Education in Uttarakhand 2
Holistic Education System
A holistic system of higher education, as the very name implies, does not compartmentalize higher education institutions into separate unrelated categories with no links to each other, especially at the level of policy. On the contrary, it considers all higher, or post-secondary educational institutions, irrespective of whether they belong to general education, professional education or vocational education streams, as part of a common structure. Consequently, a holistic higher education policy encompasses all these streams in an integrated manner. For the sake of administrative convenience different departments/agencies of the government may be given responsibility for overseeing the implementation of policy in specific areas viz., general education, technical and professional education, medical education etc., but at the policy level there has to be one agency that takes an overall or holistic view of higher education. This will enable a comprehensive and reasoned response from the state government to the various opportunities and challenges emanating from the fast-paced developments at the national and global levels. It will also help in developing linkages between the various institutions imparting post-secondary education. For instance, ITIs and polytechnics provide certificate and diploma level instruction in various trades and branches of engineering and technology, but they function independently of each other and of engineering colleges. At present a person passing out of an ITI with a trade certificate has no chance of upgrading his qualifications to diploma level without securing admission to a polytechnic as a regular student. The same holds true for diploma holders from polytechnics aspiring to become degree holders. This process could be facilitated by designing and putting in place a system of credit-based modular courses and transfer of credits from one institution to another within the state to start with. It could first be experimented with in broad disciplinary streams e.g., technical education, professional education, medical education, general education etc. and later extended across disciplines as well.
One can visualise a number of advantages of such a system from the point of view of both the youth of the state and the state government. For instance a hard-working young person from a remote hill district who does not have the wherewithal to enter an engineering college in Dehradun or Roorkee or Haldwani or similar place, either due to lack of money or non-availability of “coaching” centres can go to a polytechnic or ITI in her area and yet not feel frustrated that her chances of becoming a degree-holding engineer are forever blocked. Taking another example, we find that in the field of medical education there is no provision for a diploma (except at the post-graduate level), although such a system did exist in the past in the form of Licentiate Medical Practitioners. If say a two or three year diploma in basic medicine were introduced with possibility of upgrading to a medical degree through a modular curricular framework we would be able to train a cadre of motivated “barefoot” doctors, qualified to take care of common ailments and medical emergencies, who may perhaps be more willing to serve in remote PHCs and sub-centres in the mountain areas, many of which otherwise function without proper medical staff. The concurrence of the Medical Council of India will, of course, be necessary before such a system can be introduced.
Differentiated Education System
A differentiated education system, as explained above, can best be characterized as a pyramidal structure consisting of a hierarchy of institutions. Highly selective research intensive universities form the apex of the pyramid. They have been defined as “the link to the international network of science and scholarship, producers of much of research in the academic system, and educators of the elite for key positions in society”. Below them come comprehensive universities. A large number of less specialized institutions form the base of the pyramid. If this structure were to be implemented in Uttarakhand, as indeed we would like to argue for, it would be necessary to develop one or a few universities as research intensive ones. Uttarakhand, at present, has three general universities: Doon University, Kumaon University and Uttarakhand Open University (the last is yet to take off) . The others, including state and private universities, are specialised ones and do not qualify for being developed as research intensive universities. Of these three general universities, the Doon University is a new institution which has started its teaching programme in two disciplines from the current (2009-10) academic session. Kumaon University is a much older institution, having been established in 1973. Though it has a number of science, humanities and social science departments spread over three campuses and a large number of colleges – postgraduate, undergraduate and self-financing – in the five districts of Kumaun Division affiliated to it, developing it as a research intensive university would be an uphill task since over the years there has been considerable erosion in its standing as an institution of higher education. The baggage that it has come to acquire would constantly act to weigh it down. The effort, therefore, should be to develop it as a good comprehensive university occupying the second level in the differentiated pyramid. The Uttarakhand Open University cannot be expected to take on the role and responsibility of a research intensive university, since that is not really its mandate, apart from the fact that it is still to start functioning. It can, however, play a very useful role in extending the facility of higher education to people living in remote parts of the state where access and connectivity is a major constraint and which are devoid of any facility or opportunity of higher education.
This would automatically narrow the choice of a research university to the Doon University. The major advantage of the Doon University is that being a new institution it is free of any negative baggage yet. Hence it can be developed in a desired direction without fear of running into opposition by vested interests. It needs to be emphasized in this context that the mark of a good university is a close integration of teaching and research. The two cannot be seen in isolation from each other; they are synergistically interrelated. This integration, moreover, should also include the undergraduate level. Hence a good research university should compulsorily have undergraduate teaching and its best faculty should be involved in teaching at that level. The lasting impression that this creates on young minds and inspires them throughout their life constitutes the real “romance” of higher education.
In order to create a differentiated higher education system a few other changes in the exi
(1) The state government establishes a new affiliating university to which all colleges of general education are affiliated. All technical and professional colleges, including the self-financing ones, are affiliated to the Uttarakhand Technical University. This may be easy to do politically and administratively, but it would be a send-best solution because it would leave untouched the basic structure of the higher education system in the State, which is in need of a radical overhaul.
(2) A comprehensive plan for restructuring the higher education system in the state is initiated. This would involve a taking a number of related actions:
- Development of existing postgraduate colleges as autonomous colleges so that they can frame their own curriculum and conduct their own examination and evaluation system, freeing the university from this responsibility to concentrate on more urgent academic tasks. Autonomy could also be granted to clusters of colleges selected on the basis of similarity of standards or geographical proximity as suggested by the National Knowledge Commission.
- Development of undergraduate colleges on the pattern of community colleges combining some features of open learning. Their emphasis should be on a combination of vocational or livelihood-related and general education courses. They should have a flexible system of education so that students earn course credits, transferable to the mainstream system, which enables them to get a certificate or diploma after obtaining a certain specified number of credits. There should also be a system of practical training through apprenticeship/internship in industrial, commercial or government establishments for academic credit. Students enrolling in such colleges should have the possibility of completing their education in stages through a modular curriculum which should also enable them to acquire a degree after completing specified course requirements. These colleges should be de-linked from existing universities and affiliated to an Undergraduate Education Board. A similar proposal has been made by the National Knowledge Commission in respect of those undergraduate colleges, which in its view cannot be converted to autonomous colleges. Two alternatives are proposed for such colleges – either remodelling them as community colleges providing vocational education through two year courses and formal education through three year courses, or affiliating them to a Central Board of Undergraduate Education along with State Boards of Undergraduate educate which would set curricula and conduct examinations.
- All technical and professional colleges to be affiliated to the Uttarakhand Technical University, which should also draw a road map and initiate steps for gradually developing them as autonomous colleges. Institutions that fail to make the grade as autonomous colleges, for whatever reason, should not be permitted to grant degrees. They may grant diplomas either as associated institutions of the Uttarakhand Technical University or the Board of Technical Education.
Clarity about the Role of the Private Sector
There is no denying the fact that the private sector has today become a major player in the sphere of higher education in India. This is so in Uttarakhand as well. In fact there are more institutions established and run by the private sector in the state than by the government. Except colleges of general education, private institutions outnumber government institutions in every other field. Hence not recognising the important role of the private sector in higher education would amount to burying our heads in sand. Our universities and the regulatory bodies like the AICTE, MCI, Bar Council, NCTE etc., have failed to ensure that proper norms and standards are followed in the opening and functioning of these institutions. As a result a large number of poor quality teaching shops have sprung up. They charge high fees but in very many cases do not have adequate infrastructure, facilities and qualified faculty. The issue is not about making a choice between the state and the private sector as the sole (or main) provider of higher education. Both are equally important and necessary. We cannot do without the private sector not only because it is already playing a dominant role, but also because the state does not have the resources to expand higher education on the scale and pace needed. In any case, primary and secondary education should have a higher claim on the state’s resources. There is, thus, a strong case for not only permitting the private sector to continue alongside the public sector, but creating conditions in which the legitimacy of the role of the private sector in higher education, as well as earning reasonable profits, is recognised. Insistence on investment in education as a philanthropic activity rather than a legitimate business activity will not get us any purchase today. We need to accept that the spread of the private sector in education (and also in health) is only partly due to the failure of the state to make adequate provision for these services. It is also deeply rooted in our political economy, more specifically the inequalities of income, wealth, social status and power that exist in the country. In fact the failure of the state is itself a product of the prevailing political economy. What is needed, therefore, is (
- a) a regulatory system for higher education based on transparency, accountability and competition (for quality education, one may add); and
(b) a system of scholarships, tuition waivers, education loans etc. to ensure that no deserving student is deprived of access to higher education because of lack of means.
Appropriate Institutional Framework
In order to radically restructure the higher education system it is necessary to create an appropriate institutional framework for policy planning and regulation while ensuring transparency and accountability. This does not imply that government departments that are at present responsible for various aspects of higher education should be divested of their responsibility. Given the rules of business in the government this may not be possible without creating an entirely new department vested with this responsibility. This is neither necessary nor desirable. The objective can be realized by creating a new institution with responsibility for policy formulation, coordination, and regulation. The remaining functions of disbursing grants and funds, exercising control etc. should remain with individual departments as at present.
Inspiration for an institution of this kind is provided by reports and recommendations of various recent commissions and committees in the sphere of higher education. In particular we can draw upon three recent documents: The National Policy on Education, 1986 as modified in 1992; the Report to the Nation of the National Knowledge Commission: 2006; and the Report of the Yashpal Committee on Renovation and Rejuvenation of Higher Education in India, 2009. Salient features of the relevant recommendations of these documents are highlighted below.
The NPE ’86 recommended the establishment of State Councils of Higher Education with responsibilities encompassing planning and coordination, academic development, advisory and administrative functions. It had also recommended the setting up of “a national body covering higher education in general, agricultural, medical, technical, legal and other professional fields” in the interest of “greater co-ordination and consistency in policy, sharing of facilities and developing inter-disciplinary research”. Our record in this regard has not been particularly encouraging. Only a few states viz., Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal set up properly constituted and functioning State Councils. In most of the others they have either not been established, or their establishment has been a mere formality. Uttar Pradesh belongs to the latter category. Uttarakhand, which was carved out of Uttar Pradesh, did not even bother to consider the desirability of having such an institution. The Administrative Reforms Commission of the state has recommended the establishment of a State Council of Higher Education. The ARC went to the extent of including a draft Universities Act in its report on higher education, which also had provision for a State Council of Higher Education. The national body proposed by the NPE did not see the light of day. The National Knowledge Commission, in its recommendations on higher education, has made a strong plea for the setting up of an Independent Regulatory Authority on Higher Education (IRAHE) to be established by an Act of Parliament. The case for IRAHE rests on the fact that in India universities can only be established through legislation; the deemed university route is much too difficult for new institutions. As a result there is a steady increase in the size of existing universities and a steady decline in quality. The NKC has argued that due to the multiplicity of regulatory agencies the mandates are both confusing and overlapping making the system ”over-regulated but under-governed”. The functions of IRAHE, according to the National Knowledge Commission, would include:
- Setting criteria and deciding on entry
- Only agency for granting degree granting power
- Monitoring standards and settling disputes
- Licensing accreditation agencies
With the establishment of the IRAHE the role of the UGC would be re-defined to focus on the distribution of grants to, and maintenance of, public institutions. The Eleventh Five Year Plan has proposed the need for an Inter-university Centre on higher education to undertake specialized research for policy formulation.
Finally, the Yashpal Committee has proposed the setting up of an omnibus National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER). This all-encompassing apex body would replace the University Grants Commission. The academic functions of the 13 or so professional regulatory bodies set up under various Acts of Parliament are also proposed to be subsumed under the NCHER. Consequently, the role of these bodies would be confined to looking after the fitness of people wishing to practice in the relevant profession. The justification for an omnibus NCHER, according to the Yashpal Committee, is based on the holistic nature of higher education. Keeping in mind the federal nature of our country and the role of the States in the sphere of higher education (which, it may be added is much more extensive than that of the Union) the Committee has proposed the establishment of State Higher Education Councils “which would be in constant dialogue with the NCHER with an aim to create a comparable national system of higher education which respects regional diversities and also allows different kinds of institutions, created by the state or the centre, to grow on equal footing.”
Proposed Uttarakhand Higher Education Council
Drawing inspiration from the above reports and documents and looking at the problems and needs of the higher education sector in Uttarakhand, it is proposed that an institution known as the Uttarakhand Higher Education Council (UHEC) should be set up in the state. The objectives of the Council, adapted from the Yashpal Committee Report, should be as follows:
- Be responsible for comprehensive, holistic evolution of Higher Education sector in the State;
- Strategize and Steer the expansion of higher education in the State;
- Ensure autonomy of the universities and shield them from interference by external agencies;
- Act as a catalyst and also as a conduit to encourage joint/cross-disciplinary programmes between and amongst Universities and Institutes;
- Spearhead continuous reforms and renovation in the area of higher education;
- Ensure good governance, transparency and quality in higher education;
- Connect with industry and other economic sectors to promote innovations.
Role and Functions
The role of the Council should encompass the three broad areas of policy planning & co-ordination, regulation and academic development. Policy planning and co-ordination would include:
- Preparation of perspective plans for development of higher education in the state
- Preparation of consolidated programmes for higher education in the context of overall plans and priorities and monitor their implementation
- Promotion and co-ordination among institutions of higher education
- Policy advice and guidance to the state government for the development of higher education
Regulation would include the following functions:
- Setting norms for establishment of new universities, colleges and courses
- Setting quality standards and assisting universities and colleges in achieving and maintaining standards
- Monitoring higher education institutions with a view to ensuring that they fulfill the minimum norms and standards prescribed.
In the area of academic development, the functions of the Commission would include:
- Initiating reform of curriculum, restructuring courses and updating of syllabi
- Promoting research and integrating teaching and research
- Initiating reforms in the system of evaluation and examinations
- Promoting publication of quality text books
Once the UHEC is formed no new higher education institution, whether in the private or public sector, should come into existence without its concurrence. The UHEC should ensure that the norms prescribed by it are strictly complied with. This should go a long way in preventing the proliferation of sub-standard institutions of indifferent quality.
The UHEC should have a full-time Chairperson and three full-time members. The Chairperson should be an eminent educationist. The other members should also be known educationists drawn from the broad streams of general education (science, social science and humanities), technical and professional education, and medical, including para-medical, education. The Council would be organized in three divisions dealing with general education, professional education and medical education. Each member would head the division corresponding to their area of expertise. The Chairperson should have the status of the Chairman of the State Public Service Commission and the members that of a university Vice Chancellor. The Council would be assisted by an advisory body consisting of all Vice Chancellors of universities (public and private) in the state, Secretaries to Government of Uttarakhand in the departments of higher education, technical education, agricultural education and medical education, two representatives of the corporate sector, six college principals – two each from postgraduate colleges, proposed livelihood colleges and self financing colleges – by rotation, and six eminent educationists belonging to the three broad streams identified above. The Council would have its own secretariat headed by a Secretary. Each division would have a small complement of professional and support staff. The UHEC should preferably be created as a statutory body. This will give it the necessary importance in the institutional hierarchy at the state level. Once it is made a statutory body it should also be required to present an annual report of its activities and achievements to the State Vidhan Sabha. Hopefully, this will not simply be tabled in the legislature but also debated upon. The idea behind making it a statutory body is to enlarge the stakeholder base for higher education reform by including legislators and enlightened citizens. It is high time higher education became a matter of concern for all of them.