The need for value education and skill-based knowledge is the most powerful tool, which developing countries like India needs to imbibe in the young workforce, who are the future of the country and have to take on global developments and challenges to stay competitive.
Given the fact that India has one of the youngest populations in the world, there is an urgent need to restructure the current education pattern to make it more realistic and relevant.
The draft of Higher Education Commission of India (Repeal of University Grants Commission Act) Bill unveiled in June, which will replace higher education regulator University Grants Commission, is aimed at addressing these concerns.
HECI will cover all areas of education excluding medical and institutions set up under the Central and State Acts. It aims to prioritise government’s higher educational programmes, granting autonomy and providing affordable education.
The commission will not have financial powers to grant funds like UGC and will focus only on quality of academics in higher educational institutions across the country.
Challenges before the HRD ministry: The notion of a single regulator, once fructified, will immensely help higher educational institutions. But the real test will be to give this new body a structure, organisation, system and procedure to make it more effective than the existing ones.
This calls for a comprehensive understanding of the role that an effective regulator is expected to play and a thorough analysis of the causes responsible for apparent failures of the existing regulatory bodies.
Lower budgeting of higher educational institutions and granting autonomy: In spite of some ostensible infirmities, the proposed Bill shows the resolution of the government to move forward in improving the sector. However, many questions still remain unanswered.
If the community spending in the segment continues to float around the present level of over one per cent of GDP, in contradiction of the least requirement of two per cent, it will continue to plague higher education institutions.
Universities need to be made the centres for scientific and technological research, reemphasising the value of education in social sciences and humanities, safeguarding the interests of poor yet worthy students, who cannot afford higher education. There is also a need for refining the quality of training to improve employability of students and make them highly skilled. Also there should be no faculty shortage.
It has also been found that many organisations of higher learning are initiated by leaders those who have ruled the country, with their narrow interest. This has led to the danger of dividing the society farther in terms of cast and religion. HECI will have to find a way out to address this and stop institutions from discriminations. It should not be involved in micromanagement. The immediate consequence of granting financial autonomy will mean an increase in fees.
Higher education empowers the youth to participate in development process and share the benefits of economic growth. Education bridges the socio economic gaps. Increase in fees will deprive meritorious students, who belong to marginalised sections of society and lower middle class families, from accessing higher education. This will break the social harmony, which will adversely impact the development of the country.
Will HECI be a game changer? The draft Act for establishing the HECI states that its first purpose is endorsing the quality of educational instruction and care of academic standards. This is exactly where the most intimidating policy tests are.
Unfortunately, this is also where higher education strategy seems to be stuck in a deeply disabling metric of dimension. There are no fixed parameters to map and identify deficiencies and sub-standard education in institutions, which needs to be worked out as per the international norms of excellence.
Thus the efficiency of the new controlling body shall meaningfully depend on its aptitude to abridge rules and do away with needless damages in the operation of higher educational institutions. It must authorise colleges and universities to take their own decisions relating to academic, administrative and financial matters, albeit with a sense of slide and accountability.
The final objective of the rule should be to build institutional capacity and efficiency to reach and uphold highest academic values and quality. With the speedy rise of the private sector in higher education, the current regulatory instrument has become quite dull.
The need for higher education will always be there and is a very crucial component too, thereby making it authoritative for the new controller to change and strive towards establishing a norm-based funding.
Further, it must understand that higher education being in the concurrent list, the state government too plays an important part in its growth and they must be vigorously involved in the development of the new regulatory framework. The target of capitalising six per cent of Gross National product on education, based on the reference of the Kothari commission (1966) remains indefinable.
The writer is director, CEDP Skill Institute Mumbai.