India's higher education system should change with the times

India's higher education system should change with the times
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At a time when higher education is undergoing a transformation across the world, India cannot stay aloof. We have turned a blind eye towards the global changes over the last three to four decades in the sector. If we do not sync our policies to the changes, at least now, we would be helpless in dealing with the challenges of the education sector in the form of growth and quality standards.

We are expecting this change when the six-decade-old University Grants Commission (UGC) is reshaped into a Higher Education Commission of India (HECI). Our education sector has to bounce off from the fallacies hardened through the ages.

The HECI is nothing new. The UGC top brass has been discussing the change for about 15 years. Officials at the UGC headquarters always joked to teachers from Kerala that the office may not have the same name the next time they visited. That has become a reality. The HECI is on the same lines as the National Higher Education Council proposed by the previous government at the centre. There may be some changes in its composition though.

The UGC, as its name suggests, is an organisation to grant funds to the universities. The government proposes to bring about a change in the way the funds are granted. After the introduction of the HECI, the Union human resources department will be responsible for granting funds to the universities. The grants will be allotted through the Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA).

This is the main point of concern for the states and associations. Would the change lead to a situation when the Union government discriminate among states while granting funds in the name of party politics? This is an unfounded apprehension. Funds are allotted as per the requirement of each state.

The erstwhile Planning Commission, for instance, had cut down Kerala’s financial help as the state was found to be exceeding the other states in the higher education sector. Any discrimination has to be logical like this. Even if the Union government discriminates unjustly, the state could lobby through the state higher education council chairman (the education minister) and the vice-chairman, who become ex-officio members of the HECI. They have a forum to present their case.

The UGC had applied different yardsticks to grant funds. For example, the Jawaharlal Nehru University and a central university in a rural area could not expect the same level of funding. Nascent universities have to go through a lot of hardships before they can be assured of UGC funding.

The HECI will be led by an educationist. An officer with the rank of a central joint secretary will be the secretary of the new council. The HECI will be a “mixed body” of senior officers and education experts in India and abroad.

The HECI is also likely to bring about changes in the higher education sector by introducing a syllabus that incorporates international elements. Many of the universities that rely on outdated syllabuses will have to train their teachers to accommodate the changes. Those who do not want to go through this process are bound to oppose the reform.

Meetings of the vice-chancellors have been regularly asking for all universities to follow at least 60 percent of a central syllabus, if not the complete integration of the syllabus.

The UGC has brought about changes in the higher education sector in India since its inception in 1956. Still was this change enough over a period of 62 years? The UGC can only give recommendations. The decisions are almost always left with the state governments. The states have often misused their powers. How many universities comply with the UGC guidelines?

Parochial sentiments have often meddled with the syllabus, leading to the failure of the tri-language system. The universities had not implemented the “choice-based credit system” as directed by the UGC.

Globally reputed universities are bound to enter India in the near future. That would see an exodus of students to those universities. We have to plan to draw in foreign students to our universities. We have to change our universities to achieve that goal.

The goals of innovation, knowledge, research and entrepreneurship as put forward by the HECI raise hopes. Let us not stand against change. The higher education sector will be purified by these corrections.

(The writer is the vice-chancellor of the Kerala Central University in Kasaragod.)

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