Manoj More: What are the changes you have seen in the education sector over the last 70 years?
One major change that has come about was in privatisation of education. It started in the pre-Independence era when people like Bal Gangadhar Tilak and others came together to establish private colleges to enable students to get higher education. That’s when colleges like Fergusson and SP College came into existence.
Then there was a time when Vasantdada Patil was the chief minister and unaided private medical and engineering colleges were already existing in Karnataka. He saw students go there and seek degrees and come here for jobs. So Vasantdada thought that if they could start it in Karnataka, why not Maharashtra. So that’s when privatisation started here.
Privatisation is per se not bad. But in Karnataka, it was based on donation and capitation and here as well the same pattern started. And when shrewd people thought there is money in starting private colleges, especially when politicians realised it, they thought why not enter it? That’s when politicians entered education.
Prior to Independence too, there was privatisation. But it was based on ideals, but now it was based on profit and capitation. I feel that in today’s age, mediocrity has crept into education. The quality of teaching overall has gone down and something needs to be done about it.
Sunanda Mehta: A lot of politicians have started colleges. Is that the reason for commercialisation of education. Should politicians be in education?
It is a difficult question. I think they can be in the education sector as long as they don’t look upon colleges as a source of money or a source of human resource for propaganda in elections.
Alifiya Khan: The new Maharashtra Universities Act envisages bringing student elections back in the state. It is being opposed by many academicians as they feel it will bring politics on campus.
Students’ elections per se is not bad. But when students’ elections take place, it is not confined to just students and political parties come in picture. There comes money and gundaism on campus. It was being held in Maharashtra, but there came a stage when it had to be banned. The advantage of students’ elections was that it produced many leaders. But they were more harmful than useful. If it comes back, it will be a sad day.
Manoj More: You said that quality of education has gone down. What has happened in the last few years which led you to believe it?
I’ll give you an example. When I was a professor at Fergusson College, I had more information in my head than my students. I used to transfer the knowledge from textbooks to their notebooks.
But with the advent of technology and social media, sometimes students have more information on a subject than teachers. So the basic role of a teacher, which is dissemination of information, has come to a standstill.
So what is the other role of a teacher? It is delivery. What pedagogy do I employ? But for that too, so much information in the media is available. So that brings me to the question of what is the role of a 21st century teacher.
Personally I believe there are four types of teachers. A mediocre teacher who merely tells by reading from books, a good teacher who explains the concepts, a superior teacher who demonstrates by conducting field trips and experiments, while a great teacher is one who inspires students to achieve their life goals and rightly be called a Guru.
Today our country needs such inspiring teachers. And I won’t say that there are no so such teachers today, but they are very few. I personally feel that this government, society and university should do something to create such teachers.
Manoj More: What has Symbiosis done to create “inspiring” teachers?
Indirectly, we have set some intangible parameters. We select teachers only on merit with no caste/creed/region criteria. We select students on national level tests, so we attract talented students. We have no capitation fees from KG to PG. And all this leads to overall quality.
Manoj More: But there are allegations that all institutions take huge donations?
If you are able to prove or even get one person to stand in front of me and say that Dr Majumdar, I have given you money to get a seat, I will resign from my chair.
Alifiya Khan: When speaking about the quality of education, the Union HRD ministry is looking at a programme where good teachers would be awarded.
Teacher is everything, he is indispensable even if he is mediocre. I think that we should see that talented teachers are attracted and slowly I see that is happening. In America, there is good educational universities that the country has developed. One must realise the power of quality education and good teachers. Fortunately, we are going in the right direction, teacher trainings are being conducted, salaries are being increased.
Sunanda Mehta: Do you think we have achieved or come as far as what we should have in the last 70 years of independence as far as education is concerned?
Yes and no. If you see the education scenario before independence, there was no reservation system. If you want to reap the advantages of a demographic dividend, you have to take disadvantaged students along with you.
Today, India is a young country and we need to ensure that the demographic dividend doesn’t turn into a demographic disaster. We need a different kind of education in the 21 century.
This conventional education of arts, science and commerce is creating educated unemployment. What we need is skills development and every youth between the age of 18 and 35 must have some skills.
Geeta Nair: You are setting up a Skill Development University in Madhya Pradesh. How will it be different from other skill development universities that we hear of?
Yes, my daughter Swati is heading it and we have entered into a partnership with German universities. She has signed up MoUs with a lot of industries and students will be allowed to spend time in those companies.
Today, students spend 60 per cent of their time in classrooms, whereas in this programme, they will be spending 70 per cent of their time in the industry and only 30 per cent in the classroom.
The applied education concept in Germany is close interaction between the industry and academia. Sometimes, experts working in the industry are teachers in skill development or university of applied sciences.
Manoj More: You spoke about the change in education. Lately, there has been an attempt to saffronise education. Your take on it.
I would not like to comment on it. It’s a personalised issue. I’m teaching Botany, can you saffronise it? How can you bring ideology of a political party in a subject that has nothing to do with politics. It is something which is impossible.
Sunanda Mehta: There are instances of change of History references.
One thing I have no idea is how to saffronise education, barring humanities, where maybe they can introduce their heroes and views.
Geeta Nair: The fees structure at private institutions is so high. At Symbiosis at least, fees are in lakhs. It has become very elitist. How can you make it more affordable?
When Symbiosis doesn’t take donations and attracts good faculty, then infrastructure has to be good and teachers have to be paid decently. It is impossible to give quality education in less fees.
But now some solution is emerging with banks offering loans to students. They even give them a two-year moratorium where repayment starts after getting a job. Besides, not one student has come to me with a request for fee waiver. Today, with increase in salaries and nuclear families, parents don’t mind spending.
Geeta Nair: Why is only 20 percent of the youth in higher education? There is obviously some gap in affordability and access to education. As a visionary, can you come up with a model to increase gross enrollment ratio?
You mean increase in GER? It can be done, provided the government has a will. I say in 1947, India got political freedom. In 1991, we got economic freedom. What about educational freedom?
In education, there is a permit system. There are at least 14 councils that control higher education. There is a Bar Council of India for law, AICTE for technical education, Pharmacy Council for pharmacy and each one has a set regulations and it is the UGC and the government which decide what should be the standard of passing and other regulations.
You try to start an engineering college and you will realise how many committees you have to face. Personally, I feel that yes there should be one regulatory authority but not controlling authority. Interference from the government must stop.
Alifiya Khan: You mentioned 14 different councils but there have been instances of infighting between them.
Yes, if you see architecture course, the Architecture Council says we are the final authority, but the AICTE says that since it is technical course, they are the authority.
Nisha Nambiar: Have you proposed anything to the government for doing away with these multiple regulatory bodies?
Now, there is only one hope, the new National Education Policy and all educationists have turned attention to it. All universities must pay attention and fortunately we have a good HRD Minister from Pune.
Alifiya Khan: There has been a lot of talk that the new education policy pays attention mostly to state and central universities, while private and deemed universities are largely ignored. Your comment.
Personally, I feel the government looks at private and deemed universities with suspicion. They feel deemed universities are substandard, family universities and for minting money. I won’t say all are good. But can you say all public universities which survive on government funds are good and impart quality education?
But the fact remains that when it comes to world rankings, private universities find top places. The concept of private universities is very new in India, as it came up only in the 1990s.
Geeta Nair: What about foreign universities coming to India?
Personally, I feel foreign universities must come to India and they must compete with Indian universities. From competition, quality is born. What happened with the economy in 1991, must happen with education.
Sunanda Mehta: How serious is the drug scene in Pune and what is the solution for it? It is pretty serious and both boys and girls are indulging in it. But most college managements refuse to accept it. It’s a wrong attitude. Unless they accept that it exists, how will we find a solution to it?
Parents are the solution. They are also to blame. They send kids to Pune but rather than hostels, they put them up in flats. They give Rs 30,000 to Rs 50,000 in pocket money.
Alifiya Khan: A lot of foreign students come to India. We often hear their complaints of ill-treatment especially by authorities.
Foreign students face several problems. Most foreign students come from other Asian countries to study undergraduate courses and they are not from rich families.
Instead of experiencing a cultural thrill, they experience a cultural shock. It is true that we don’t treat them sympathetically and their numbers are coming down by the day. It is a sad situation.
Transcribed by Alifiya Khan