KOCHI: A silver linings in the recent Kerala Budget, which overall seemed insipid, was the thrust on the education sector. The government has earmarked Rs 1,032 crore for public education, Rs 456.71 crore for higher education, and Rs 247.4 crore for technical education.
A major announcement that has garnered attention from supporters, as well as critics, is the government’s plan to explore opportunities to establish foreign university campuses in line with new UGC guidelines.
Kerala, for long, has made claims on the intent to develop the state as an educational hub. Finance Minister K N Balagopal, in his Budget speech, highlighted plans to attract expatriate academic experts and utilise their expertise to bolster higher education.
Moreover, the government has mooted a “task force” conducting regional conclaves during May-June in Europe, the US, Gulf countries, and Singapore.
The sector, notably, has been under the spotlight as a growing number of students from Kerala have been seeking higher education in other states and abroad. It is, indeed, high time the government took sincere measures to arrest this worrying trend.
The renowned Kerala education system, celebrated for its quality primary and secondary education, has been panned for lacking vision and development when it comes to higher education. Will — or can — things change?
Achuthsankar S Nair, head of the department of computational biology and bioinformatics, Kerala University
The state government has not spelt out what the Budget proposals mean to the universities in the public space. How is it going to affect the system? In the current scenario, unless changes are made here, it won’t be a level playing field in terms of competition later. We still work in a very clerical manner, even in terms of assessing teachers’ workload. There needs to be more freedom to explore academic dynamism. Our universities here have been slowed down, or restricted, by political interference from within and out. Free them first.
R V G Menon, former director of Govt College of Engineering, Kannur, and former director of ANERT
Many students who leave the country seek to settle abroad for a better lifestyle; it’s not just for education of better quality alone. However, it’s a different case when some students leave for postgraduate studies. To prevent brain drain, we need to foster our own thriving space, with better seminars, discussions, expert faculties, and infrastructure. Instead, what happens in some of our institutions is hooliganism in the name of politics. Another major drawback is in the name of ‘autonomous institutes’. The autonomy here is supposed to be for the students and faculty. But, in our state, the management has the ‘autonomy’. Students should have more freedom and options to select elective subjects, course directions, etc. This ‘autonomy’ is not available in a major chunk of our institutes. Without such basic changes, our higher education sector will remain far behind global standards.
K Jayakumar IAS, former chief secretary
Whether we need private universities or not is a meaningless dispute because, considering the National Education Policy (NEP), the change is inevitable. Private universities are part of the NEP architecture, and it is widely assumed that by 2030-35, the affiliating nature of public universities will cease to exist and every institution will present itself as a standalone, autonomous institution. Private universities will surely be game-changers in the NEP ecosystem, where public universities will ideally transform to be centres of higher research. But with no proper framework, they will be relegated to being just run-of-the-mill establishments. The change, as I said, is inevitable because when our neighbours change to accommodate private universities, we cannot sit and watch our students move out.
T P Sreenivasan, former head of the Council for Higher Education, Kerala
Since allocation has been made to facilitate higher education in Kerala, the budget is significant. However, the quantum of allocation is notional. Higher education has become a popular subject of discussion of late. The general belief is that, while an average student can do well abroad, competition is tough within the state. And, these migrating students generally look for jobs abroad, not education alone. When it comes to foreign universities, these are not within the purview of the Kerala government. A bill has been pending in Parliament for a long time, and the prime minister has hinted that foreign universities will be permitted soon. With this, first of all, we will get exposure to new methods of teaching and learning. Graduates from here will be able to get employment abroad. Better opportunities will emerge here as well. Finally, the competition from them will nudge the Indian universities to do better. Kerala deserves a better academic environment, and that is unlikely to be possible without private funding.