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HRD ministry’s learning curve

The path to reforming higher education in India is littered with minefields, as the new Human Resource Development minister Kapil Sibal will find out when he begins to put his ambitious plans into action.

india Updated: Jun 16, 2009 21:44 IST

The path to reforming higher education in India is littered with minefields, as the new Human Resource Development minister Kapil Sibal will find out when he begins to put his ambitious plans into action. But Mr Sibal is known to be a person who does not hesitate to take the bull by the horns, something that’s sorely needed to revamp the crumbling behemoth of higher education. The first salvo seems to have been fired by the University Grants Commission, which has declared that it plans to regulate admissions and fees in deemed universities.

Now there is no doubt that there are many problems with deemed universities. Since they are not created through either central or state legislation, they are outside the ambit of government regulation on fees and admissions. This means that they can be exploitative. But the answer is not in government regulation. Certainly, the government should monitor the workings of such institutions for the welfare of the three lakh students who are in them, to ensure that they are not shortchanged in the quality of education. The Knowledge Commission and the Yashpal Committee on higher education are of the mind to scrap deemed universities altogether. While this might be ideal, it would not be feasible given the paucity of higher education institutions in India. The so-called vocational institutes have been relegated to being the shudras of the educational system. The government has not been able to set up enough higher educational bodies of quality. So, students are forced to join either deemed universities or private colleges. Mr Sibal is on the right track in pushing for the entry of foreign universities, provided they adhere to the terms and conditions that the ones in India do.

The HRD ministry should also consider giving more autonomy to the higher education councils in the states so that more colleges can be opened with less red tape. It may seem odd that the HRD ministry is focusing so much on higher education when it has long been a lament that primary education should be a priority. However, one should not be at the cost of the other. The very fact that our students have to seek admission to foreign universities, often at their peril, as seen in the recent Australian example, is testimony to the fact that supply does not meet demand at home. Let’s hope that the efforts on to set things right will make the grade this time around.