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Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Indian Higher Education; Major developments of 2012, hopes from 2013


A year 2012 was a mixed year for the higher education sector as several positive and negative developments took place throughout the year. Among the highlights, newly created IITs and IIMs started their operations, the University Grants Commission (UGC) decided to give more autonomy to state universities in appointing the Vice Chancellors. To bring transparency, All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) came up with an email service for people to lodge complaints against institutions. On the other hand, the sector also witnessed several controversies related to various education bodies like UGC, AICTE, imbroglio between teachers and Delhi University, student violence in Osmania University. The second half of the year also saw major change at the policy level with Cabinet reshuffle. Cabinet and State Ministers in the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development were changed.
With 2012 almost nearing to its end, one can only hope for a constructive and fruitful 2013 for higher education space.  The New Year will see 12th Five Year Plan being implemented and a good amount of money has already been earmarked for the sector. Though, as many as 11 higher education bills still pending in the Parliament has been a damp squib in the year gone by but with General Elections slated in 2014, Centre may push to get these Bills see the light of the day.
India Education Review interacted with some of the academic leaders from Higher Education sector to understand what in their opinion, the highlights of 2012 were and their expectations from 2013.
Best and the worst in 2012
Ajit Rangnekar, Dean, ISB Hyderabad opined, “In my opinion I do not think any major development took place this year, it was pretty normal, one big think that is yet to happen is that Shrikant Datar of Harvard went all over the country and many of us participated in discussions related to curriculum development and the requirement of new curriculum. There is a movement now to change the curriculum to make it more appropriate for the fast changing world but nothing has come out. The worst thing to happen is none of the education bills got passed by the parliament which is very crucial for the sector and I think it is crime against the whole education sector.”
Prof Pankaj Jalote, Director, Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology (IIIT) Delhi speaking about the various developments of 2012 said, “Overall talk about the need to increase research, and some initiatives from DST, on that front were good. Finally, there is an understanding that research capability is very important for future.”
Talking about the disappointments of the year Prof Jalote said,” there are many, no clarity on allowing foreign universities; no loosening of restrictions on government research grants which remain very restrictive and counter to the goals of doing globally competitive research; not much movement on autonomy of universities in general; no real thought on how to reinvigorate the affiliating university-affiliated college model, which exists nowhere by in India (and Nepal, I am told). Funding for research is still very low.”
Ashok Mittal, Chancellor, Lovely Professional University (LPU) said, “The most welcome development in the education sector in 2012 was the hike of 21.7 per cent in allocation of funds towards implementing of Right to Education - Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and 29 per cent for Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan. We need to plough heavy funds in our elementary education set up; and it is pleasing to see that government is committed to strengthen education at grass root level.  The proposal to set up a Credit Guarantee Fund is also a reason to cheer. The fund will ensure that lack of money will not come in the way of spreading education at the school level. Furthermore, on a pilot basis PPP schemes for 2,500 schools has been announced; which is a big move in bringing the  private players  to play their role in reinforcing the strength of Indian education set up. Setting aside RS. 1000 crores for skill development of students is a step forward to incorporate the practical aspect of education, and is a well appreciated initiative.
Speaking about the disappointments, Ashok Mittal said, “There is a need to deregulate the education sector and accord greater autonomy to the players – both government and private. But it is discouraging to see that various steps are being taken by the government that limit autonomy and reinforce regulatory roles of external bodies. Yes, we understand that regulations are needed to clip the wings of arbitrary and non-serious players. But at the same time, we feel that too much of control inhibit the growth and potential of good players. This is a reason to feel disappointed.  Secondly, FDI in education is welcome; but it should be preceded with careful planning. Indian education set up is distinctly different from what is practised in other countries. Hence, what is applicable and successful in some foreign country, may not hold equally good in Indian settings.”
Prof V S Chand, IIM Ahmadabad said, “The lack of progress on the Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operations) Bill is the biggest disappointment for the whole education sector. There is need for immediate progress on it to bring clarity.”
Expectations from 2013: Passing of the impending Bills is what Ajit Rangnekar believes should be the first priority of the government in 2013. “For 2013, I am hopeful that all the Bills that are struck in the parliament get passed and become an Act; government has got good ideas and these Acts and the way in which government wants to move are moves in the right direction. If the political parties even do not allow education acts to pass it is very unfortunate and this is very wrong thing against national interest.”
While Pankaj Jalote added that increased research funding, more transperancy and autonomy in the university system would be required in 2013. “Boost in research funding; regulations to bring in autonomy and transparency of information from colleges/institutes/universities; a sound Indian system of comparing/evaluating the capabilities of institutions (ranking by magazines do a shoddy job - a much more rigorous setup is needed); allow foreign universities to set up campuses here, provided they have a strong PhD program (i.e. at least 20 per cent of their student population is PhD students) - besides this there should be no other restriction, as this restriction will ensure that they invest heavily, produce the research manpower which is desperately needed, besides doing education at the bachelor level - which is a huge attraction for many foreign universities.”
Ashok Mittal spelling out his wishlist for 2013 said, “We hope that the government will come up with policies that will provide a level playing turf for all the players in the sector.   There is a need for framing such policies that will help the private players to bloom to the fullest of their potential; and contribute to the development of the nation. It is expected that in coming year, the government will fund R&D works profusely; and will include private universities as beneficiaries also.”
“We expect that government will frame more proactive policies that will augment the Vocational training and skill development amongst the students. We hope that the government will restructure its regulatory framework in such a way that will help in more inclusive growth in literacy, education services at affordable costs and assurance of quality across the spectrum of education providers. It needs to be ensured that sub-standard education services are eliminated from the scene, for once and all,” added Mittal. 
Meanwhile, Prof V S Chand belives that sharp focus on management of elementary education in Indian districts should be a key challenge that needs immediate attention. “First, I hope to see a sharp focus on the management of elementary education in the 100 or so problematic districts in the country. Second, a new model of innovation in the public elementary education system which is more grounded in the experiences of teachers of improving quality, and is supported by policy entrepreneurship from the state.”
Though 2012 was a mixed year for the sector, 2013 seems to be a promising year which will see a sea of changes taking place in the sector and if the Bills which are pending in the Parliament get passed, they would change the face of the Indian Higher Education sector completely.
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