A need to educate the Bill

| July 26, 2015 | 0 Comments

A need to educate the Bill . P.M. Bhargava. The New Indian Express, 31st May 2010.

The Yash Pal Committee report on Renovation and Rejuvenation of Higher Education in India was a remarkable document that took into account all aspects of the present higher education scenario in the country and suggested measures to remedy the situation. It recognised that in desperate situations like what we have in the higher education sector today, we need drastic and stern remedial measures.

The proposed Bill for the setting up of a National Commission on Higher Education and Research (NCHER) is a virtual denial of the Yash Pal Committee’s recommendations; only the name of the commission is retained. Let me list what is wrong with the proposed Bill:

* The proposed terms of reference of NCHER are very different from what was asked for in the Yash Pal Committee’s report. The same is true of the structure of the commission. The HRD ministry intends to have separate Bills for NCHER, the accreditation agencies, national educational tribunal, state education tribunals, foreign education providers, and so on; some of them were tabled in Parliament on May 3. This separation of functions is precisely what the committee had rightly avoided. No rationale is given for having seven members of the commission. While there is no age limit for the chairperson and part-time members, there is an age limit of 70 years for full-time members. According to Section 5.4, the part-time members will be selected on the basis of contribution to economic and social development. Science and technology, of whose importance cannot be over-emphasised, are excluded.

* The idea of a collegium is ridiculous, as is the proposal in the Bill in regard to the mechanism of selection of vice-chancellors. The collegium is supposed to perform virtually all the functions of the commission such as maintenance of standards in higher education. The collegium will even suggest the names for appointment of the members of the commission. Why, then, have the commission?

* The criteria for the appointment of a core-fellow of the collegium are far more stringent than for appointment of a member of the commission. Thus a core-fellow of the collegium can only be a (past or present) national research professor; a Nobel awardee or a field medal or a Jnanpith Award winner or a member of an ‘academy of international standing’.  What is meant by an academy of international standing is not clear. Will any of our half a dozen national academies of science, medicine, agriculture or engineering qualify? If it means an organisation like The Royal Society of London or the National Academy of Sciences of the US, there would be very few in the country to choose from. It has not realised that a person may satisfy the above criteria but may be otherwise unsuitable because of a lack of vision and social concern. Also, there is no Indian living in India who has won a Nobel Prize or a field medal.

* As regards co-opted fellows of the collegium, they would be appointed at the recommendation of the states. There is no mention about the mechanism of selection of core fellows. The entire system of appointment of core-fellows and co-opted fellows will almost certainly be such that bureaucracy will rule the roost. Further, while the term of co-opted fellows will be five years, there is no term specified for core fellows. There is no quorum mentioned for the meeting of the collegium. The entire idea of a collegium has nothing to do with the committee’s report.

* The idea of maintaining a national registry for appointment of vice-chancellors does not make any academic sense. First, far too much importance is attached to the position. A good university is not defined by its vice-chancellor but is known for its academic staff. I know a large number of Nobel Prize winners and other famous scientists, in Oxford and Cambridge, or in MIT or Caltech, but I don’t know the names of the vice-chancellors of these universities. I will guarantee that if the system proposed in the Bill for the appointment of vice-chancellors is followed, the situation in this regard will only worsen.

* The report rightly says that the existence of over 20,000 affiliated colleges in the country has been ‘the bane of our higher education system’; the committee has made a viable suggestion to take care of this problem so that, in due course, there will be no affiliated colleges. The Bill encourages affiliated colleges.

* In Section 24.2 (J), the Bill talks about affiliated colleges functioning ‘in an autonomous manner independent of such affiliation’. This is a built-in contradiction.

* Why are agriculture education, medical education and legal education, excluded from the scope of the commission, while other professional educational streams such as engineering, nursing and pharmacy are included? This is in spite of the fact that organisations such as the Medical Council of India are amongst the most corrupt in the country. One of the strengths of the committee report was to provide for a multi-disciplinary approach to higher education by having under the same roof as many areas of education, including professional education, as possible.

* Another strength of the report was its recommendation that every university must not only be interdisciplinary but also have undergraduate classes. The Bill ignores this important recommendation.

* Why should the provisions of the Bill be applicable only to new universities? This means that the current ills of higher education will continue to dominate in the foreseeable future as it may take, keeping in mind the provisions of the Bill, a whole century before the number of new universities becomes large enough to make the existing universities insignificant.

* One of the most important points that the committee made was that all higher education leading to a degree must be decommercialised. The Bill ignores this recommendation.

* The committee prescribed an excellent system for admission to a university which would be means blind. This has also been ignored in the Bill which, in spirit, is for the rich and the powerful and not for the bottom, say, 80 per cent of the population.

The Yash Pal Committee report was prepared by acknowledged and respected experts after extensive consultations and was put in the public domain for discussion. The Bill seems to have been prepared by those who either know nothing about higher education or have a vested interest in it. What worries me most is the nagging doubt that those who are holding the reins of power in our country and were responsible for the Bill do not want India to be a true knowledge- based society which will contribute its due share in the generation of new knowledge by having an appropriate higher education system.

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