University Grants Commission’s report titled “Inclusive and Qualitative Expansion of Higher Education” has outlined major challenges in higher education space and also suggested reforms for the 12th Five Year Plan (FYP). The report submitted to the Human Resource Development Ministry and Planning Commission stresses on the fact that higher education in India is passing through a phase of unprecedented expansion, marked by an explosion in the volume of students, a substantial expansion in the number of institutions and a quantum jump in the level of public funding. The report calls the present scenario as the historic opportunity for the nation to correct mistakes committed in past and requires correction in terms of sectoral and social imbalances, reinvigorating institutions, crossing international benchmarks of excellence and extending the frontiers of knowledge.
Talking about the key challenges to be addressed during 12th five year plan the report says, that access to higher education is still less than the minimum international threshold levels, skewed distribution of institutions, deliberating on the enrolment pattern the report states that the enrolment in public universities is largely concentrated in the conventional disciplines whereas in the private self-financed institutions, the student enrolment is overwhelmingly in the market-driven disciplines.
The report also raises concern about the poor performance of the majority of our higher education institutions in the area of quality on a relative global scale. Quality and the provision of relevant education is another major challenge for the higher education sector. It emphasizes upon important steps like regular revision and upgrading of curriculum, introduction of semester system, choice-based credit system and examination reforms which are yet to be implemented.
It proposes several measures to be adopted during the 12th five year plan and says that the focus should be on upgrading and utilising the existing infrastructure besides creating new ones to meet the objective of regional equity. It also proposes for launch of a national level mission, “Rashtriya Uchch Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA)” aimed to achieve 25 per cent national level Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER). The mission would take various key steps, firstly, upgradation of autonomous colleges, colleges with potential for excellence, and colleges which have ‘A’ grade-accreditation from NAAC (National Assessment and Accreditation Council) into university-level institutions.
Secondly, RUSA will promote the concept of evening colleges or universities; thirdly, introduction of undergraduate programmes in the universities as integrated undergraduate/ postgraduate programmes; fourth, enhancing the intake capacity of the existing institutions of higher education. The fifth step under RUSA would be to develop the 'College Cluster Universities' regionally and sixth should be to establish ‘Meta University Complexes’ in association with public and private sector undertakings as a part of their corporate social responsibility, on an industry-academia mode.
India Education Review interacted with key people involved in preparing this document and making recommendations to the planning commission for the 12th FYP.
Prof. AK Sharma, Ex-Head, HSS Department, IIT Kanpur says, “My expectation from the 12th FYP is that it should focus more on two things: quality and morale of students and faculty. Apart from providing more resources for the consolidation of gains made during the 11th Plan I look for new initiatives to boost the morale of the youths already in the institutions of higher learning.”
While suggesting the reforms, Prof Sharma said “My suggestions are: (a) in place of replicating or overburdening national institutions (which once produced the world class scientists, planners, academicians and intellectuals), greater attempts, should be made to expand vocational education, preferably through public-private participation after which students can find middle level jobs in India and abroad; (b) based on the feedback from faculty and directors/vice-chancellors, new institutions should be developed for raising the quality of education as in the age of globalization, the higher education institutions are expected to produce internationally competitive manpower; (c) there should be an increase in the component of humanities and social sciences in science, technology, legal and medical education; (d) a framework has to be developed in which the higher education institutions which are not value adding are gradually closed down; and (e) interdisciplinary and value adding courses must gradually replace the traditional subjects. In other words, the focus must shift from growth to quality and from further expansion to trimming.”
“We must realize that we must train and update teachers and supporting staff, raise their morale, and academic processes be made more transparent. As a teacher associated with a number of educational institutions in different capacities I feel that the higher education is as much inflicted by corruption and inefficiency as bureaucracy and politics. I also feel that corruption at educational places is the breeding ground of corruption in politics, bureaucracy and civil society. We have to pay due attention to the issues of governance in higher education”, he further added.
In a bid to expand higher education space, the report proposes launch of schemes for removing various imbalances by setting up 1000 Polytechnics, completing the establishment of 374 Model Colleges in areas of low GER districts which have been indentified earlier along with establishment of 800 constituent colleges in the existing 40 Central universities and also establishment of 20 exclusive universities for women.
Touting ‘faculty crunch’ as the root cause of degrading quality and excellence, the report states the reason behind it could be either the non-availability of suitably qualified persons or procedural restrictions/fund constraints in State universities/colleges. In order to ensure that expansion drive in higher education is sustained, initiatives shall be taken to attract and retain the best talents as faculty resources by creating conducive working ambience and by making teaching and research as a lucrative career destination through continuous central assistance.
Dr. Furqan Qamar, Vice Chancellor, Central University of Himachal Pradesh shares his expectations as, “The outlay for the higher and technical education during the 12th Plan needs to be pegged at a minimum of Rs. 230,000 Crores. Because of the fact that the higher and technical education sector could not utilise a good proportion of funds allocated during the 11th Plan. This was largely due to the fact that the 11th Plan had made substantive allocations for setting up a large number of new institutions and for a variety of reasons the pace of utilisation by these new institutions were slow during the 11th Plan. I, therefore, have an apprehension that if allocation for the sector during the 12th Plan would be based on the actual utilisation during the 11th Plan, the sector may end up getting much less than what it requires to meet the triple objective of the expansion, equity and excellence.
“I hope that the Planning Commission would be providing some kind of preferential allocation to the State Universities and affiliated colleges as they have been grossly neglected and underfunded as the state governments. I also hope that the reforms agenda in higher education as envisaged during the 11th Plan would gain momentum during the 12th Plan and the Universities would come forward in large numbers to reform their teaching-learning, examination-evaluation and administrative processes. Most importantly, it is hoped that the new regulatory institutions would be able to come up with creative and innovative systems and processes in order to become much more effective”, said Prof. Qamar.
On the vocational education front, the report does not suggest anything concrete. It states that to promote skill-based education, a fresh impetus to vocational education shall be given with due regards to National Vocational Education Qualification Framework (NVEQF) and the initiative is to be supported and incentivized through well-defined policies and monitoring mechanisms.
Suggesting measure for better functioning and improvement in the functioning of the UGC and other state bodies during the 12th FYP it says, for better coordination and speedy implementation the UGC, as an organisation, shall have to be restructured and modernised. It needs to be rejuvenated as a vibrant academic, administrative and fund providing/monitoring body by introducing new management system of good governance. The institution shall be transparent and accountable on the one hand and by roping in eminent academics on full-time basis as advisers on the other. It should also provide lateral entry/deputation- mediated administrative talent infusion. These steps shall enable the UGC to design the schemes better, execute them effectively and monitor the outcomes/outputs in a time-bound manner.
In order to ensure effective implementation of higher education policies in all the states, the report suggests that more and more State Councils of Higher Education should be established.
These councils act as an interface bodies between the state governments, the universities of the State and the national bodies like UGC or All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE). Therefore, to facilitate national level coordination of the higher education policies and their speedy implementation, all states shall be encouraged and incentivized to establish and activate these Councils.
The document discusses the present trends, prevailing issues and challenges along with projected goals for the 12th FYP and programmes to be implemented under the three major heads of Access, Equity and Quality at the cost of an overall budget of Rs 1,84,740 crore up from Rs 1,651 crore during the 11th FYP. All this seems perfect on paper and it is no doubt that the government is really trying to improve the quality of higher education in country and also to provide access to each and every child coming out of school system but the big questions still remains that the total expense on higher education still remains at 2-3 per cent of the annual budget. It is also to be seen how much these recommendations are implemented as many of the projects implemented during 11 FYP are still going on or in planning stage.