RS Bawa & Rajiv Khosla
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has to be congratulated for taking a much-needed step in the direction of scrapping the University Grants Commission (UGC) and All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), besides putting in place the higher education regulator—Higher Education Empowerment Regulation Agency (HEERA). For long, different committees and commissions constituted for the improvement of higher education, along with educationists of repute, recommended the closing down of the multiple regulatory authority system—UGC, AICTE, National Council for Teacher Education, Medical Council of India—and replace it with a single authority. The opinion was developed keeping into consideration the ambiguous delineation of the jurisdiction of different regulatory authorities, which often led to turf wars taking a toll on all the stakeholders.
In one of the controversies between UGC and AICTE, the judiciary pronounced (April 2013) that AICTE has no authority to issue or enforce any sanctions on colleges affiliated with universities, as its role is to provide guidance and recommendation. AICTE filed a review petition in the apex court, to which the court held its original decision status quo; it left AICTE fuming. Finally, the HRD ministry had to step in to resolve the tussle, maintaining that UGC will regulate business schools that offer Master’s degrees, while AICTE will regulate independent business schools that offer PG diplomas. Such disagreements prove costly.
HEERA, on the other hand, is the lone regulating body and is expected to eliminate such overlaps. Having said that, it should not be assumed that a mere single-handed subsistence of HEERA will be able to wash all the sins of higher education. There are different problems at different levels, whose solutions require a methodical understanding and professional resolution. Concerns engulfing higher education are prevalent at all levels, be it public or private sector institutions, research, placements, skill development.
To the extent public sector universities or institutions of higher learning are concerned, it is an open secret that these are dominated by political interference. The topmost position of the vice-chancellor or equivalent is filled on political considerations. To expect the person on this position to make academic appointments without taking favours, when he himself might have greased the palms of politicians, will be an imprudent optimism. Thus, it gives way to the induction of incompetent teaching machinery in our universities for shaping the career of our youth.
Not only this, jobs of incompetent teachers get protected once they get the backing of one of the many teacher unions, which, apparently, get support from political parties over petty academic issues. Thus, the phrase “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” does apply in the context of our universities, where neither the administrators nor fellow teachers dare speak anything against each other, even if it is wrong. Accordingly, not only teaching, rather the quality of research and research scholars, curriculum development, affiliation and approval to new institutions, career development of honest teachers and the employment of youth takes a back-seat. It was due to this stigmatic education that 23 lakh applicants (including 255 PhDs and 1,52,000 graduates) applied for 368 posts of peons in Uttar Pradesh in 2015!
The state of affairs in private sector is further pitiable. To start with, big businessmen and politicians succeed in registering colleges under the name of a charitable society, whose mission is to impart education without profits. But there is no evidence to prove that these institutions are not run on commercial lines. Since the number of colleges and universities has mushroomed in each state, there is cut-throat competition in terms of admissions and their consequent survival. To offset the costs, retired personnel and fresh post-graduates are recruited as directors and teachers, respectively. These faculty members are often used for marketing and bringing admissions. Even existing students are offered a rebate in their semester fee when they bring more admissions. In one such engineering college where we visited last year for the admission of a friend’s son (who cleared plus two exam after cracking the reappear exam in October), we were told that an offer is going on wherein we can pay the fee for seven semesters instead of eight with a free prospectus. To convince us, the admission counsellor guided us about the placements of their passed out students and the quality of classrooms, workshops, library and Wi-Fi facilities.
We were amazed to find that the faculty list had no PhD in engineering stream and, to our surprise, the lone faculty member bearing a ‘doctor’ against his name in the MBA stream actually had a degree of Bachelor of Dental Surgery, which he had earned before completing MBA. No rocket science is required to comprehend how these colleges get approval and, in addition, the positive nod to continue during and after inspections. Amid this rotten education stuff, can Indian educators ever dare to think of competing with world-class universities?
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Automation is expected to spread more unemployment. A World Economic Forum report (2016) estimated that 5 million jobs across the globe could be lost by 2020, owing to machines replacing humans. In the Indian context, it is estimated that our technology and software industry may see an ouster of 2,25,000 middle level managers over the next few years. Glimpses of the same have been seen in the recent lay-off of employees by some major IT companies. To stop automation from entering the Indian markets is inevitable, but to counter this it is recommended that high-skilled labour be produced. But keeping in mind our corroded education system, it will be too much to expect the churning out of skill-based labour.
Keeping all this in consideration, there is an emergent need to refurbish existing education scenario with the help of an effective regulatory body like HEERA that may understand the tribulations from its origin. To get tangible solutions, a galaxy of professionals be inducted in it, instead of only bureaucrats and politicians. We have the example of our space agency ISRO, where outcome-oriented professionals working together made us proud by achieving a world record by launching 104 satellites from a single rocket. The same professionalism is required to be indoctrinated in HEERA, so that modern day Takshashilas and Nalandas could be created.
RS Bawa is vice-chancellor, Chandigarh University; Rajiv Khosla is head, University School of Business, Chandigarh University. Views are personal.