The Committee to advise on renovation and rejuvenation of Higher Education, headed by Prof. Yashpal, has submitted its draft report to MHRD. The report has some innovative suggestions. It proposes research laboratories to engage in teaching in neighbouring universities; wants universities to have on-campus undergraduate (UG) programmes so that top-ranking professors and researchers could teach and interact with younger minds; moots that single discipline institutes like IITs and IIMs be converted into sort of universities where horizontal mobility and cross-discipline knowledge could be acquired and projects become an integral part of learning; wants subsidiary courses replaced by elective courses from among the main courses of other departments; every needy student be provided with loan or scholarship; and university teachers be trained through orientation programmes, and so on.
It proposes full autonomy to universities and recommends the creation of a National Commission for Higher Education and Research by dissolving bodies like the UGC and the AICTE.
These are useful recommendations. Yet the report overlooks the cause of affiliated colleges, where 80 per cent of UG students study, and of those who have no access to higher education. There are two distinct streams of students in higher education — those coming from government schools or low tuition schools with a weak command on English and lack of worldly exposure; and those coming from public schools with a strong career motivation. How would the two fit in the same programme of study? How would they gain self-reliance and commit themselves to the uplift of those who are left behind? These are serious issues and it is in this context that the vision of ‘university’ should have been developed.
Quality improvement could begin with a tutorial component to lectures to develop conceptual clarity. But a major problem is that a majority of the colleges are away from university campuses, and hence the UG students cannot have the privilege of lectures by university professors/researchers. Computer-aided lecturing could be an option (a distant next best) but the tutorials must be conducted locally. A reorientation programme must run for students with deficiency in the medium of instruction and exposure.
The major responsibility for teaching should lie with the local faculty. Ten years ago, the total number of teachers, spread in 11,000 colleges of the country, was above 2.5 lakh.
For quality teaching they need to be activated/ involved in research. Five years ago, only three per cent of research money was used for extramural research (the research conducted in colleges, universities and IITs). The rest was used in research laboratories with hardly any teaching component.
A very major shift in the distribution of research funding and research policy is required. In order to impart technical/professional skills to every student, from the perspective of his/her self-reliance, the walls between professional/technical and non-professional colleges must fall. In March 2007, the country had 2,439 engineering colleges and 1,917 polytechnics with an intake of 6.36 lakh (B.Tech. first year) and 3.38 lakh (diploma first year). Besides, 996 institutes offered MCA and 1,119 offered MBA programs with annual intake of 53,000 and 89,500 respectively.
These institutes can be galvanised to give access to B.A. and B.Sc. students of non-professional colleges in their professional courses at a reasonable cost. The biggest deficiency of higher education is its inability to develop sensitivity and commitment to freedom.
May the concepts of surplus value and per capita GDP be ingrained in students’ psyche so that they could quantify exploitation and feel for the masses, cutting across caste and religious lines. As one envisions to bring all the interested senior secondary graduates into the realm of higher education, the tuition fees for any UG programme of study must remain below the per capita GDP; thus half the cost must be borne by the state or prospective employers who are the real beneficiaries.
(The writer is Professor of Physics, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi.)