Jandhyala BG Tilak is professor and head of the department of educational finance at the National University of Educational Planning and Administration and president of Comparative Education Society of India. He says while reforms are needed in higher education, the proposals should be thoroughly discussed and students, teachers, administrators, policy-makers and others in society at large be consulted.
What do you make of the slew of changes and reforms being/to be introduced at the University of Delhi?
The university education system requires major reforms. Some reforms are being attempted in a few universities like the University of Delhi. The university has introduced semester system at the undergraduate level; it has been following semester system at PG level in most departments for a long time. It had been one of the long pending reforms. It is expected to improve quality both in teaching and learning. There are also problems with the semester system that cannot be ignored. The system adds to the workload of the teachers. That’s not really a problem. But the semester system may also mean shortening of the course content or splitting long courses into two short ones, each of which can be taught in about four months. Teachers may be seen as rushing to meet the examination deadlines.
Students may not find sufficient time to comprehend the area of study, may feel compelled to reduce their co-/extra-curricular activities. Semester system along with internal continuous evaluation of the students requires orientation and re-orientation of teachers. Unless teachers are motivated and fully prepared, it is very difficult to adopt the semester system successfully.
Similarly, the University of Delhi is thinking of replacing the current three-year bachelor’s programmes with a four-year degree programme. Most of our professional courses at bachelor’s level such as engineering are four-year programmes, but not degree programmes in arts, sciences, commerce, etc. The objectives of the proposed change are not very clear, except that our bachelor’s courses will be internationally equivalent in duration of studies. It is also promised that the four-year courses will provide for exit options for the students in the second and third year, and even breaks allowing completion of a the four-year degree within a span of 10 years.
It has to be analysed whether such a move will dilute the quality of our bachelor’s programmes or raise it. I am not sure, whether even our open university/distance education programmes allow 10 years for completion of degree level studies.
With the new proposal, the dropouts in the second and third year will not be known as dropouts; but they are actually dropouts from the degree programme. It is necessary that the pros and cons of the proposal are discussed seriously before it is introduced. While a four-year degree programme may not be a bad idea, offering of exit options to the students may be counterproductive.
Many of the proposed changes/reforms have unsettled many stakeholders, including teachers and students. What do you think about the opposition to the changes, including those at the national level, such as common entrance tests for certain professional courses such as engineering?
First, reforms in education affect the whole society, not just the narrowly viewed group of stakeholders. The whole society is the stakeholder in the case of education. A national common entrance test for each professional course may be a very good idea. Students would welcome such a proposal as this will require them not to prepare and appear for multiple entrance tests. The coaching industry might oppose any such move because it will affect their business. State governments and several other bodies, including some universities, private or even public, may have some objection, (a) as they lose control over the entrance test, the admissions, and associated gains, (b) they lose money, as revenues from admission-cum-entrance test fees are quite high, and (c) the importance of the state board exam might get further minimised. Most of these objections are not tenable. Keeping the students’ interests in mind, such a proposal should be welcomed.
Basically, all reform proposals require thorough discussions and wide consultations with the students, teachers, administrators, policy-makers and others in society at large. Unfortunately, quite a few proposals are seen as if they are coming out of a hat all of a sudden without serious thinking. It is also important to learn from the experience of other countries on what to do and, more importantly, on what not to do. Since education is a long-term activity, with serious long-term implications, a careful thinking is absolutely necessary. Costs of ill-conceived policies will be enormous and the whole society will have to pay dearly for it.
What are the most important, in order of priority, things that are need to be fixed, overhauled, abolished or introduced in the higher education sector, and why?
A clear long-term policy, along with a strong commitment of the state to higher education, reflected in a sound plan of action including public funding, is, in my view, the most important thing we badly need.