Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani impressed all with her extempore address at the International Women’s Conference, but has preferred to focus on issues that do not require to be fixed. Under her watch, the University Grants Commission (UGC) had clamped down on the Delhi University’s Four Year Undergraduate Programme (FYUP) soon after clearing it under the previous Congress-led government, dared the IITs and silently stood by as Gujarat adopted RSS activist Dina Nath Batra’s books in its schools.
Most of her moves have met with sharp criticism, with some senior Cabinet colleagues acknowledging that the education sector needs to be attended to, but definitely not by restraining innovation and chipping into the autonomy of institutions. At an Express Adda event in Mumbai on August 27, Union Finance and Defence Minister Arun Jaitley pointed out the need to liberalise the sector by allowing more autonomous universities and independent institutions.
Irani’s 100 days were mired in controversy, leaving her little time to look ahead and focus on policy initiatives aimed at opening up a sector that has largely remained untouched over two decades.
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As soon as the Narendra Modi government took charge, it had to contend with the FYUP controversy because the UGC asked the Delhi University to admit students under the conventional three-year degree programmes. This U-turn happened a month after the new government took charge at the Centre, and with its backing, the UGC warned the university of strict action if the order was flouted. After resisting the UGC order, the DU finally scrapped FYUP in June end and reverted to the three-year degree format so the stalled admission process could begin.
In yet another indication of the politicisation of education under this government’s watch, books authored by long-time RSS activist Dina Nath Batra, convenor of the Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti, were made compulsory reading in government schools in Gujarat. The books have titles like Indianisation of Education, Brilliant India and Vedic Mathematics.
Fresh controversy erupted earlier this month with the UGC’s communique to the IITs asking them to “align their courses and degrees with the ones recognised by the UGC”. This came under widespread criticism from IITs which claimed they are autonomous institutes governed by the Institutes of Technology Act, 1961. Several IIT directors lashed out at the UGC for trying to fix a system that has done very well for the country.
The UGC issued a clarification, stating its communication had been “misconstrued” and claiming it had the “responsibility of specification of degrees”. The HRD ministry’s stand, meanwhile, seemed ambiguous. It just urged both to work out an “appropriate solution”.
In the midst of all this, the ministry launched some new policies like the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao Yojana to take up programmes for education of girls in a focused manner. The Padhe Bharat Badhe Bharat initiative under the SSA aims to improve language development in children by creating an interest in reading and writing with comprehension, and an interest in mathematics.