Uncork the Necessary New Wine in a New Bottle

UGC and AICTE can charter the learning contours but can’t set the agenda for multi-disciplinary research in higher education. HEACC must include members from ISRO, DRDO, ICMR, etc.

Published: 24th November 2013 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 22nd November 2013 05:34 PM   |  A+A-

The Department of Higher Education of the HRD ministry has recently constituted an over-arching coordinating body called the Higher Education Apex Coordination Committee (HEACC). The HEACC will be headed by the HRD minister with the MHRD Secretary, Chairman of UGC and AICTE and president of the Council of Architecture as its members. Some view this as an alternate to the National Council for Higher Education and Research (NCHER) which hit the roadblock as some felt that their power was being hijacked by NCHER. During a public hearing in early 2010, I submitted a representation on how the aggregate NCHER which represents the comity of regulators will provide an ‘instant solution’ to the ‘constant confusion’ plaguing Indian higher education. Unfortunately, the NCHER was short-circuited in full because of the short-sightedness of a few.

The proposed HEACC is intended to remove conflicts among various statutory bodies and promote interdisciplinary learning and research. It stresses on enabling and creating an “environment of joint and cross-disciplinary learning in higher education, especially in emerging and new fields of knowledge, and promote research in universities and higher educational institution with other research agencies”. But the members are from a heavily burdened UGC, future-uncertain AICTE and a registration-centric Council of Architecture. Even without the HEACC, the statutory bodies cited have mutual cooperation in discharging their statutory functions. Though HEACC’s intent is noble, its composition is ignoble and distantly far from its capacity to deliver the desired objective. HEACC should not be a cosmetic arithmetic addition but a pragmatic academic revolution. The chairman of HEACC is the Union HRD minister who can usher this revolution. How?

Thomson Reuters published a report on the global research and innovation impact of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Korea (BRICK). Titled ‘Building Bricks,’ this February 2013 report found that the BRICK nations represented the most significant and growing influence in the global economy and research landscape. The BRICK nations contribute a 23% share of the global publication output, with China alone contributing 11%. Chinese share needs to be looked with scepticism due to its rampant plagiarism and piracy.  Also, the renowned magazine Economist in its cover story article of October 19, 2013 dispatch came down heavily on the “load of rubbish” being published in reputed journals which rely on modern scientists “trusting” and not “verifying”. Back to the Reuters report.

Though the R&D spend as a proportion of GDP is comparatively lower, the diversity in research makes India stand tall. The Indian share is a meagre 3.4% of the global publication output, but the individual share of India in all of the 10 research areas exceeds its national average, spreading its specialisation across a wider range than China. A rare distinction that none of the other nations have. The top five areas for India are chemistry (6.4%), pharmacology and toxicology and agricultural sciences (6.1%), material science (5.9%) and microbiology (5.1%). It is everybody’s comprehension that research in these areas predominantly comes from institutions that are outside the orbit of UGC, AICTE and Architecture Council. The composition of HEACC must be expanded to include nominated members from various funding agencies like DST, DBT, ISRO, DRDO, ICAR, ICMR, etc. UGC and AICTE can charter the learning contours but definitely cannot set the agenda for multi-disciplinary research in higher education. HEACC needs the accumulated wisdom from a broad stakeholder community, including research-intense public and private industry and educational institutions. In short: The new wine is necessary and will be tasty if it is uncorked in a new bottle.

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