the deemed university status. Another 44 were found "deficient" in some aspects which need to be rectified over the next three years. With Supreme Court likely to approve HRD's action, it is unlikely that government will have to face any litigation.

The HRD ministry's review committee found the following glaring omissions in case of 44 deemed universities:

* Undesirable management structure where families rather than professional academics controlled the functioning

* Several institutions had violated the principles and guidelines prescribing excellence in teaching and research and were engaged in introduction of thoughtless programmes
* Little evidence of noticeable efforts in case of emerging areas of knowledge
* Little evidence of commitment towards research
* Institutions increased their intake capacity disproportionately
* Undergraduate and post-graduate courses were fragmented with concocted nomenclatures
* Higher fee structure than prescribed