It is interesting to recall the flood of ‘reform measures’ announced by the MHRD post-May 2009 that received considerable media attention. Most of these had no backup inputs or studies, and it became clear to many that they would never fructify. Three years later, HRD minister Kapil Sibal is blaming the Opposition for all the delay in passing of over a dozen of his pending Bills. Sibal has all the credentials to defend the indefensible.
Facts speak otherwise. The decline in the functional efficacy of the MHRD is now visible all around. A hurriedly appointed committee submitted its report in a tearing hurry on deemed universities. The MHRD promptly derecognised 44 deemed universities and another 44 were put on notice. Result: avoidable tension and torture to faculty, parents and worse, to several lakh students. Not a single derecognised university was closed down; all are functioning as before 2009 — uninterrupted for all practical purposes. One wishes the ministry owns up to its inability to get things done. India has universities, even in the NCR, that are created by state legislature Acts or are accorded deemed university status by the UGC/MHRD. These are mostly run by, exceptions apart, family ventures of the resourceful with political links. The current government has given the nation a new generation of chancellors and vice-chancellors who occupy positions simply because they could accumulate the pelf, and have business sense.
Obviously, for them, it is pure business that must give assured and safe dividends. Most of such higher education institutions do not meet the prescribed standards. This includes government-run institutions as well. It is estimated that out of six lakh teachers needed in higher education at present, only around 50 per cent are in position. In such conditions, could there be any substance in claims of quality enhancement by the government?
Creation of an overarching body to look after all aspects of higher education, including research and regulation, was hurriedly announced, resulting in an environment of uncertainty and inaction among the existing institutions like the UGC, NCTE and AICTE. These and several others were to be subsumed under the National Commission for Higher Education and Research. The alternative of trusting the existing institutions and removing the lacunae in their functioning was just not considered. Not just this, certain elements under their ideological compulsions convinced the minister to propose creation of a national textbook council.
The MHRD ignored the presence of the NCERT which has a solid reputation for its textbooks. What more? A practically obscure organisation, Council of the Boards of School Education (COBSE), was brought in to prepare national-level textbooks on science and commerce. The body has no expertise and suffers serious apprehensions on its functioning. Similarly, the CBSE has been given the task of conducting numerous entrance examinations, due to which its prime task stands compromised.
The MHRD announced the creation of a national register of academics and scholars from among whom university V-Cs were to be appointed even by the state governments. Purely a whimsical idea, it was opposed by the states and genuine academics. The MHRD has a poor record of making top appointments to its own institutions before the incumbents demit office; delay of a year or two has become a practice. It results in pulling of strings, political pressures and intervention by vested interests. Presently, the appointments of the UGC chairperson and IGNOU vice-chancellors are ‘in public discussion’, a situation which could have been avoided if the MHRD had acted in time. There are umpteen such instances. It requires an attitudinal transformation within Shastri Bhawan.
The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own.