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Restructuring Higher Education – Need of the Hour
Dr. P. Chandramohan
Vice Chancellor, Kannur University
The Father of our Nation Mahatma Gandhi once suggested that framing of any policy should be on the basis of how the new policy is going to improve the living conditions of the poorest of the poor in India. In fact the knowledge revolution has created a favourable environment for countries like India to achieve economic growth at a rapid pace. Production, distribution and consumption of all the three sectors namely primary, secondary and tertiary are being determined by the availability of knowledgeable human resources. Kerala with a comparatively higher volume of knowledgeable human resources had already become a model in this respect. At the national level also considerable wealth has been generated utilizing the favourable environment created by the knowledge revolution. But the benefits of the knowledge revolution could not be distributed in an equitable pattern. It is alleged that the rich poor divide has been deepened. Facilities for acquisition of knowledge, creation of new knowledge and dissemination of knowledge are to be extended to the poor and marginalized masses in a big way in the rapidly changing scenario of the 21st century. The fate of an individual and the society is going to be determined by the volume and quality of knowledge that each individual possesses. So much so the new policy should obviously aim at universalisation of education at all levels especially at the level of higher education. Such a policy would be quite justifiable in the wake of the new understanding that the volume of genetic potential in every human being is almost the same though the nature varies from individual to individual and that any human being can be brought to the level of excellence if he is given the appropriate environment in the field of his interest and genetic potential. This conclusion is on the basis of the study “ Human genome project” conducted in the field of Biotechnology from 1996 –2002. In a pluralistic society like ours universalisation can be brought about only by providing access to quality higher education with maximum inclusiveness bringing the marginalized and weaker sections of the society to the classrooms.
The main features of the new higher education policy should be
· To create knowledgeable and employable human resources to the maximum extent possible
· To create human resources with innovative and creative thinking leading to quality research out put
· To create human resources with a proper and realistic sensitivity towards social justice
· To create human resources with entrepreneurship
To achieve this objective an all-out effort is required in the following areas.
Expansion - India and Kerala had achieved phenomenal growth during the last 60 years of post independent period in providing access to higher education. At the time of independence India had only 20 universities, 500 colleges and 0.1 million students. Today India has 378 universities, 18000 colleges and 11.2 million students and we are the 3rd largest higher education system in the world. But when we take Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) at the national level we see that in spite of the remarkable expansion that we made over the last 60 years only 10% of our population between the ages of 18 and 24 get access to higher education. UGC has set a target of increasing the access by 5% from the existing level during the 11th Five Year Plan.
Present status of Kerala is more encouraging. Kerala has already reached a GER level of 15 – 20 per cent. This does not mean that we can sit idle till the rest of India reaches this level. Kerala has been always a model to the rest of India in the field of education and health and we had often kept international standards in these areas. When we look at the developed countries we see US has more than 60% GER, while the European countries have an average of Enrolment Rate of more than 40%. Even the average Enrolment Rate in Asia is 23%. In a knowledge based economy the minimum GER required for achieving sustainable development is 20%. Under these circumstances it is most appropriate for Kerala to target at 30% GER towards the end of 11th Plan. To achieve this target is not an easy thing and the following issues are to be sorted out.
· Development of infrastructure:- Required area of land, constructed area, equipment, furniture, library, teaching aids etc. are essential for quality education. Specific norms are to be spelt out for specific number of admissions to each course.
· Qualified faculty:- Already there is a serious dearth of faculty in the existing system. For a further expansion all vacant posts are to be filled up and more posts as per UGC norms are to be created.
· Increased workload on the University:- Expansion can be brought about either by expanding the existing colleges or by starting new colleges or by expanding the distance education or by combining the aforesaid missions. In any case the workload on the part of the university will become too heavy and measures are to be worked out to reduce the workload on the affiliating universities to optimum levels.
Operational aspects:- As was already mentioned expansion can be brought about by
· Expanding the available facilities in the existing colleges
· Starting of new colleges:- Only after giving autonomy to clusters of colleges on the basis of infrastructure, instructional facilities, academic performance and research output, new colleges can be sanctioned to the districts where the GER is below the state average. This will cover the remote and hilly areas and places inhabited by marginalized and backward classes.
· Formation of autonomous clusters of colleges:- New colleges can be started only after delinking some of the oldest colleges with good performance in the past as autonomous clusters which can be ultimately converted into independent universities. The affiliating universities are under tremendous pressure and finding it extremely difficult to keep their academic standards within the acceptable limits. They have been converted into examination conducting bodies with no time spared to play an effective role in up keeping and updating the academic standards comparable to the rest of the world. In the history of higher education in India, colleges were started first. And then to define and regulate the academic requirements and to conduct examinations, the three mother universities namely Calcutta, Bombay and Madras universities were started in 1857. Now the number of affiliating colleges have increased to large numbers and some of the universities have more than 400 affiliating colleges. This has resulted in the deterioration of the quality of our higher education system to such an extent that the affiliating colleges are often described as the academic slumps of India. But it is a sad reality that 80% of students in our higher education system are in these affiliated colleges. The situation warrants urgent attention and remedial measures. One of the effective measures proposed is the separation of clusters of colleges with a meritorious standing in the past. Each cluster can have a headquarters in one of the oldest and best performing college in the cluster preferably a Govt. college and the various authorities can be constituted in the most democratic way without dilution of academic quality.
· Strengthening Distance Education:- Distance Education is an effective and practical approach to provide access to higher education. But the massive admissions to distance education causes a serious threat to the affiliating universities which are already over burdened. So as a policy evaluation of the students admitted to various courses under distance education should be delinked from the examination wing that deals with the evaluation of the regular stream. The services of Edusat can be utilized to conduct contact classes and for interactive sessions. Higher Education Council can take the initiative to establish a telecasting studio and receiving ends can be arranged by the various universities at the different parts of the state. IGNOU can be approached for the creation of course content.
· Quality:- Quality, access and equity should go together in a pluralistic society like ours. Access without quality can only augment the problem of unemployment and unrest among the educated youth. Quality at the level of higher education is to be rated on the basis of the following criteria
ü Innovative research output
ü Social sensitivity and emotional maturity
The present status is far from satisfactory.
ü Employability:- The overall employability of the graduates coming out of our arts and science colleges is only around 15%. AICT study shows that the employability of engineering graduates is only around 30%. But if special training programmes are offered the employability of engineering graduates can be brought up to around 60%. The remaining 40% have no possibility of employability because they are landed up in the wrong field where they have no interest.
ü Research output :- Even though India as the 3rd largest higher education system in the world our research output by way of publication in referred journals is less than 3% while the contribution of our neighbouring nation China is 15%.
ü Sensitivity towards social justice:- India is a pluralistic society where a large mass of youth belong to social groups that had been deprived of power and education for centuries together. India as a country to survive as an independent nation these masses are to be brought to the main stream of the society by sharing the facilities for education and power with them. So much so inclusion of these masses should be an integral part of expansion. To create a sensitivity among the privileged classes education itself is to be tuned in such a way that all stakeholders of education are sensitized to understand the need and importance of inclusion. The present situation is far from satisfactory.
Steps to be taken to ensure quality with inclusiveness
1. Right student for each course:- We know that every student can be brought to the level of excellence if he/she is put to the right slot according to the genetic potential or inborn talents. The talent inventory should actually start from the preprimary level so that when the student reaches the level of higher education, the student and the parents will be clear in their mind as to which subject the student should accommodate. At the level of higher education an aptitude test must be made mandatory before admitting a student to a particular course. After admission adequate flexibility should be allowed to get himself exposed to three or four different disciplines according to his interest (cafeteria pattern). Through a continuous observation and assessment for a period of at least one year the core subject for each student can be jointly decided by the students, teachers and parents. Choice based credit system with a little more flexibility can solve the problem in an effective way.
2. Right teacher for each course:- Dearth of quality faculty is the major factor confronting expansion and quality. Hence it is imperative that all vacant positions are filled up on a war footing strictly adhering to the UGC norms before thinking of further expansion. At present teachers are selected on adhoc basis on meager salary. They have neither quality nor accountability. So expansion ensuring quality should mean creation of sufficient number of faculty positions as prescribed by UGC. We have an existing system that insists exposure to techniques of pedagogy to the teachers at the level of primary and secondary education. Unfortunately we do not have such a facility at the level of higher education. To make up for this lacunae UGC introduced Academic Staff Colleges to conduct refresher courses. But these colleges have never been effective in imparting the required training to the faculty in the advancing frontiers of pedagogical techniques. These refresher courses are often regarded as a tool for professional exercise rather than academic upliftment. One of the suggestions to be forwarded is to expose the teachers immediately after their selection to the modern techniques of pedagogy consisting of teacher assisted and satellite assisted pedagogy and research methodology. Publication and presentation of papers should become mandatory criteria for promotion to higher teaching posts.
3. Updated syllabus:- Struggle for existence and survival of the fittest has become the rule of the day as far as employability is concerned. The only way out is to prepare the students with the updated syllabus and make them fittest in the struggle to secure a job and come out with innovative output. Update the syllabus should become a continuous process. Subject wise cells are to be constituted by Higher Education Council to continuously monitor the changes and innovations in each subject and made available to the concerned Board of Studies in each university.
4. Student Centred pedagogy:- Choice based credit system envisages a rapid change in the teaching learning process. The role of the student from a passive listener in the conventional system is to be converted into that of an active participant. For this teaching and learning should be extended to the venue of interactive session like seminar, workshop etc, to the libraries, laboratories, to the industry and the work field for direct real-time exposure and hands on training.
5. Computer assisted teaching and learning:- In the conventional system teacher is considered as a provider of readymade knowledge. In the present context teacher can provide only obsolete readymade knowledge. Because the knowledge is changing at a rapid pace and can be mastered only through a phased manner where informations are collected from the various sources and then converted into knowledge. Information is flowing in large volume at a rapid pace so as to keep abreast with the changing scenario. The teacher and the student should swim together into the ocean of knowledge towards perfection. To achieve this objective of reciprocative learning and to reach the highest pinnacles of knowledge both the teacher and the student must be well versed in using the technology like computer assisted learning and satellite assisted learning.
6. Governance:- Quality assurance at the level of decision making:- To ensure quality higher education the first thing to be done is to ensure quality at the level of decision making. Qualifications are to be prescribed for the posts of statutory officers especially Vice-Chancellor who is the chief administrator to lead the University to greater heights. They should be academics par excellence with adequate experience in academic administration. The tenure of statutory officers must be made uniform throughout the country and immediately after selection facility must be provided for a specific period of advanced training in academic administration just like what is done in the case of IAS officers. In this era of knowledge explosion, to keep pace with the rest of the world governance needs to be more dynamic and transparent using the modern management techniques and by strengthening the workforce. The ultimate aim should be to have paperless offices where decisions are taken and executed at the fastest pace.
7. Financing of higher education:- Public funding :- All over the world public funding is the main source of funding in higher education. Even in USA 80% of financing to higher education come through public funding. Unfortunately in a developing country like India only 20% of the financing to higher education is through public funding. This situation has to change to satisfy our dreams about expansion, quality and inclusion. Accepting the recommendations of the Kothari Commission, Government of India declared a policy on higher education in 1986. This policy document swears to elevate the share of higher education to 6% of the GDP. But even today (2007-08) the share of higher education is less than 4% and the share for higher education is only 0.4%. This needs to be elevated to 6% for education in general of which 1-2% should be earmarked for higher education.
Private participation:- Private sector has made phenomenal contributions in the field of higher education in the past. But these institutions were started as philanthropist ventures by missionaries and social organizations as part of their social commitment. But recently there is a trend on the part of the private players to ignore the social realities in this country. There is no doubt that the management should have resources to run the institutions without diluting quality. But at the same time quality cannot be compromised for mobilizing resources beyond a certain limit. In this context some sort of social control to ensure merit and social justice has become inevitable. Two possible methods are suggested below:
One of the good suggestions made by Knowledge Commission is needs blind admission where admission could be insisted solely on the basis of merit and inclusiveness. Per capita annual expenditure is to be calculated on the basis of actuals by a fee regulatory committee appointed by the government. This can be fixed as the annual fee for all students. Liberal free ships and scholarships should be sanctioned by the government to those belonging to the BPL group. Others who need assistance must be provided with loan scholarships by the government with a well spelt out scheme of recouping immediately after the students get placements. If this is not possible soft loans from nationalized banks can be arranged by government. But then a minimum period of two years should be allowed after the completion of the course for starting the repayment. In the case of those who cannot make repayment even after two years due to unemployment should be supported for repayment by the Government till the candidate gets employment somewhere. This is likely to bring in considerable financial commitment on the part of Govt. The second method of ensuring quality and equity is to follow the legislations made by the Govt. of Kerala.
Differential fee system:- This is one of the practical solution to the problem of resource mobilization in private institutions. 50% of the seats are to be filled up from the selection list prepared by the government on the basis of merit and inclusion and their fees should be fixed at par with the government fee. The remaining 50% also should be selected from the merit list prepared by the government on the basis of their capacity to pay the higher fee fixed by the fee regulatory committee on the basis of actual expenditure involved in running the college and for the developmental activities envisaged. But this system amounts to cross subsidy and requires constitutional protection which can be achieved only through the Parliament of India.
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