(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
July 26, 200
YASH PAL COMMITTEE REPORT
Prescriptions Not For Renovation
And Rejuvenation Of Higher Education - II
BEFORE taking any decision on allowing foreign universities to operate in India, the Yash Pal committee stated that we have to be very clear about the purpose it is going is achieve. Interaction with the best minds of the world would only enhance the quality of our universities. But giving an open license to all and sundry carrying a foreign ownership tag to function like universities in India -- most of them not even known in their own countries -- would only help them earn profit for their parent institutions located outside or accrue profit to their shareholders. However, the committee observed that “if the best of foreign universities, say amongst the top 200 in the world, want to come here and work, they should be welcomed. Any decision in this regard has to be taken with utmost care keeping in mind the features, which are essential for an institution to be called a university. Such institutions should give an Indian degree and be subject to all rules and regulations that would apply to any Indian university.”
It is fine to invite foreign scholars to our universities for delivering some lectures and share their knowledge. But welcoming foreign universities, even if amongst top 200 in the world, is problematic. The Yash Pal committee did not go into the merit of the issue at all. The foreign universities and education providers would be guided by profit and market alone. They would design and launch courses which the market needs, create false impression about their courses through advertisements, charge exorbitantly high fees for courses which have immediate employment potential. By their money power foreign educational institutions would be able to attract best teachers and financially well off students from local institutions affecting them adversely.
Foreign Direct Investment in education would impede the development of indigenous and critical research within our university education system, aggravate the tendency towards commercialisation and strengthen the stranglehold of neo-liberal ideas in our academia. The foreign educational institutions would be concerned about their profits and not about our culture and society. Therefore, no foreign educational institutions should be invited to open up their shops in India and therefore no legislation is required.
ON UNIFORM ALL INDIA
The committee interestingly recommended in its section on ‘financing’ that national tests like GRE (Graduate Record Examination), should be organised round the year, and students from all over India aspiring to enter universities should be allowed to take these tests as many times as they like. Their best test score can be used by the universities for admission. This requires, it said, a “rethinking on the need to continue with State Boards of Secondary Education and the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE).”
The GRE type examination at all India level for admission to universities is no solution to the kind of ‘trauma’ that the students face. The only difference is that the board examinations are annual while GRE is offered more than once in a year. What is necessary is to reform the pattern of examination and increase the number of seats at higher level with adequate facilities and infrastructure.
The rethinking on state boards of secondary education encroaches upon the powers of the state governments. This recommendation is also in contradiction with its own observation that “all syllabi should require the teachers and students to apply what they have learnt in their courses, on studying a local situation, issue or problem. There should be sufficient room for the use of local data and resources to make the knowledge covered in the syllabus come alive as experience.” (emphasis mine) Thus there would be different syllabi and evaluation points in different states based on their socio-cultural conditions. A common all India test for entry into institutions of higher education would undermine this aspect and would be detrimental to the interests of our students.
NATIONAL AND STATE
The increasing involvement of higher education institutions and universities in long drawn out litigation in judicial courts has also been a matter of concern for the committee. For a fast-track statutory mechanism for the adjudication of disputes between teachers, employees and management of institutions and universities in respect of matters concerning service conditions, as well as in matters of disputes relating to fee, admissions etc., the committee recommended that a suitable law be enacted to establish a National Education Tribunal along with State Education Tribunals. The teacher movement has been opposing the idea of establishing tribunals. No provision which would take away the rights of the university community to take recourse to the courts of law can be accepted. This requires informed discussion amongst the university community.
The committee argues that all of higher education has to be treated as an integrated whole. Professional education cannot be detached from general education. It would be, therefore, imperative that all higher education, including engineering, medicine, agriculture, law and distance education, is brought within the purview of a single, all-encompassing higher education authority.
Presently, there are 13 professional councils, such as AICTE, MCI, NCTE, etc., created under various Acts of parliament. The committee saw the present functions of these councils as two-fold; first, the bench-marking of standards for professional practice and second, the pedagogy and academic inputs required for professional studies. The committee notes that there is very little co-ordination among the statutory bodies in respect of degree durations, approval mechanisms, accreditation processes, etc. “It sometimes leads to very embarrassing situations in which we find two regulatory agencies at loggerheads and fighting legal cases against each other.”
Therefore, the committee recommended, “a de novo regulatory body under which the various functions of existing regulatory agencies would be subsumed. The powers vested currently in these multiple agencies for regulating creation of academic institutions and their content would be also taken over by the proposed apex regulatory body.” This apex regulatory body would be called “The National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER). All the existing professional bodies should be divested of their academic functions. They may conduct regular qualifying tests for professionals in their respective fields – a Bar Council exam for practicing advocates for example. The professional councils may prescribe syllabi for such exams and leave it to the universities to design their curriculum including such syllabi. All academic decisions should necessarily be left to academics in universities. Similarly, any ‘vocational’ or technical education, which is post-secondary, should be the concern of the universities.”
The NCHER would be, according to the committee, an autonomous body created by making a suitable amendment to the Constitution, accountable only to the Indian parliament and drawing its budgetary resources from the ministry of finance. It would have a seven-member board with a full-time chairperson. The status of the chairperson should be analogous to that of the chief election commissioner and that of the members should be comparable to the election commissioners. Of the seven members, one would be an eminent professional from the world of industry and one with the background of a long and consistent social engagement. All other five members would be academic people of eminence, representing broad areas of knowledge.
The process of identifying the chairperson and members should be vested with a search committee comprising “the prime minister, the leader of the opposition in parliament and the chief justice of India in consultation with a collegium consisting of eminent academics, learned academies and prestigious institutions relating to the fields of knowledge in diverse fields.”
The commission would be, as recommended by the committee, independent of all ministries of the government of India. This commission would be for all matters relating to or incidental to the regulation of standards in all branches of higher education, including technical, medical and professional education in any field of knowledge. ‘All matters’ on which it would issue regulations include academic standards, norms and process for accreditation, establishing and winding up institutions, financing, governance and all matters relating to the standards of higher education of universities and other institutions of higher learning and research.
The Yash Pal committee having defined the universities to be autonomous spaces, diverse in their design and organisation, self assessing and governing, and responsible for its own curriculum framework, instructions and evaluation of students, has contradicting itself recommended a de novo model, the NCHER, which will issue regulations on all such matters and monitor the universities and other institutions of higher education.
There are several points worth considering here. The NCHER, selected by the prime minister, leader of the opposition and chief justice of India, would be independent of all ministries and ‘political interference’ of any government in place, and responsible only to the parliament. Is this a guarantee and assurance that it would necessarily come out as the most wise institution and would work in public interest? On what basis, the Yash Pal committee can say that all the ailments of the 13 councils seen by it cannot affect the NCHER. After all, these 13 professional councils were also established with similar intentions for which NCHER is being proposed! The understanding of the seven members of the commission, even if vetted by the parliament, will decide what should happen in the field of higher education in India. If this all powerful commission decides to direct the universities to look towards market for its requirements, like ‘innovative ways’ suggested by this committee, then imagine what would happen to our higher education system. The need of the hour is to make all these councils function for the purpose for which they were constituted, eradicate corruption prevalent in them, make them work efficiently and serve the cause of education.
We have enough experience of how the education curriculum and structural framework of educational institutions have been communalised in certain states ruled by the BJP. We also have experience that policy thrust of these council and education ministry changes with the change in persons. Some of the issues which would hasten the process of commercialisation of higher education taken up by the present human resource development minister Kapil Sibal on priority basis were not the priority of the previous minister.
The recommendations of Yash Pal committee, barring a few, if implemented, are going to either centrally control the entire higher education system or lead to privatisation and commercialisation of higher education as discussed above. It is clear the prescriptions of this committee, by any stretch of imagination, are not for renovation and rejuvenation of higher education.