Higher education needs a policy trinity

The ancient Indian higher education system is a different success story that should have catapulted the global scene but unfortunately lying in cold storage.
Higher education needs a policy trinity

The number three has significance across religions, civilisations, culture and belief systems. The universal power of three manifested in its multiple tripartite avatars—world as heaven, earth and waters, human as body, soul and spirit, actions with a beginning, middle and end etc—is also symbolic of every creation which has a past, present and future. Can Indian higher education be any exception?

Indian higher education can be characterised into three distinct time periods—the formative years (past), expansive years (present) and the transformative years (future). The ancient Indian higher education system is a different success story that should have catapulted the global scene but unfortunately lying in cold storage. A legacy pride that has the capacity to blend with modern thoughts to universalise global education is a subject matter of neo-liberal trivialisation at its birthplace. A coherent synergy can
recover the lost ground before other advanced systems claim intellectual supremacy. Back to the topic.

The pre- and post-Independence formative years saw the growth of public institutions—State Universities, Indian Institute of Science, IITs, IIMs and other Centre and state institutions of national importance—that produced graduates and researchers required for a new India. The expansive years beginning in the 1980s saw private participation which made regulatory agencies like UGC, AICTE, NCTE, MCI, etc. gain authority either as statutory or professional bodies. Numerous committees have made a series of recommendations on the need to overhaul the regulatory ecosystem. There cannot be a time more appropriate than now to embark on this transformative phase. Emerging signals in this direction need a trinocular vision to charter the policy contours. The trinocular vision is again a coincidence with the Holy Trinity—Creation, Protection and Differentiation (read as Destruction).  

In my previous article, I had highlighted the need for Higher Education Commission of India to be a coordinated and not an isolated apex body to ensure that it is a game-changer and not UGC’s name-changer. Such an effort can be for three purposes—creation, protection and differentiation. The creation of new institutions and determining norms and standards for different streams of higher education can be the first dimension. The protection of public institutions through financing and private institutions through progressive policy-making is the second. The third is for monitoring and reinforcement mechanisms to ensure quality among public and private institutions through an accreditation system to ensure differentiation and identify good institutions. This shall remove the dismissive stigmatisation of private and the excessive glorification of the public.

The manifestation of the trinity may be in the forms of three central statutory bodies. The first in the lines of ProfYash Pal, NKC, TSR Subramanian and various other committee recommendations for the purpose of coordinated laying down of norms and standards, and approval for creating institutions. The second, in the form of a Centre-state funding mechanism for academic and research excellence driven by performance. The third is a neutral third-party accreditation framework to categorise various institutions based on a scientific and empirical method. All the three must have statutory force with participation from all states at decision-making levels to ensure that a concurrent list item like higher education in its policy and implementation mechanism upholds cooperative federalism. In short: Higher education needs a policy trinity for creation, protection and differentiation.

S Vaidhyasubramaniam

Dean, Planning & Development, SASTRA University


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