New HRD minister Prakash Javadekar signals change: I am a product of student agitation, talks can calm campuses

Javadekar said education was not just about employment but also about instilling values, character building and respecting professors and teachers.

Written by Ritika Chopra | New Delhi | Updated: July 7, 2016 9:39 am
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In first remarks after being appointed the new Human Resource Development (HRD) Minister, Prakash Javadekar called himself a product of student agitation and said protests across university campuses can be resolved through dialogue and consensus.

“See, I am a product of student agitation. So, we will always talk with everybody. I think with dialogue in place, agitations don’t happen. There will be no necessity of having (student) agitation,” he told reporters at his residence Wednesday in response to a question on whether he was afraid that he had inherited campus unrest from his predecessor, Smriti Irani.

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Irani was attacked by the Opposition early this year for alleged interference in university matters. She was at the centre of a row after Hyderabad Central University (HCU) student Rohith Vemula committed suicide. It was alleged that the university administration had been nudged into punishing the Dalit student. Students at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) were also up in arms against Irani after Delhi Police arrested some of them for allegedly shouting anti-India slogans.

Campus life at the two premier institutions was paralysed for weeks owing to student unrest. Javadekar’s comments are significant against this backdrop.

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Asked about his vision for education, Javadekar said he would unveil his roadmap for the sector after consulting Irani and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He said his priority would be to raise the quality of education and ensure that it encouraged innovation. “We lack innovation. We have to make our education system more innovative. We have to increase inquisitiveness among students,” he said.

He said education was not just about employment but also about instilling values, character building and respecting professors and teachers.

Later in the day, Javadekar met Irani and promised to build on her “good initiatives”. Following this, he met his colleagues and Ministers of State in HRD, Upendra Kushwaha and Mahendra Singh Pandey, at his residence. The latter, who replaced R S Katheria, joined the ministry officially Wednesday.

Javadekar chaired a two-hour meeting with HRD Ministry officers who briefed him on his new portfolio, pending projects and challenges. “He introduced himself to us as the son of a primary teacher. He laid emphasis on quality of education and said that this matter is very close to the Prime Minister’s heart. After this, officers of school and higher education made their presentations to him,” said an officer who attended the meeting.

Former HRD Minister and Congress leader M M Pallam Raju also met Javadekar at his residence to congratulate him on his new assignment.

Javadekar will take charge of his new ministry on Thursday morning. Although Irani did not visit her HRD office at Shastri Bhawan on Wednesday, higher education officers met her at her residence around 11 am. Her staff visited Shastri Bhawan around 9 am, packed their belongings and vacated the offices by noon. Javadekar told reporters that he had invited her to formally hand over the responsibilities to him on Thursday.

Asked about his experience in the education sector, he said, “In the last 40 years, my main activity was in education. I was part of the student movement not only as an ABVP leader, but I also represented the graduate constituency in the Maharashtra Legislative Council for 12 years. I was heading the Planning Commission in Maharashtra where we laid emphasis on education. Then as MP, I was part of the HRD committee and we dealt with crucial ten legislations and debated it from all angles. Once you take the job, you have to get acquainted with all aspects of the portfolio.”

He played down his promotion to Cabinet rank and described it as a “technicality” which allowed him to take over from Irani, who has been shifted to the Textiles Ministry. “To be HRD Minister, you need a Cabinet rank. It is a technicality,” he said.

Sources said the first and most important item on Javadekar’s agenda will be to resolve the standoff between the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and HRD Ministry over the degree of autonomy that world-class institutions (WCIs) and the IIMs should enjoy. Under Irani, the ministry was locked in a tussle with the PMO over the two issues.

According to documents accessed by The Indian Express, the HRD Ministry had only partially accepted the changes proposed by the PMO in the draft regulations meant to set up 20 institutions of global excellence standards.

The “world-class universities” project was the biggest Budget announcement on education this year, with its progress being tracked closely by the PMO. The 13 major differences include:

* The draft regulation carry a provision that requires WCIs to offer courses that meet the minimum standards prescribed by regulatory bodies such as UGC, AICTE and MCI. PMO wants this provision to be deleted.

* The regulation states that WCIs can employ foreign faculty up to 25% of total faculty strength. PMO wants this cap removed.

* HRD wants universities to maintain a corpus of Rs 1,000/1,500 crore. PMO has asked the ministry to revise this to Rs 100 crore.

* The ministry laid down accreditation from NAAC as a pre-requisite for existing institutions to apply for world-class status. PMO wants this requirement to be deleted and replaced by the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF).

* The regulations mandate that WCIs offer courses that meet the minimum credit hours laid down by the regulatory bodies. This ensures that WCIs keep the course duration flexible but not less than the minimum duration laid down by, say, the UGC. PMO wants this requirement deleted.

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