The Finance Minister has announced the Union Budget 2018 today, however, a good opportunity to correct the country’s obsession with the premier institutions has been missed again. All the major announcements cater to the top class institutions whether it is the emphasis on research, setting up of Institutes of Eminence or the Higher Education Funding Agency. So far we have failed to put the money where the mouth is.
These top-class institutions have nearly 6 per cent of the country’s student population whereas 94 per cent of India’s more than 40 million students study in ordinary state-funded universities and colleges which are neither funded by Ministry of Human Resource Development nor by the State Governments. Rashtriya Ucchtar Shiksha Abhiyaan (RUSA) which attempts to correct this historical imbalance should have been the centrepiece for the Higher Education this year.
One also expected some announcement for setting up a credible higher education accreditation body – somewhat of a counterpart of “SEBI in Higher Education” which would dispassionately accredit higher education institutions at an arm’s length from both UGC and MHRD.
Institutes of Eminence:
1. The concept of Institutes of Eminence needs to be thought through properly. Surely scoring high international rankings could not be the main purpose of the scheme. In fact, promoting accreditation system is a far better goal to aspire.
2. The most important aspect for the success of the scheme is that the selection process must be transparent and the committee appointed for the task must be outstanding academics who have a good understanding of the university system both in India and as well as abroad.
3. The release of funds must be in stages and performance-based.
4. Taking the experience from Nalanda University which for all purposes is like a green-field Institute of Eminence in terms of autonomy and funding, one is not very sure whether we will be able to guarantee total autonomy. Keeping CAG and the Parliamentary Committees out of it will be an uphill task as the fund from the consolidated fund of India will be subject to scrutiny at some stage or the other.
5. The best practices in Higher Education and learning-teaching processes are in top international universities. We must encourage partnerships with such institutions and not be over cautious.
Higher Education Funding Agency:
1. This is a very good move towards encouraging fundraising which is also important for the autonomy of the institute. However this must be over and above the amount budgeted by the Government and not adjusted against it; otherwise, it would defeat the very purpose of setting it up. None the less one has to be cautious lest in future it starts to supplement the budget.
2. Unlike the earlier Bharat Kosh, this is not centralised and the alumni will be able to contribute to the institute of its choice.
3. Being a loan and not a grant it inculcates a sense of ownership and responsibility.
4. This scheme will benefit only the already well of institutions as one has to contribute a certain percentage to the fund.
Setting up of more Schools of Planning and Architecture :
1. It is a good move to have these schools within the existing institutions like IITs and NITs. Hope it puts to rest the earlier move to transfer SPAs to the Urban Development Ministry as it would have completely isolated them from other disciplines education institutions.
2. The Council of Architecture needs a similar surgery as being done with MCI as in architecture too there is a case of institution capture by vested interests damaging the entire system.
1000 B Tech students to do PhD
In the IIT system, the brightest of B Tech are allowed to do PhD directly without having to do M Tech. Now, this is proposed to be extended to other bright B Tech students from other engineering colleges which is a welcome move. However, the exam must be held by the IITs to ensure transparency and quality.
— The author is the former HRD secretary