Education regulatory authorities either have rules that are not enforced strictly or just have rules, but do not continuously evaluate and guide the institutions. Indian institutions face different problems internally and externally. The mere appearance of executing the regulations are just not enough. A strong model for the education system is necessary, and India must realise and acknowledge it. Addition of bills or addition of regulations will not yield a solution. Ensuring that the current system works properly and improvising on it is the current need.
The state of higher education in India is symptomatic of how policy paralysis can not only bring to comatose all forms of education, but also kill the cure for the disease. A Medical Council of India administered by an interim Board of Governors, a University Grants Commission that has the shocking potential to survive headless or with a temporary head for two years, an All India Council for Technical Education, which is turning out to be a mere approval agency and not a forward-looking regulatory body, a directionless National Council for Teacher Education, the Department of School Education and Literacy whose landmark Right to Education doesn’t guarantee Right to Knowledge, a Distance Learning Department dominated by IGNOU and state open universities, who have opened the floodgates of mediocrity, a vocational education department having little clue on the competitive potential of India’s skilled workforce and finally a bunch of IITs/IIMs, both new and old, grappling with their own problems.
Adding to this laundry list of problems are the extra-constitutional committees constituted by different departments for different purposes, and all of them singularly connected with their output do nothing but appear to do everything. A few initiatives like NPTEL and NMEICT are laudable and deserve more financial support and encouragement.
Bills are not a solution
A slew of Bills are pending before the Parliament and some referred to Standing Committee. The problem in the Indian education is not the absence of statutory regulations or legislative provisions but the lack of will to implement them and stem the growing rot in the higher education system. The new set of Bills, except a few like NCHER or Academic Repository Bill, is merely a cosmetic addition to existing Bills.
For example, the Prohibition of Unfair Practices Bill contemplates various statutory provisions to ensure there is no unfair practice in technical and medical institutions. The phantom belief that the proposed Bill is the academic elixir that can put an end to the capitation fee menace is a figment of imagination. Almost every state has a legislative enactment that prohibits capitation fee and various statutory regulations are in place to check this growing menace.
Despite all this, is there any MHRD record of conclusive action taken by it to deter institutions from collecting capitation fees? None, so far. The proposed Bill wrongly assumes that unfair practices happen only in the admissions and the entire Bill talks only about admissions. It has conveniently (or intentionally) forgotten the fact that unfair practises are rampant in the issue of examinations, declaration of results, faculty, VC appointments, grant utilisations, etc.
Another major counter-productive exercise by the MHRD is in the realm of university education. The National Knowledge Commission and the Yash Pal committee have both recognised the need for comprehensive universities and the need to accelerate the growth of university education. On the other hand, an extra-constitutional committee called the Tandon Committee wants to downgrade existing universities to colleges.
It is shuddering to think of such diametrically opposite views and more concerning is the fact that MHRD is giving serious credence to the Tandon Committee when its existence is a subject matter of intense litigation in the Supreme Court. Even the recently tabled Parliamentary Standing Committee report on MHRD has acknowledged the subjudice nature of the issue and relies on UGC Review Committee. But MHRD’s policy decisions based on Tandon Committee is discriminatory and partisan.
What needs to be done?
Instead of hijacking Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan’s well conceived concept of deemed universities, the MHRD must take action against erring universities that are running unrecognised off-campus centres and franchising degrees. Also, any review process must be only for those deemed universities that were given temporary recognition and not lock, stock and barrel.
The MHRD must deeply introspect and be a powerful agent to build a successful Indian higher education model. Excessive regulations and very little enforcement is a lethal combination. Outcome and not outlay-driven rhetoric is the key for qualitative growth. Recognition of non-formal skills and providing formal academic identity is the need of the hour that can make higher education inclusive and accessible. We need a multi-stakeholder approach to solve the multitude of problems. All stakeholders are ready to build a strong recovery road for Indian higher education! Is the MHRD ready?