BJP: Disowning The Manifesto On Education
As the future of thousands of students in Delhi University (DU) remains unclear as I write this, I thought it better to have a look at the promise that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had made in the field of the education in its election manifesto. And after going through the manifesto I cannot understand why the Modi government, particularly the Ministry of the Human Resources and Development (HRD), is fighting against the University administration over the implementation of the 4-year undergraduate programme.
Let me quote some important portions of the BJP manifesto on education. “India has to become a knowledge society and has to reverberate with educated skilled manpower of high standards required to meet the challenges of 21st century.
This requires a bold and visionary leadership to introduce appropriate policy and structural changes.”
The readers may mark here the last sentence that talks of bold and visionary leadership for appropriate and structural changes.
On higher education, the manifesto says: “The content should be designed to prepare the students to understand the current challenges and equip themselves to be able to readily adjust in a fast changing global scenario. Policy interventions would include:
► enhancing the pivotal role of the teachers by reworking the work culture of teacher training institutions with a goal to prepare committed and performing teachers.
► optimum utilisation of physical and manpower resources.
► a mechanism for close interaction between industry (including SME), academia and community would be instituted.
► assessment exercise will be done for identifying the future needs across sectors, and the same would be used for developing appropriate courses for higher education, to ensure that the country has adequate manpower for every sector, both established and emerging, in the economy.
► will provide autonomy with steps to ensure accountability for institutions of higher learning.
► will raise the standard of education and research, so that Indian universities become at par with the top global universities and find their place in the global league.
► the credibility of the regulatory bodies shall be restored. The
procedures to make appointments to senior positions shall be made transparent and merit and ability shall be the sole criterion.
► UGC will be restructured and it will be transformed into a Higher Education Commission rather than just being a grant distribution agency.”
I will like to stress five points in the above quote. First, the BJP will like to equip the students with the knowledge that will help them in coping with the modern-day challenges. Secondly, there will be close interactions among the academia and the industry and community at large. Thirdly, Indian universities will be of global standards. Fourthly, institutions of higher learning will be provided autonomy. Fifthly, rather than being a grant distribution agency, the UGC will be made Higher Education Commission to devise ways to reform and revise the sector to make India a knowledge hub.
To me, the manifesto overall made a lot of sense. Because whenever I go abroad, I am invariably asked why with rare exceptions of one IIT here and one IIM there, no Indian University has a global brand. As it is, none of India’s 700 universities and 35,539 colleges has made it to the top 100 list of the Times Higher Education World Reputation Rankings, released in March. Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, is ranked highest among Indian institutions, at just below 200, from its 130th place last year. IIT-Bombay figures among the 210-220 group, and IIT-Delhi and IIT-Kanpur are ranked below 250. The US has the most representation with more than 45 institutions figuring in the top 100 followed by the UK with 10 institutions, Germany with six and Japan and Australia with five. India is the only major developing country that is not represented in the top 100 list. China has two of its institutions on the list while Brazil and Russia have one each. And this perhaps explains why fewer foreign students come to India for higher studies. According to data put together by the Institute of International Education on international student mobility in 2012, the number of foreign students registered in Indian higher education institutions in 2012 was 27,000, much lower than in other Asian countries like China (3.28 lakh) or Japan (1.37 lakh).
It is against this backdrop that the four-year undergraduate programme by the Delhi University sounded an innovative idea. In the early years of the course, the students study a bit of pure sciences, commerce, art, and then go on to graduate in one particular discipline. This fits perfectly well with the BJP manifesto of acquiring an overall view that will help in coping with the challenges of a modern world and changing India. There are summer internships for the students for interacting with the industry and communities; this again goes with the BJP manifesto. In fact, there is a number of “Optional Courses” that allow the students to get a suitable training and specialisation to discover their true talents. The new programme offers a wide range of choices, different forms of learning, trans-disciplinary project and scope to reflect and innovate.
It is really surprising that the BJP has joined hands with all those who hate innovation with a specific view of killing the four-year programme. In fact, my experience suggests that left to the approval of the teacher bodies of India’s so-called premier universities such as Delhi University and JNU, no innovative idea can ever be implemented for the next 1000 years. And it is precisely because these bodies are highly politicised and dominated by the Left elements who emphasise only their rights but not duties or accountabilities. They want best salaries but are not prepared to spend quality times in colleges to interact with students, let alone authoring quality research papers. This is particularly true of Social Sciences, though there are notable exceptions.
The only substantial arguable point against the four-year programme is that it takes four years to earn a degree whereas in other universities it is three years. But this point is partially true. Because, the programme does offer exit points. One can leave after two years with a diploma. After three years one can get a degree and is eligible for jobs and various competitive examinations. Only for having a Honours degree, one needs four years ; but then one can get an M.A. degree in just one year after completing the Honours degree, whereas elsewhere the post-graduation degree is of two years. Viewed thus, there is no loss of years if one sticks to Delhi University and yet the course structure is flexible enough to cater to the varying needs of the students.
In fact, DU is not alone in offering the 4-year programme. The Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, offers a 4-year B.Sc. degree. This year Bangalore University shall offer in all its under-graduate programmes a 3+1 year degree. Ambedkar University, Delhi, also offers a 3+1 year degree. In fact, JNU offers a five year-integrated programme for an MA degree. Thus, it is rubbish to hear the UGC now saying that the four-year programme does not adhere to the national education parameter of 10+2+3 years. In fact, it is absurd that the UGC is finding fault with the programme, though last year it not only approved it but also advocated for it.
This brings me to the point in the BJP manifesto that talks of institutional autonomy. Like other central universities, the DU is autonomous. And here is a programme that was duly approved by Academic and Executive Councils of the DU (by 86 of the 92 members present in the Academic Council and 24 of the 27 members present in the Executive Council). If actually the programme needs to be cancelled, then this should be done through the EC and AC of the University, not by the
UGC as is being done by the HRD Ministry. Is this the way the BJP wants to transform the UGC as per its manifesto? Will the BJP’s Higher Education Commission be a Leviathan of Education to deal with even the internal functioning of our educational institutions?
It may be noted here that the present UGC chairman, who until the change of the national regime was a big advocate of the 4 year programme, has already created some sort of history. He retired himself as an employee of the Commission at the age of 62 and fixed his pension benefits. He will now continue as Chairperson till April 3, 2017 (he was appointed as the Chairman formally in 2013 for a period of 5 years or till 65 years of age, whichever he is earlier). As per the UGC rules, the retirement age is 60 years. But in his case, the Chairman argued that since he came to the UGC on deputation from the NCERT where the retirement age is 62 years, the NCERT rules would apply to him, even though as The Times of India has reported, the HRD Ministry is not aware of all these. Such is the principle of accountability in the UGC, the principle that the BJP prides in!
All this does not mean that I am supporting the DU administration in this controversy. There must be something lacking in the Vice Chancellor which has made him so unpopular among the teachers and the students. Maybe his communication skills are not good enough. But if the controversy is seen in its totality, it is the Modi government that comes out poorly. In winning Brownie points over the Congress, during whose regime the 4-year programme was initiated, the BJP seems to have disowned its own manifesto on education.
By Prakash Nanda