CHENNAI: Education is in the concurrent subject, but the Centre alone will be calling the shots soon, says H Devaraj, a former Vice-Chairman of University Grants Commission (UGC). He shared with Express his views on the Institute of Eminence (IoE) status and impact of Higher Education Commission of India (HECI).
The Centre recently brought in the IoE status, which was awarded to three government institutions and three private ones. Is this a fair brand to give to educational institutions?
It is when it is done right. The three government institutions that were chosen, were rightfully done so. Indian Institute of Science and both the IITs have a legacy. Among the private universities, both Manipal and BITS have done good work and have a brand. But Jio on the other hand doesn’t deserve such large funds when it doesn’t even exist.
But it has been awarded the status in the Greenfield category, which is meant for new institutions.
My fundamental problem is with the category itself. IoE status was brought in to ensure that Indian institutions can compete in global ranking. UGC has implemented a scheme ‘University with Potential for Excellence’ (UPE) in the IX Plan itself and right now we have 16 universities coming under this tag up to XII plan. Later, UGC introduced ‘Centre with Potential for Excellence in Particular Area (CPEPA), which is a prerequisite for UPE programme now. CPEPA has been set up to encourage and facilitate the chosen department at the selected universities. There are 23 centres with CPEPA spread across 13 states/union territories. Do we aspire to build an inclusive higher education system or just a few selected institutions of world standard in terms of quality?
Do you mean that this scheme deprives other institutions of the opportunity to be futuristic?
Yes. Out of 16 universities that got UPE, 11 universities are from southern region and West Bengal. Remaining five universities are from Punjab, Delhi, UP, Meghalaya and Rajasthan. University of Madras, Madurai Kamaraj University and Anna University from Tamil Nadu have this tag. Out of the 23 institutions that got grants through CPEPA, interestingly, five centres are in Tamil Nadu, 3 in Karnataka. However, none of the Institutes of Eminence are from Tamil Nadu. This is because the existing schemes are not run by government properly. Instead of increasing accountability of existing schemes, the centre is abandoning the existing ones and starting a new one.
Does HECI, another major proposed change to higher education system, fall under the same pattern?
While HECI itself is a welcome step, the fact that it has removed funding from the hands of an independent body will minimise the importance given to a lot of State universities. UGC would usually grant funds if colleges or universities meet the minimum requirement, therefore giving opportunities for a lot of small higher education institutions. But now, every request for grant will have to be sanctioned by the Ministry of Human Resource Development. For a diverse country like India, Centre alone cannot take shots on the importance for funding certain courses, research and projects. Financial decisions for education should not be influenced by political will.
Which aspect of higher education system is affected the most?
Right now, the centre is showing unwarranted interest towards factors such as Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER), which will start impacting the priority of flow of funds. According to NITI Aayog, the national average of GER should reach 30 per cent in the year 2030. This is bad for States like Tamil Nadu, which already has 45 per cent GER. Access, equity and quality should be simultaneously improved in the country. Only improving access to similar courses, while leaving the educated insufficiently skilled, will create a dangerously mediocre society.