Prof Jatin Bhatt, the Vice-Chancellor of Ambedkar University in Delhi, holds a degree in design from National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. The Ambedkar University, which came into being in 2009, is now expanding with new campuses about to be set up at Dhirpur and Rohini in the Capital. At present, it has 3,000 students on its rolls in three campuses. This will give more opportunities to students to access quality higher education in the Capital. In an interview to ABHIJEET ANAND, Prof Bhatt spoke on several issues ranging from his expectations from the national education policy to whether a regulatory body for higher education like UGC is needed. Excerpts:
What can be done so that more students in Delhi get admissions in regular courses?
There is a huge shortfall of colleges as about 2.5 lakh students get out of Delhi schools. We need to invest more in quality higher education. We need infrastructure, faculty and programmes that essentially give value both in terms of the quality of life and engagement with the world. Both are required. That’s what the children expect when they transit into the world. Higher education is one conduit through which they find meaning and engagement.
Are you in support of scrapping the University Grants Commission?
At the end of it, the scale of higher education in India is so vast that you do need some kind of a regulatory mechanism. The way in which an institution operates does not necessarily mean that it should be scrapped. That means something needs to be revisited. There has to be a fine balance between facilitation and control. That is how UGC is also visualised. They are not the ones who run the institutions. They in a way create an environment. They also want to ensure that at least minimum quality of delivery of higher education is ensured. At the end of it, students have to find meaning through education. There are issues like should there be so many regulatory bodies. Some programmes get governed by UGC, AICTE, Medical Council of India and NBA. There are certain things that are specialised. The bottom line is you do need at least some national level body that benchmarks minimum standards of education and specially given the fact that not every institution set up in the private space has noblest of intentions. There can be a tendency of having some other purpose of setting up an institution.
You seem to be in support of the Higher Education Commission of India that government has proposed.
What I am saying is you do need regulatory bodies which understand the direction in which higher education is going, the quality benchmarking that needs to be there for institutions within India to be compared with the rest of world. And then we talk about excellence. How do we get to that excellence? And how much of autonomy needs to be given? Because excellence cannot be dropped in. Ultimately something like this has to be collectively owned. You have to invest in people to get that sense and capability. Regulation and autonomy need to be defined.
What in your opinion have been the achievements of this government in the past five years?
I think there have been good efforts ~ at least some seem to be good ~ in terms of international collaboration, getting some expertise through GIAN initiative where funding was there to get experts from abroad. I think it was used fairly well by some institutions. On the other fronts, I am not too sure, but I think this government has been making some efforts.
There have been allegations that there is saffronisation of education. What do you think about this?
Education especially has to be a space where students actually find a platform for critical thinking, for appreciating the variety and the diversity that exists. And also look at them dispassionately and understand it as a responsible citizen. Any which way we would like that expression, freedom of thought has to be encouraged. One would not want to contain it one way or the other. On the other side, of course, it also requires some amount of responsibility on part of thinkers, intellectuals. They are also accountable to society. Both ways it has to work. I support the idea that there have to be many schools of thought available for students.
You mean there should be inclusivity?
Inclusivity and diversity that exists. We must respect the society as it is. We cannot stereotype a society in that sense.
Do you think the reservation formula for faculty is unfair for SCs and STs?
The issue is much too complex to decide whether it is fair or unfair. Generally, in a society as complex as ours, with the kind of history we have, any kind of a positive or affirmative action has to happen. There are no doubts about that. In some ways, that is one way of looking at it in terms of balancing out certain disadvantages that there may have been historically. Having said that, it does require more debate and thinking as to how best some of this can be addressed. Debates are going on. I am sure there will be more and more thought on how it can be improved.
Has this university provided the facility to students to take credits through online platform?
We are working on that. We are looking at programmes which could be delivered through our own content that will be put on SWAYAM as well as other courses which are available on SWAYAM. It is not something that can just be implemented because the entire programme has to be visualised. We are looking at blended programmes. Ultimately, whatever the SWAYAM courses will be, have to be in some way relevant. We are very conscious of that. Steps are there to be taken. And we are mindful of that.
Are you satisfied with the steps that MHRD has taken in improving the quality of faculties?
Faculty challenge continues to be there across any discipline in this country. Every institution is struggling to get faculty. There are two issues. One is getting faculty and the other is getting good faculty. Getting faculty itself in some cases is a challenge and next is getting good faculty. It is a dynamic process. You can actually create conditions and create support systems which allow universities to benefit. At the end, it has to be brought down to a manageable human scale. Because nobody can be transformed into a better faculty at that scale. The initiatives will have to be brought down to smaller levels. It can be there in terms of regions or platform that allows faculty development on dynamic basis. There has to be huge amount of self-reflection and critique by the faculty and peers as to what they would define as a good faculty. These are some things which have to happen in every institution. Ultimately, it will work best when it is brought down to a smaller unit.
There has been some issue over originality of Ph.Ds. Cases of plagiarism have been noticed. How does the university prevent this kind of thing?
Well that is unfortunate, if such things should be happening in higher education. I think it’s the quality of benchmarking that an institution puts to itself as to where they want to be in terms of creating knowledge. Ph.D and pursuit of research is part of it. Within that how do we train students who actually have original thoughts. It cannot just start with Ph.D. It’s the whole system of encouraging original thinking. At every level you have to encourage and facilitate students to value and be passionate about something which they believe is their contribution. These are things which are partly systemic, partly cultural. But we do as a country need to reflect on this.
What are your expectations from the national education policy?
There are a few things that define education. One is the structure and the second is the processes. When I say structure, I mean systemic structure. The processes that enable the system…how the systemic structure is to work. Most importantly, people who drive that structure. So, these are three things that define what an institution would be. That is where while you have a certain set of norms which need to be followed, which I said earlier, in terms of consistency and benchmarking of quality higher education, there has to be reasonable freedom. Funding will continue to be a big challenge,