Eminent academician and winner of the Jnanpith Award U.R. Ananthamoorthy spoke to The Hindu-EducationPlus on a range of issues relating to the higher education sector in Kerala and in the country. The final report of the Ananthamoorthy committee set up by the Kerala State Higher Education Council to draft a new education policy for the State is in the final stages of preparation. Excerpts from an interview:

On the move to allow foreign universities into India.

Many of the foreign universities may be much worse that our own universities. I too have taught in a foreign university. In many such institutions—I am not talking of Harvard and so on—the quality of education at the degree level is very poor. Only at the research level do they do well. On the other hand we are not too bad at the degree level. We have to educate the masses, often even first generation university goers. I don't think any foreign university would cater to such people.

The foreign universities may end up attracting students from affluent families only. So you end up dividing the country into ‘Bharat' and ‘India.' So I don't want foreign universities to come. Maybe our universities can be asked to collaborate with foreign institutions. Student exchanges can be encouraged. You see when I was teaching abroad the students who came for science classes were Chinese, Indians and so on. So the foreign universities would have a vested interest in coming here. Moreover, they will commercialise higher education further. Even as it is, education is a big business these days.

On the need for clusters of colleges.

I have been a vice-chancellor here in Kerala and I have found that one college may be good in one subject and another college, in another subject. And these colleges may be very near one another. So, why cannot a student study one course in one college and another course in the next institution? Such colleges should form clusters and these clusters can eventually go on to become universities. Every college need not develop every subject. They can concentrate on some subjects. The idea was enthusiastically accepted here but I think there are conflicts of interests in Kerala. I thought the government would be able to overcome such conflicts because they aid these institutions. But that has not happened. It should happen and it should involve private colleges. Some private colleges are very good.

On some weaknesses of present higher education system

Not all colleges are of the same standard. So even though there is a proliferation of MA degrees, the quality is not the same. But the university nevertheless gives the degree. The world over, people ask you which institution you studied in, and not how much you scored in the examination. But this weakness can be turned into strength. If all colleges have post-graduation, let the university concentrate on research. However, idea of research should be inculcated in a child right from the smaller classes. Research need not just mean working on some big problem. A small child can be asked to find out the different customs of marriage among different communities. The point is that the idea of research needs to be instilled in a child very early on. And this is totally lacking in Kerala.

Except in institutes such as the Centre for Development Studies set up by K. N. Raj, research is not being done in a proper manner here. Kerala should focus on bringing over premier institutes such as the Indian Institute of Science so that they become a benchmark for the State. Kerala spends much on education but it is like a ‘paper masala dosa'—spread very thin, too thin.

The way we teach science and humanities subjects should change. Instead of a text-based learning it should be a problem / situation-based learning. The salary for teachers is now very good. So, I hope the best talent will come to teaching.

On the need for a spirit of learning.

Now education is seen as a passport for a luxurious life and not as a gateway for a life of knowledge. Only if young people learn to, decide to delay gratification, delay driving that fancy car will learning take place. The danger with getting success too early in life is that by the time a person is 40, he or she is already very old, capable of doing nothing except what he or she has done for the past 15 years… the same job. This is what is happening to many people who choose a career in the IT / BPO industry.

On the need for a political consensus.

Kerala has always had a problem with small parties handling the education portfolio.

So, it was very good that a major political party took up education in the present LDF government. However, there is no political consensus as far as education policies are concerned. One party ends up trying to undo what the previous government did.

The opposition should have been a part of the higher education council and part of the moves to form a new education policy.