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Making higher education really meaningful

Making higher education of any value for the needs of India of the 21st century would involve making a few changes at the very root of our higher education system. This system was created in 1857, and since then, it has undergone only minor tweaks. At the outset, higher education would have to be liberated from deadening ideas.

Making higher education really meaningful

Current value: Tests for government jobs are based on our UG, PG courses.



M Rajivlochan

Member, State Higher Education Council, Chandigarh

In a bid to remedy the weaknesses of the system of higher education in India, the government has floated the idea of ‘Stay in India, Study in India’.

But in order to lure people to study in India, the government would also have to ensure that higher education in India is of some value. Currently, the only value of higher education in India is as a babysitting device while students search for government jobs which continue to be the best paying jobs in the market with the least amount of responsibility and risk.

The only value of higher education in India currently is because tests for getting a government job are based on our undergraduate/postgraduate syllabi. In case the government were to de-link government jobs with a higher education degree, there is a risk that even more people would walk away from this crumbling system.

Making Indian higher education of any value for the needs of India of the 21st century would involve making a few changes at the very root of our higher education system. This system was created in January 1857, and since then, it has undergone only minor tweaks.

At the very outset, higher education would have to be liberated from two dead and deadening ideas. One is the idea that the government is the only one that can and should ensure quality in education.

The other is the widely held belief that everyone involved in education, from the administrator, to the teacher and the student, is likely to cheat the system, and each other, unless tightly controlled by the government. The lived experience of such tight controls is that they have only stymied those who do good.

The large number of government-appointed vice-chancellors who routinely get caught in corruption only

suggests that such controls do not work.

What further needs to be done is to redefine the nature of studentship as covering only the three years of studies after school, for a bachelor’s degree. After that, a person who continues in higher education should be treated as a quasi-employee and not a ‘student’. Studentship and all the accompanying ideas of being free and irresponsible need to end with getting the bachelor’s degree.

The bachelor’s degree needs to be made the terminal degree for students. After this, the student needs to enter the job market. The normal bachelor’s degree can continue to be of three years with the one- or two-month break between the years being used for internship for working in an industry or profession.

A facility for research needs to be provided for a select few who wish to acquire a ‘research’ component to their bachelor’s degree in order to become competitive in the international market.

This facility of an additional year of study can be offered only to those who score more than n% marks. They undergo a six-month course of study in two specialist subjects and write a dissertation in another six months.

A student who clears these two specialist courses, writes and successfully defends the dissertation in an open viva exits the higher education system with an honours degree. Working for a research degree, a programme that culminates in a PhD, needs to start immediately after a bachelor’s degree.

At this stage, the person ceases to be a ‘student’ and becomes a quasi-employee in higher education who is given four years to publish research and complete a thesis which can be awarded a PhD. Effectively, this means that within seven years of leaving school, a student should come out of the higher education in India with a PhD.

The present two-year long PG course is totally useless. It provides no special skills and is useless in landing a job. Moreover, two years is too short a time for anyone to learn anything afresh, especially if they have no work experience and have no focus in life. The normal student, without any work experience, uses these two years in search of placements, thereby wasting scarce resources of society, government, family and self.

All the postgraduate courses should be shut down or their fee increased to cover the actual costs. Anyone who comes in to do a standalone PG course needs to have work experience and pays actual costs incurred in teaching.

It is also important to liberate the students and allow them to choose what to study. Do define the degree as requiring x-number of credits.

However, do realise that in the world of the 21st century, a bachelor’s degree is not the place for any specialisation. Instead, please allow students to choose whatever courses they want to study. Stop the current practice of bundling courses for a degree (PCM, for example) or creating an extraordinary level of specialisation (the current honours degree of DU, for example). The teacher too needs to be liberated. Give liberty to the teacher to make syllabus, to teach and, to evaluate students. Do away with ‘external’ evaluations and the system of the university making a syllabus for all teachers.

All evaluation of students should be based on the ‘internal’ evaluation of the student by the teacher who teaches a course with all evaluation being completely transparent and involving both the teacher and the taught.

Finally, liberate the VC, principal, chairman and professor from micro-management from the above. Do away with the system of an ‘affiliating university’.

Each higher education institution (HEI) should be free to give their own degrees, conduct classes and offer courses in accordance with need as perceived by the faculty, students, parents, local community and professional associations.

Allow the college/university administrators to manage their own income and expenditure with the government only insisting that the funds provided by the government be spent within the limits of the GeM framework for acquiring products and services and the general financial regulations as amended from time to time by the government.

The CEO of a higher educational institution, be it the VC, principal or director, should be appointed by the governing body (GB) of the HEI; the GB, in turn, should have a majority of representatives who are elected to the governing body from the community of registered graduates of the HEI. The CEO holds office at the pleasure of the governing body. The role of the government should be confined to providing funds, auditing funds and auditing the outcomes of the HEI.

The only thing right that we have done till now, vis-a-vis higher education, is to create a robust and transparent system of peer accreditation. This system is in place in the form of the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC). It needs to be made more widespread and all HEIs should be compelled to participate in this accreditation system.


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