The crisis in India’s higher education Policies : Causes, Impact and Solutions

Trilok Singh, The National Policy on Education was framed in 1986 and modified in 1992. Since then several changes have taken place that calls for a revision of the Policy. The Government of India would like to bring out a National Education Policy to meet the changing dynamics of the population’s requirement with regards to quality education, innovation and research, aiming to make India a knowledge superpower by equipping its students with the necessary skills and knowledge and to eliminate the shortage of manpower in science, technology, academics and industry etc.

“Some Inputs for Draft National Education Policy – 2016”. Source: Ministry Of Human Resource Development (MHRD). For the first time, the Government of India is embarking on a time-bound grassroots consultative process, which will enable the Ministry of HRD to reach out to individuals across the country through over 2.75 lakh direct consultations while also taking input from citizens online.

So far, the Narendra Modi government has done very little to address the crisis in higher education. The government started on a controversial note. PM Modi’s selection to head the Ministry of Human Resources and Development (HRD) raised questions about the importance of education under this dispensation as it showed scant regard for education in spite of the fact that the Sangh Parivar takes education very seriously.

The implications of the ongoing crises are at two levels

The first, is how it will immediately, as of this coming academic year, affect the intake of students to universities like JNU. The second, is the larger impact it will have on the social demography of campuses, with its frightening implications for recalibrating educational institutions as the domain of powerful cliques of ‘upper’-caste, elite Hindu men. The first is linked to the specifications in the UGC notification of May 5, 2016, which, by introducing clauses regarding cut-offs, exam processes and a graded system of supervision, ends up violating JNU’s admission policy. Moreover, it also drastically reduces student intake into the university. Indeed, if this were to go through, several universities like JNU and DU would have no research students for years to come. The larger implication is of course of privatising higher education.

In Short, privatisation will obviously lead to the end of state funding, with impossibly high fees being just one aspect of this change. As is obvious, several elements in this blueprint for “reform” of public education in India are in step with the overhaul that has been undertaken in recent years, in both universities and the UGC itself.

Causes

Lower budget For Higher Education

The government’s first Budget has not delivered achhe din for higher education in the country. The Union Budget for 2015-16 has reduced funds for higher education to the tune of Rs.3,900 crore in its revised budget estimates for the financial year 2014-15. The government has revised the figure to Rs.13,000 crore, as against Rs.16,900 crore for the plan allocation. The overall education budget of the Modi government is down from Rs.82,771 crore to Rs.69,074 crore. The government has also revised allocation for the Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA) — which is a Centrally Sponsored Scheme (CSS), launched in 2013 that aims at providing strategic funding to eligible state higher educational institutions — to Rs.397 crore as against Rs.2,200 crore in the original Budget.

Zoya Hasan, Leaders of the BJP are on record announcing their intention to change the textbooks and syllabus. The larger Sangh agenda includes substantive changes both in the content of education and appointments in prestigious institutions. Their aim is to influence their working to reflect the Sangh’s agenda by making key appointments of persons belonging to the RSS and affiliate bodies in various institutions like the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR), the Nehru Memorial Museum & Library (NMML), the Indian Institutes of Technology, the Central universities, the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) and the State Council of Educational Research and Training (SCERT), etc, who will loyally execute such changes. Many of them will exercise influence on public policy, and will do so not due to their scholarship, but due to their proximity to the RSS.

The right-wing agenda

The common syllabi system has to be seen in the context of attempts to saffronise the education sector, particularly at a time when the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is spearheading the agenda of the present government. Even though the right-wing intelligentsia has failed to provide a credible account of India’s past and present, the Sangh Parivar is nevertheless busy reorganising educational syllabi to reflect a view of history and society gleaned from mythology and religious texts, in effect giving an open licence to fantasise history. Within weeks of forming the government, the RSS held a meeting with the HRD Minister where it pushed for introduction of moral education, correcting distorted history being taught in educational institutions and giving proper representation to forgotten idols of the country from the pre- and post-Independence era.

No academic logic

The Ministry of HRD’s idea of “reform” is an egregious attempt to standardise higher education and research by introducing a common framework for Central universities based on the myth that uniformity will equalise quality and skills across universities. It is not at all clear that uniformity will help in upgrading new universities or the State universities, which is the ostensible aim of this exercise. Some of the universities such as JNU or the Ambedkar University, Delhi, are successful precisely because they value heterogeneity and variation so that creativity and innovation can thrive. Many Central universities reflect India’s extraordinary diversity in their faculty composition and student body, and, above all, they offer very different syllabi and courses which has helped in their academic growth.



Move towards Centralisation

Besides cuts in state funding which is a critical area of concern, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government’s overall approach to education is destructive of autonomy, creativity and diversity. The manner in which the state is intervening in higher education is causing concern among both teachers and students. There are alarming proposals to change the very nature of higher education. The most disturbing is the proposal to revive the Central Universities Act of 2009 which will require the Central universities to follow a common admission procedure and common syllabus. etc..

Impact’s

Arunima, professor at the Centre for Women’s Studies, JNU, Such Contemporary changes would have a serious impact on the character of the student body, the future of the classroom as the site for teaching and learning, and of student politics on campus. From permanent students who learn the art of argumentation in classrooms and the skills of political life through reading, debate and campaigning, with an exposure to political ideologies and parties – the shift will be to the growth of a shifting population of temporary students coming in for short-term courses, who may not even have a right to vote in campus elections. So a public university system that enabled educational access to the widest section of Indian society, with the aim of creating scholars, researchers, administrators and policy makers from socially marginal backgrounds – which can be the only way towards levelling deep inequalities and correcting historic injustices – will be replaced by an army of ‘skilled’ and docile citizens who can be absorbed into the new economic order.



The shift in emphasis from research to ‘skill-based’ courses will also render education fundamentally anti intellectual and anti political. Amongst the hardest hit will be departments of social sciences and humanities, where research, teaching and knowledge production has increasingly placed great emphasis on critical thought and rethinking received certainties.

With reference to faculty selection, which is increasingly an area of contention in most public universities, including JNU, he recommends that there should be “no state interference” where salaries should be linked to performance, discarding the present system of scales and pay commissions. Universities, therefore, must

Povide education that links knowledge with “industry” and the “commercial economy”, and the direction for that would be MOOCS (Massive Open Online Courses; the present equivalent in India is Swayam). Bardhan ends his template for reform by saying that “In India the default redistributive option for politicians has been caste reservations in admissions to higher education institutions for the disadvantaged. But when these institutions keep on churning out graduates who are mostly unemployable, I believe the consciousness will rise among our poor and middle classes and castes that the way forward is to fight the vested interests and move in the direction of improving education quality, along with access and equity.”

What happens next?

There are no signs that the government intends to back down from its agenda of tightly controlling the higher education sector. Some of the country’s best universities such as JNU and HCU have become sites for the government to more than just flex its muscles to show who is in charge. In the early stages of the JNU controversy, there was a slim possibility that it would scale down its overreaction.

Moreover, The JNU controversy has offered an opportunity to initiate a much-needed fresh conversation on higher education. This conversation is made all the more necessary because the country’s colleges and universities are in bad shape, with most of them quite broken. Unfortunately, however, perhaps or at least in part because key government officials have not shown themselves willing to acknowledge that there are problem areas which need immediate attention and radical reforms, we seem to be arguing and fighting about nearly everything else except higher education. In recent weeks, larger issues of nationalism, sedition, free speech, caste and others have taken centre-stage. In between, JNU has been made out to be a national nuisance of the highest order and even seemingly-sensible people like Chandan Mitra have come up with flighty suggestions such as shutting down the university, even if temporarily.

Towards Solution

Present Government really need to do some effective policies with the same regard. Yes, we need to get rid back of these kind of drawbacks in order to make our exercise more efficient in the field of higher education. I believe that, we must get rid of general education requirements and make them what they ought to be- optional electives. Students learn better when they control their experience. We can empower students by giving them choice in the classes they choose and in how they wish to learn. Marketplaces are the epitome of self-expression. They allow for personal expression without the heavy hand of an entity who thinks it knows better.

To some extent, MOOCs have begun this process. But, MOOCs are cozy with, and in many cases part of a university. So there is reason to doubt their ability to avoid the burden of the overhead that universities will eventually lay on them. And this education marketplace is good for teachers too. A digital marketplace that connects students and teachers directly will: Reward teachers financially for creating great courses, Incentivize teachers to create innovate with new learning environments,  Attract new teachers to the field of teaching who would otherwise go elsewhere, It need to Increase Education and Health Sector budget or funds and provides some economic helps to marginalized and Rural Background Scholars as well as students. With the same light it need to “Reform The Higher Education Policy in India”. We hope for the best from Government of India side..

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