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Can we educate the regulator?
B&E’s Managing Editor Sutanu Guru wrote on this literate dilemma two issues back; you missed it, he knew it, we’re re-running it... diligently!
Over the decades, he has emerged as one of the most respected entrepreneurs of post-Independence India and nurtures the powerful corporate legacy of the Godrej family. He is very optimistic about India’s future. And yet, when B&E asks Adi Godrej about one single issue that could derail India. he unhesitatingly says ‘education’. “The State has to encourage private sector participation in education. There is no other option. It is the private sector that made the third rate telecom and aviation sectors in India world class. It is the private sector that will do it in education.” And of critical importance is the FEI (Foreign Educational Institutions: regulation of entry and operations, maintenance of quality and prevention of commercialisation) Bill, 2007, that had to be shelved last year by Arjun Singh due to stiff opposition from the Left. Granted that the current UPA government has just about a few months left to go before it is election season.
But just as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has staked his future legacy through the nuclear deal, HRD Minister Arjun Singh too has a great opportunity to stake his own legacy by reforming higher education in the country, and in a major way by getting the FEI Bill passed. In fact, the passing of this Bill could well lead to benefits that will be far more significant and enduring than the nuclear deal. And now that the UPA government is not hobbled by an obstructionist and obscurantic Left when it comes to policy making and implementation, Arjun Singh even has the space now to quickly leave a lasting imprint; if he so wishes to. The question is, does he?
It just seems, Arjun Singh wishes to do so, and this time is moving double time. “The hurdles have been removed to an extent and now the Bill should be introduced... If time is available, I would like to see it happen,” Arjun Singh commented just 48 hours after the government won the trust vote. Arjun Singh even set up an urgent meeting with state education ministers to initiate a blueprint for considerable expansion and education reforms in the next five years. But as he confirmed with his actions, the meeting was primarily with a focus on getting the FEI Bill passed quick time.
Report after report and study after study has revealed the tragic truth that while India churns out millions of graduates and hundreds of thousands of doctors, engineers and managers, most of them simply do not have the basic skills required for the demanding job opportunities that 21st century India is creating. In short, India is spawning leagues of unemployable literates. The key is for the higher education system in India to ‘produce employable’ youngsters. And what better a strategy than promoting the entry of foreign institutions, already at the cutting edge of globalisation and education benchmarks that are extremely pertinent to the new world.
At the heart of the problem are lack of resources and role of UGC and AICTE, the two bodies that are supposed to regulate higher education. Admits former NCERT Director J.S Rajput to B&E, “It is a fact that the government does not have requisite resources to maintain standards in higher education. So, the role and responsibilities of private educational institutions become critical.”
Experts comment that though UGC and AICTE could have moved mountains in improving India’s higher education framework, both of them currently face a crisis of quality, and to a certain extent, credibility. Says Dinanath Batra, Convener of the Shikhsha Bachao Andolan, “Now, the PM places more trust on reports of the Knowledge Commission.” According to the President of Centre for Civil Society, Partha Shah, the basic problem with UGC and AICTE is that they have not changed with the times. Clearly, instead of acting as change agents and effective regulators, they continue to adhere to rulebooks that have grown old beyond what today’s demanding higher education sector requires. It is not that the UGC and AICTE were set up with the objective of stopping the growth of education. In fact, these two institutions were once upon a time not so long back seen as perpetrators of processes and structures in the education sector that could have radically transformed the promised growth into higher figures. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, transformation got replaced by ‘regulation’, a factor that now seems to be stifling higher education to a point of death.
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