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Tuesday, August 03, 2021

Ramesh Pokhriyal’s term marked by vacancies in Central universities, IITs

The development comes in the backdrop of the leadership change in Uttarakhand which goes to polls next year.

By: Express News Service | New Delhi |
Updated: July 8, 2021 8:23:49 am
Ramesh Pokhriyal, CBSE board exam date, CBSE exam date, 2021 board exam date, Indian expressRamesh Pokhriyal

BJP leader Ramesh Pokhriyal resigned from the Union Council of Ministers on Wednesday, leaving behind a legacy of vacancies in centrally run higher education institutions across the country. Dharmendra Pradhan has been appointed as his successor.

The development comes in the backdrop of the leadership change in Uttarakhand which goes to polls next year.

The former Uttarakhand chief minister, who took charge as Human Resource Development (HRD) Minister (now Education Minister) in May 2019, has been unwell ever since he tested positive for Covid-19 in May. He recently spent almost a month in AIIMS, Delhi, due to post-Covid complications.

“He wasn’t being able to attend office regularly for the past two months,” said an officer. However, sources in the government said, his ill-health wasn’t the only reason behind the removal.

The Education Ministry, under Pokhriyal, slow-walked appointments to crucial posts. His successor faces the daunting task of finding vice-chancellors for as many as 17 of the roughly 40 central universities under the Education Ministry. Similarly, five IITs (in Patna, Bhubaneshwar, Delhi, Indore, Mandi) are headless and another eight IITs (in Gandhinagar, Roorkee, Mandi, Delhi, Bombay, Ropar, Tirupati, and Goa) don’t have chairpersons for their respective Board of Governors. The chairperson’s post at IIT Roorkee, for instance, has been vacant for over three years.

The vacancies, expectedly, affected decision-making in top higher education institutions, especially amidst the pandemic and when the Centre has embarked on to its ambitious New Education Policy (NEP). In fact, in an unusual move, even the RSS-backed ABVP ended up writing to President Ramnath Kovind in May, urging him to expedite appointments. The President is the Visitor of all central universities.

The delay, it is learned, was partially due to PMO’s unhappiness over the Minister’s choice for the top job at several higher education institutions, forcing the ministry to start the search afresh in many cases.

Last year, the appointment process for two IIT directors (Mandi and Indore) was cancelled 10 months after a committee headed by Pokhriyal held interviews and shortlisted the candidates. The panel of selected names was scrapped and the post was advertised again late last year.

Moreover, some of the biggest decisions related to education this year were taken by the Prime Minister’s Office in consultation with the ministry’s senior officers. The decision to cancel Class 10 and Class 12 CBSE Board examination was taken by the PM, even though Pokhriyal favoured conducting the examination.

Except for the protest by JNU students over hostel fee hike in January 2020, Pokhriyal’s term as education minister was largely uncontroversial. In fact, his tenure was more challenging than his predecessors as his ministry has to ensure the continuity of learning and examination amidst a COVID-induced education lockdown.

He held more than 20 virtual interactions with students to address their concerns about learning, year-end school examinations and competitive examinations. However, apart from providing guidelines to states on online learning, there was no major announcement or initiative on bridging the digital divide. Pokhriyal’s last announcement was on July 6 on the date of the JEE Main examination which had been postponed due to the second wave of the pandemic.

The launch of the new NEP was the biggest highlight of his stint, although a substantial amount of work on this document had been completed during his predecessor Prakash Javadekar’s term.

The on-ground implementation in the first year after NEP’s announcement has been slow. Aside from the renaming of Human Resource Development Ministry to Education Ministry, AICTE’s controversial announcement to give engineering colleges the flexibility to admit students who did not opt for mathematics and physics in their plus-two course and the announcement of a new instigative to strengthen foundational learning, most of the major reforms proposed by the NEP haven’t taken off yet. The IITs, for instance, have refused to introduce undergraduate engineering programmes in regional languages.

In fact, implementing the NEP will be the biggest challenge for Pradhan, especially since there has been no increase in the Education Ministry’s budget this year. The budget for education has suffered a significant cut of Rs 6,000 crore at a time when the COVID19-induced disruption is expected to have exacerbated students’ learning loss and school dropout rates.

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