For a change, the HRD ministry and National Knowledge Commission (NKC) think alike - at least for providing Internet connection to students and faculty and linking all educational and research institutions of higher learning through a broadband network.
In a set of recommendations submitted to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last week, NKC chairperson Sam Pitroda said, "to optimise the potential of institutions engaged in generation and dissemination of knowledge...it is important to connect them (the institutions) through high speed broadband network".
While all educational institutions would be interlinked for sharing knowledge, the network will also provide internet access to the faculty and students.
Although NKC's recommendation covers all higher education institutions, the HRD ministry has already decided to provide internet connection free of cost to faculty in the Central universities, IITs and IIMs. And, the annual expenditure of the ministry's proposal is about Rs 50 crore.
For NKC's plan, Pitroda has recommended setting up of the National Knowledge Network (NKN) to provide connectivity to around 5,000 nodes covering all major institutions. To start with, 500 to 1,000 nodes can be targeted in the next three to six months, the commission has recommended.
The framework of the NKN, as a special purpose vehicle, has been prepared in consultation with the Principal Scientific Advisor (PSA) to the PM and has been circulated to the concerned ministries for their comments. "The discussions with PSA yielded a consensus on the optimal approach to be adopted for setting up such a network," Pitroda said.
Although four options on network have been suggested, the NKC has recommended using existing commercial networks as it will not require any capital investment on the equipment. For future, NKC has suggested that the government can develop its own 'core network'. NKC has also suggested that the network should consist of Internet Protocol and Multi-Packet Labelled Services technology and integration of the institution's local area network (LAN) with the broadband connectivity.
With the broadband connectivity, NKC wants the educational institutions to adopt e-governance for benefit of students and teachers. In simpler terms, the students would be able to inquire about his or her classroom attendance, timetable, examination schedule and date for depositing fees through Internet. In future, students will also be able to interact with teachers after the classroom hours, and this will be of great benefit to them, NKC believes.
The commission has recommended that the plan will cost Rs 200-400 crore annually for 1,000 institutions. In addition, there would be one time capital investment of about Rs 1,000 crores for upgrading the Local Area Networks of these institutions. "This expenditure will be incurred over a period of time and we expect the expenditure will be included in the 11th five year plan," Pitroda said.