Periodic statements on the need to prevent private schools from overcharging students, apparently oblivious to the amount the government spends on its schools or the quality of teaching there, tend to overshadow the progress being made on education reform. So, for instance, while the issue of reservations is a serious one—and the government continues to try to impose it on the IIMs—the proposal to replace the IIM Council where the government was represented by a coordinating council which will have eminent people as members (apart from the IIM directors) is a good step; dropping the President from the Visitor, with powers to recommend administrative action, is also a good move. In the case of the IITs, the plan has been to allow them to even decide on their own fees. A Bill for reforming medical education has been proposed by NITI Aayog and that is under consideration.
While many committees have recommended restructuring of UGC and AICTE, in an interview to The Times of India, education minister Prakash Javadekar has said the government is set to roll out a graded autonomy framework—institutes that are graded higher would enjoy more autonomy, followed by the middle-rung ones, with the government regulating only the third rung of institutes. Also, the minister is also of the view that universities would have a limited role in regulating colleges, with institutes free to decide their curriculum, examination, and hiring of new teachers.
What this means is that while a Delhi University will be free to decide its own curriculum, within this, if a Lady Shri Ram or a Hindu College—both were graded ‘A+’—want to offer their own curriculum, they can do so. The grading system, of course, will take time since while there are 799 universities, 39,071 colleges, and 11,923 stand-alone institutes, the accreditation agency NAAC still has a long way to go in completing grading. Sooner, rather than later, encouraging non-government ratings also has to be a priority.
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Establishing a National Testing Agency which will ensure CBSE does not have to conduct four major entrance tests is a good idea—it conducts the JEE MAINS for engineering, NEET-UG for medical, UGC-NET for entry-level teaching jobs in universities & colleges and UGC-funded research fellowships, and CTET for school-level teaching jobs. But even if CBSE were to concentrate on only schools, it doesn’t help—while CBSE had 11 lakh students for Class XII, UP alone had 26 lakh students registered for its state board exam—the result has been grade-inflation unrelated to student quality, especially in many state boards.
A good solution would be to encourage colleges/universities to opt for a national SAT-type test to decide on admissions. And, at some point, the minister has to acknowledge you can’t create world-class institutions if you have a reservations policy. Without a solution to that, India’s educations-reform path will always be incomplete.