Why India’s university system is in need of educational Darwinism

The news reminded me of the Ache community in Paraguay, who lived a foraging life of ancient hunter-gatherers till the 1960s.

Published: 14th November 2019 02:08 AM  |   Last Updated: 14th November 2019 02:08 AM   |  A+A-

KOCHI: It was a rainy day at the guest house of North Eastern Hill University in Shillong. The professor who was sitting across the dining table from me was rubbing his fingers swiftly on the smartphone. “Ranking of institutions based on National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) of the Ministry of Human Resources Development may soon determine the funding for higher educational institutes.” he said out loud, eyes still glued to the cellphone.

The news reminded me of the Ache community in Paraguay, who lived a foraging life of ancient hunter-gatherers till the 1960s. Their customs mandated they abandon those found unfit to satisfy the expectations of their community.

NIRF can trace its origins back to the ‘Ache genes’ of our educational policymakers. For them, competitiveness is the most important ability within an educational institution. Cooperation and mutual support through various extension activities of educational institutions are treated as means for ensuring competitiveness.

Looking from the social justice and equity perspective, those institutes which fall at the bottom of ranking hierarchy deserve to have more funding.

The basic purpose of all assessments is to identify the poor performer so that proper support can be extended to them. Unfortunately, the modern competitive society has toppled this very meaning of assessment and instead of supporting poor performance, it is on a mission to eliminate them.

It should be noted that in this race for ranking, public educational institutions take the hardest hits. If the ranking procedure is not intended to provide additional financial support to make the poor performer do better, it could prove disastrous to the country’s public education system that is already suffering from poor financial freedom and panoptic surveillance fear created by the government’s audit procedure, financial crunch, and administrative delay.

Many private universities and colleges receive financial support from government and UGC for the various schemes. In most of the cases, public-funded institutions have to compete with private facilities to get a hold of these.

As private institutions can take swift decisions on administrative and financial matters, public institutions are forced to undergo many impediments due to the never-ending procedures. For example, if a central university wants to construct a building they have to begin with putting up the file, getting the approval of the building committee, the finance committee, and the executive council.

NIRF also applies the same scale for ranking institutions irrespective of geographical or economic differences. Indira Gandhi National tribal University (IGNTU) situated in Amarkantak is 6 hours from Raipur Airport.

If the bulb of an LCD projector is damaged, they have to travel up to Bilaspur which is nearly four away to get it changed. Applying the same scale for measuring such a university with one in Delhi or Mumbai is insensible and prosperous.

UGC has insisted to implement choice-based credit and semester system in all higher education institutions. Across all levels, grades are allotted to students instead of marks, hoping this would reduce tension and unhealthy competition among students. Question is, why is this not applicable in the case of educational institutions? Maybe it is time that NRIF considers the effectiveness of ‘Educational Darwinism’ in this scenario.

(The writer is head of School of Education at Central University of Kerala, Kasargode. The views expressed are his own)

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