July , 2017
Revamp higher education: HEERA
14:20 pm

Rajiv Khosla

Prime Minister Narendra Modi deserves to be congratulated for taking a courageous and much needed step in the direction of scrapping the University Grants Commission (UGC) and All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) and for putting in place the higher education regulator i.e. Higher Education Empowerment Regulation Agency (HEERA). For long, different committees and commissions constituted for the improvement of higher education in India along with the educationists of repute recommended the closing down of the multiple regulatory authority system (UGC, AICTE, NCTE, MCI etc.) and its replacement with one single authority. The opinion was developed keeping into consideration the ambiguous delineation of the jurisdiction of different regulatory authorities which often led to turf wars taking a toll on all the stakeholders.

In one of the controversies between UGC and AICTE, the Supreme Court pronounced (April 2013) the decision that AICTE has no authority to issue or enforce any sanctions on colleges affiliated to the universities as its role is to provide guidance and recommendations. AICTE filed a review petition against the verdict at the apex court, to which the court held its original decision status quo, that virtually left AICTE fuming. Finally, the HRD Ministry had to step in to resolve the tussle thereby maintaining that UGC will regulate B-schools with Masters Degrees while AICTE will regulate independent B-schools offering PG Diplomas. Such disagreements prove costly in terms of time and costs. HEERA aimed at being the lone regulating body is expected to eliminate these overlaps in jurisdiction and irrelevant regulatory provisions. Having said so, it should not be assumed that mere single-handed subsistence of HEERA will be able to wash away all the sins of higher education. There are different problems existing at different levels whose solutions require a methodical understanding and professional resolution. The concerns engulfing higher education are prevalent at all levels may it be public or private sector institutions, research, placements or skill development, etc. the details of which are cited in coming paragraphs.

To the extent public sector universities or institutions of higher learning are concerned, it is an open secret that these are dominated by political interference. The topmost position of the vice-chancellor or so is filled on political considerations. To expect the vice-chancellor to make academic appointments without taking bribes, when he himself greased the palms of politicians will be imprudent optimism. Thus, it gives way to the induction of incompetent teaching machi-nery in our universities for shaping the career of our youth. Not only this, protection to the jobs of incompetent teachers gets assured once they get the bonding of one of the many teacher unions which apparently, get support from political parties over petty academic issues. Thus, the phrase you scratch my back and I will scratch yours does practically apply in the context of our universities where neither the administrators nor the fellow teachers dare to speak anything against each other, even if it is wrong. Accordingly, not only teaching, rather, quality of research and research scholars, curriculum development, affiliation and approval to new institutions, career development of honest teachers and above all the employment of youth takes a pathetic shape. It was due to this stigmatic education that 23 lakh applicants (including 255 PhDs and 152000 graduates) applied for 368 posts of peons in Uttar Pradesh in 2015.

The state of affairs in the private sector is further pitiable. To start with, big businessmen and politicians get successful in registering their colleges and universities under the name of a charitable society whose mission is to impart education without taking any profits. But there is no evidence that can prove that these institutions are not run on commercial lines. Since, the number of colleges and universities has mushroomed in each state; there is a cutthroat competition in terms of admissions and their consequent survival. In order to offset the costs, retired personnel and fresh post graduates are recruited as Directors and teachers respectively. These faculty members are often used for marketing and bringing admissions. Even the existing students are offered a rebate in their semester fee when they bring more admissions. In one of such engineering colleges which we visited last year for the admission of my friend’s son in engineering (who cleared plus two exams after cracking the reappear exams in October), we were told that an offer is going on wherein we can pay the fee for seven semesters only instead of eight with a free prospectus. To convince us, the admission counsellor further guided us about the placements of their passed out students and the quality of classrooms, workshops, library and Wi-Fi facilities. We were amazed to find out that the faculty list carried no PhD faculty in the engineering stream and to our surprise lone faculty member bearing a doctorate against his name in the MBA stream was actually having the degree of Bachelor of Dental Surgery which he earned before completing MBA. No rocket science is required to comprehend how these colleges get approval and in addition to it, the positive nod to continue during inspections. Amid this rotten education stuff, can Indian educators ever dare to think of competing the world-class universities? 

Technological automation is expected to spread more unemployment in future. A World Economic Forum’s report (2016) estimated that as many as 5 million jobs across the globe could be lost by the year 2020 owing to machines replacing humans. In the Indian context, it is estimated that our technology and the software industry, may see an ouster of 225000 middle level mangers over the next few years. Glimpses of the same have also been seen in the recent lay off of employees by the big IT companies. To stop automation from entering the Indian markets is inevitable, but to counter this; it is recommended that high-skilled labour be produced. However, keeping in mind our corroded education system, it will be too much to expect the churning out of the skill based labour.

Keeping this in mind, there is an emergent need to refurbish the existing education scenario with the help of an effective regulatory body like HEERA that may understand the tribulations from its origin. Further, to get tangible solutions, a galaxy of professionals be inducted in it, instead of corrupt bureaucrats and politicians. We have a glaring example of India’s space agency ISRO where passionate and outcome oriented professionals working together made us proud by achieving a world record by launching 104 satellites from a single launch. The same professionalism is required to be indoctrinated in HEERA so that modern day Takshashila and Nalanda could be created.

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