In an indication of neglect by the state in higher education, a World Bank report has said the Council for Higher Education in Maharashtra has not met even once since it was formed, making it a “dysfunctional” body.
To be eligible for funds under the Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA) or the National Higher Education Mission, there are several pre-requisites, including creation of a state higher education council (SHEC) that will have planning, monitoring, evaluation, quality assurance, advisory and funding as its functions.
The World Bank report, however, says of the eight councils in place, members of the ones in Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat “have seldom met and essentially have not been functioning”.
According to a report prepared by the HRD Ministry and the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) last year, Maharashtra spends only 0.14 per cent of the gross state domestic product (GSDP) on higher education, much less than the national average of 0.5 per cent. This report also said RUSA would fund higher education in state universities based on performance and give incentives to the institutions doing well.
“Recognising the central role that SHECs are to play under RUSA, these eight councils were reviewed in terms of structure, functions, initiatives and results. The Maharashtra state council was set up as a sequel to the Maharashtra Universities Act, 1994. The council suffers from structural deficiencies due to the fact that it is largely composed of the political leadership and bureaucracy in higher education, with little representation for academics. Despite an explicit requirement of meeting at least twice a year, as per the Maharashtra Universities Act, it has not had a single meeting since its formation,” said the chapter on “state higher education councils in India”, co-drafted by TISS Prof Venkatesh Kumar.
The functions and powers that were foreseen in the Act include preparing programmes across subjects in higher education by keeping in view the overall priorities, perspective and needs of the society, considering and approving developmental programmes of the universities, recommending measures to the state government to remove regional imbalance, suggesting ways of raising additional resources to the institutes and maintaining uniformity of standards of education.
The World Bank report reveals a significant gap between what the state councils are expected to do under RUSA and the way they are currently functioning. Maharashtra fails on all accounts — preparing a higher education plan and monitoring its implementation, evaluating state institutions on the basis of norms developed, maintaining quality of curriculum, advising state on strategic investments in higher education and disbursing funds to state universities and colleges on the basis of the higher education plan.
Other state councils, however, have registered better performances. While Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and West Bengal provide for the councils to have a role in monitoring and evaluation, many have begun to address some quality assurance and academic issues. “West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh Andhra Pradesh and Kerala have taken some steps like updating the curriculum, reform of examinations, and approvals to set-up new institutions,” says the report.
“States have not empowered the existing councils with any significant funding allocation authority. None of the SHECs fully meets good international practice regarding an ‘arms-length’ relationship with state political leadership and state government,” the report concludes.