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No feel-good factor for higher education

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The State Budget for 2013-14 has fallen short of the hopes of the stakeholders in the sector. G. KRISHNAKUMAR says even the promises made in the previous year’s Budget remain unfulfilled.

The higher education sector has nothing much to cheer about in the State Budget for 2013-14, presented by Finance Minister K.M. Mani in the Assembly on Friday.

Except for a few new projects, the Budget proposals seem to be a repeat of what the Finance Minister presented in the Budget for 2012-13. It miserably failed to present a growth model or a vision plan for the higher sector.

But as Mr. Mani pointed out in a post-Budget discussion, it was up to the departments concerned to ensure that the Budget proposals were implemented without delay.

A review of the last year’s and the latest Budgets proves beyond doubt that the Higher Education Department has done no homework to draw out a comprehensive vision plan for the sector. Broken promises reflect the inefficiency of the department in shifting reforms in the sector to the top gear.

For instance, the Budget for 2012-13 had envisaged there major projects — establishment of a Kerala Technological University; an academic city; and an integrated institute of science and technology — as part of its efforts to build infrastructure for the sector.

The technological university proposal remains in the cold storage despite figuring in the 100-day programmes of the United Democratic Front. From the initial stages of evolving a detailed project for the varsity, the Higher Education Department had lacked clarity.

A detailed project report, prepared by the Directorate of Technical Education last year, had not brought self-financing colleges under the ambit of the proposed university initially. But the draft Bill of the proposed university has now recommended granting affiliation to self-financing engineering colleges. The State Budget for 2013-14 remains silent on the technological university, triggering doubts that the proposal might be pushed to the cold storage soon.

The setting up of an academic city was the second major project that found mention in the last year’s Budget. The latest Budget says that Rs. 1 crore will be allotted for forming a special purpose vehicle for the project. But the Higher Education Department has not yet worked out the finer details of this initiative.

The academic city was earlier projected as a unique assortment of high-quality international universities and institutions offering specialised courses for domestic and international students. But the questions on the fee structure and admission process for students in the State remain unanswered.

Doubts

The Opposition had also expressed doubts that the project, which was listed among the proposals in the Emerging Kerala initiative, might be another attempt to grab the precious land in the State in the name of education.

The plan for setting up the Lal Bahadur Shastri Integrated Institute of Science and Technology in Malappuram is also moving at a snail’s pace. Though nothing had materialised after it was mentioned in the last year’s Budget, the department hopes that the Rs. 25-crore allocation in this year’s Budget might speed up the establishment of the institute. But the going would be tough as the Centre seems to be in no mood to extend any help despite the government’s request for a Rs. 50-crore assistance for the project.

Mr. Mani’s Budget proposal that the government would encourage high-performance arts and science and engineering colleges to gain autonomy is old wine in new bottle. In the last year’s Budget, it was mentioned that 10 colleges would be elevated as centres of excellence but nothing had materialised.

But the latest Budget extends support for the State Higher Education Council’s move to grant autonomy to select colleges in the State. The government would encourage high-performance arts and science and engineering colleges to gain autonomy. The Finance Minister has allocated Rs. 15 crore to help government colleges improve their infrastructure.

The neglect in identifying appropriate proposals for universities is clearly evident in the Budget thanks to the announcement that international and inter-university centres would be set up in various universities. The Cochin University of Science and Technology is expected to receive assistance for setting up a Centre for Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) when it already owns an Inter- university Centre for IPR Studies.


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