The government is readying a national education policy, having formed a high-powered body that will come out with the final draft on its implementation. Union HRD minister Prakash Javadekar speaks to Bula Devi on key issues ailing the system in the country and the ways being sought to tackle them.
Interview by Bula Devi; Video by Vijay Pandey; Edited by Suraj Wadhwa
Has the government charted out plans to reform India’s education system?
Quality education, better research and innovation capabilities are the thrust areas in higher education reforms. The government has started seven new IIMs, six IITs, one IIIT, two IISERs, one NIT and a central university. All this by the Narendra Modi regime in three years; it is the largest-ever expansion by any government in the country. The centrally-sponsored Rashtriya Uchchtar Shiksha Abhiyan promotes strategic funding and reforms in the higher education sector of states. We are providing Rs 2 crore to colleges and Rs 20 crore to universities that have achieved quality education form them to expand basic academic facilities and research infrastructure. Overall, we have sanctioned Rs 4,816 crore for 1,366 institutes to improve infrastructure.
We have also brought in national ranking for the first time in India, leading to healthy competition among universities. The NAAC teams have been expanded to complete accreditation and assessment of universities and benchmark the quality of institutes. Once this is completed, the autonomy each institution enjoys will be directly linked to their ranking.
We are setting up 20 world-class universities, half of them private. They will be called Institutes of Eminence. Our aim is to make these institutes compete and achieve ranking in the first 200 world universities in 10 years. Under GIAN (Global Initiative of Academic Networks), we are inviting foreign varsity professors in India to conduct courses. Around 600 professors from 58 countries conducted one course each in India in 2016-17. This year, it will have 800 more teachers from all streams.
About funding of higher education...
We have taken big initiatives in higher education funding through the Higher Education Financing Agency. We are getting Rs 2,000 crore from the budget and we will raise Rs 18,000 crore from the debt market. With the bar raised to Rs 20,000 crore in the next three years, we will utilise it to upgrade research infrastructure in higher education institutions. We have also started technical quality improvement programme, TEQUIP. Under this, in the third phase Rs 2,600 crore has been earmarked, which will cover all hill states, the Northeast, Andaman and the so-called Bimaru states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
Under IMPRINT (Impacting Research Innovation & Technology), we had asked for research proposals in 10 domain areas by professionals, teachers, students and others. From them, we finalised some 200 projects. Rs 600 crore has been earmarked for them; they will have to come within three years.
Under the Uchchtar Avishkar Yojana, which is about industry and academia partnership, faculty members and students from IITs are working on 100 projects given by industries. We have already started incubation centres in IITs/NITs/IIMs/central universities, which are facilitating set up start-ups from hostel rooms itself. More than 600 startups are running successfully.
What steps are you taking to tackle shortage of faculty? Last year, Delhi IIT had 400 vacancies. Bombay IIT also had vacancies?
There is 20 per cent vacancy in higher education institutions. We are addressing the issue. The IIT Council is identifying good Indian students doing research in foreign countries, and they are being brought back..
When did this initiative start? Where are these researchers teaching?
It started in a serious manner last year. They are teaching in various institutes. We are asking the IIMs and central universities to do same thing: identify students, and fetch them back. China has already done it successfully.
What about SWAYAM?
We started SWAYAM recently. It provides free lecture material, tutorials, interactive sessions, tests and certification. It is available online as well as on 32 DTH channels.
Are you digitising library books?
Yes, we are coming out with National Digital Library; we are digitising 66 lakh books in libraries across the country. Their soft copy will be available online. Students won’t have to run from one library to another. We are also starting a National Academic Depository, which will store all educational certificates in digital format. So there can be no fake certificates, because certificates/degrees will have photographs as well as Aadhaar number.
Are we going to have a National Testing Agency?
We are coming out with a National Testing Agency. The CBSE is overburdened. It is conducting some 27 exams in which more than 12 million students appear. We will create a separate national testing agency and it will start conducting exams from next year.
Are you increasing the number of scholarships for Kashmiri students?
The regime preceding us began giving scholarships to Jammu and Kashmir students, but there was no transparency. Now we are doing it through proper counselling. This year, 24,700 class XII-pass students of J&K applied for the PMSSS (Prime Minister’s Special Scholarship Scheme) for a total of 3,430 seats comprising 2,830 seats in professional courses. The scholarships range from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 4 lakh with lodging and boarding per student. We are also creating additional seats in the best of the colleges for Kashmiri students. This is the real Kashmir and not the stone-pelting Kashmir.
Any changes in school education?
Of course, we have increased a lot of subsidies in school education. We are also giving education loan, interest-free. So for five years when a student is studying, the government is paying the interest on loans. In the last three years, we have paid Rs 2,400 crore for this purpose.
Will these reforms impact the Kasturirangan committee on the National Education Policy?
These are our programmes that we will take forward. The committee (headed by scientist K. Kasturirangan) is comprehensive. We have given them the freedom to even opt for two, three or more members. The panel had asked for six months’ time (for submission of the report), which has been granted because we have complete faith in them. They already had their first meeting. We don’t interfere in their work. We have given all the inputs we had received over a period of 30 months. This is the longest democratic consultative process to create a policy. Education is different from other sectors. Steel or ship-building has limited stakeholders, whereas education is one sector that affects/interests every family. Hence the nation’s concern over this policy.
We have told them that the report should be drafted on the lines of expected changes that are likely to shape the world. We are making a policy keeping in mind what is likely to happen in the next 20 years. It is going to be long-term policy. The committee will give us short-term programme recommendations also. Essentially, after 25 years the national education policy is being redone in the country.
So our vision is only for next two decades?
Every generation should have the right to decide their own policy. I personally believe the policy must be revised after every 10 years and a new one should be drafted after every 20 years. That is the path towards progress.
There was demand for universal curriculum…
No, there is no such demand. In higher education, the curriculum freedom is given to every university. We expect all universities to come up with best curriculum and update their syllabus regularly. Unfortunately many universities don’t do it. Therefore, AICTE has now taken the lead. We will create model curriculum and upgrade it every year. We will soon announce an upgraded curriculum. Universities can adopt it and make changes according to their needs.
As far as school curriculum is concerned, it is as per the national curriculum framework 2006. Our point is there are cultural, regional, linguistic and geographical variations in a large subcontinent like India. About 30 per cent of SCERT books contain their own inputs and practically 70 per cent follow the central NCERT curriculum.
There have been problems in NEET. Last year it was held twice. This year it was held a second time in Warangal, and there was language problem in Gujarat and West Bengal. How do you tackle the issue?
Firstly, it was a successful endeavour: about 11 lakh students appeared for it. If something happens in one centre, it doesn’t mar the success of the whole examination process. Secondly, as far as regional language question paper is concerned, it will be a mere translation of the question paper in English from next year.
Will there be NEET like exam in engineering stream also?
The AICTE has discussed the idea and formed a committee to work on it. We will look into it once they submit the committee’s report.
Students coming out of low-ranked engineering colleges don’t get jobs. What is the government’s plan?
The AICTE is planning to come out with a model curriculum which they will upgrade every year. The colleges and universities should follow the upgraded curriculum and if they do, the quality would also improve. Students have now become empowered. They are doing peer review and looking at placements also before seeking admission. In the last four years, 500 engineering colleges were closed down, as students did not seek admission due to poor quality education. We haven’t closed them, but only given permission for closure.
It is a warning by students to the promoters of these institutes that if they continue to have low-quality education, none would seek admission.
Private institutes charge exorbitant fees. Should profiteering be the goal of these institutes?
Fees in private colleges are exorbitant. We have decided on three things. First, there should be transparency. Second, there should be no hidden costs. Third, a clear picture should be given to the parents of candidates about fees, overall education cost and estimated increase every subsequent year.
If institutes don’t then what happens?
Then it is like a private treaty between parents and students on the one hand, and institutes on the other. It would be up to parents and students to choose the college they want admission.
But government is not going to bring in a law?
Every state has its own regulations. As far as medical colleges are concerned, part of it is deemed universities for which court has asked us to form a committee and decide on what should be the justifiable fees. We have formed the committee.
Deemed universities suffer from quality education…
If they don’t impart quality education, they won’t survive because they won’t be ranked, they won’t get any credit in assessments and finally they won’t get any government facilities like grants.
There was a lot of confusion in Class XII board exam over moderation. What will be the format next year?
I think marks should be on the basis of what a student deserves—i.e. what the student has written, and not on moderation. We don’t want to encourage it. But it is a decision that all boards have to take together. This year, there was some hiccups. But they will have to take a call now for next year.
These days the cutoff percentage in college admissions are so high…
That is because of inflation and spiking of marks. It is for all boards to decide. The government cannot interfere; we can only facilitate.
On domicile reservation issue…
Delhi has two state universities (Indraprastha and Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar) and many colleges. Like every other state, Delhi also has state universities. Central universities are meant to be all-India, which is why they get students from across the country.