THE WEDNESDAY INTERVIEW | PRAKASH JAVADEKAR Interview

‘The government is spending nearly 4% of GDP on education’

Union HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar.  

 

With the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government at the Centre completing four years, Prakash Javadekar discusses the achievements of and issues facing the Ministry of Human Resource Development, including the two paper leaks of the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) in April, the changes to the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) textbooks, the draft education policy, and the problem of vacant seats in engineering colleges. Excerpts:

Educationists have often cautioned that university graduates have degrees but no real skills because of a faulty system. How much does this worry you and how are you addressing the concern?

As far as higher education is concerned, I am worried for those who graduate every year. I agree that the existing curriculum does not create the necessary professional skills. Therefore we are planning to introduce BA (Professional), B.Com (Professional), and B.Sc courses where students will get 1,000 hours of additional courseware, 250 hours of soft skills and 250 hours of ICT [information and communication technology] skills so that after graduation they become employable. We are planning the course work so that by June 19 we will be able to introduce this to students. This will be available through the UGC [University Grants Commission], the AICTE [All India Council For Technical Education], so that it becomes available for all colleges in the country.

There is criticism that not a single political party till date has had a comprehensive vision for higher education. What is your party’s vision?

At least my party has a vision, which was spelt out in our 2014 election manifesto. We had emphasis on quality research, and values to be inculcated in students. We have taken a 360-degree view on education.

Despite the promise made in the manifesto, the GDP allocation to education is below 6%, which was your commitment.

Today the government is spending nearly 4%. It is an increase of 70% over the 2013-14 Budget. Let’s celebrate this. Even States are increasing their budgets for education. It is inching close to 6%. We will reach it.

Are you concerned at the rate at which engineering college seats are falling vacant?

This is a classic case of unplanned, unsustainable growth and oversupply of engineering seats because of two things. During the UPA regime, all kinds of permissions were given by AICTE. Whoever wanted to set up an engineering college was granted permission. The AICTE’s authority runs only in affiliated colleges. New private colleges, new deemed universities and State universities have increased their intake tremendously because they are quality institutes — the issue is one of oversupply because AICTE cannot intervene. We wish to correct the act so that AICTE’s reign continues in all engineering institutes, which is not the case right now.

Second, now students are choosing where they want to go, and obtain reviews before joining. So, in a way, lower quality institutes will go out and the good will stay. That is a good development. We received 100-150 applications for closure of colleges.

Two months since the CBSE paper leak, what are your conclusions on what went wrong?

It is always a case of somebody breaching the code. In bank ATMs, there is a foolproof arrangement, yet breaches happen. We will be alert. We have put processes in place. We don’t want to put more things in the public domain. Our system is foolproof but if somebody breaches the system, it is a criminal act and [the person] will be tried under the law.

What was the reason this time?

It was one man’s hunger to become headmaster at an early stage, prompted by one lady who said she would help him become headmaster but he must give her two papers. These were the two papers that went viral on social media. That is what the leak was all about. All are arrested.

Your Ministry is working on a draft legislation for setting up a Higher Education Regulatory Council. When will that be ready and what is its goal?

The draft legislation has undergone many changes. First, it was an overarching architecture that [the UPA’s HRD Minister] Kapil Sibal wanted to bring and it was opposed by his own party members. We want to make the processes of the three regulators the same, with increased transparency.

Will it be a super-regulator?

We are in the process of discussing it. We need to have more transparency, so that there is no malpractice or corruption. If it comes as a law, so be it.

Isn’t the Indian education system the most regulated system in the world?

I don’t think so. Actually, we don’t regulate anything. The whole inspection process is about the area, ownership and the building. Nobody is talking about learning outcomes. Nobody is talking about the teaching processes and placements. We want to shift the focus of the regulators to these areas.

It is said that if something is not broken, don’t fix it. The NCERT curriculum has been designed and authored by eminent historians and academics. Yet you have tried to fix the curriculum. Why?

We have only updated and corrected it, which is a usual exercise. We do not have the committees to redraft and rewrite the curriculum and we have not formed a committee to do this. Last year we asked teachers for their suggestions for updating and [for correcting] erroneous information. We received 1,100 suggestions and we have carried out a little over 700 suggestions.

Do you think ancient India has not received adequate attention in the NCERT books?

No, I don’t think so. Since 2011, knowledge tradition and practices in India is a good course by the CBSE. Any student who reads that will get correct scientific information. We have only introduced government schemes like Swachh Bharat, Make in India.

What is your view on the controversy over Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s portrait in the Aligarh Muslim University?

I think the issue is settled. Our MP asked for information on something and it was misunderstood.

Is the presence of Jinnah’s portrait on the campus an issue for your party and its affiliates?

I would not like to comment on that.

The UGC notification for graded autonomy for universities that are doing well said that these institutions have the autonomy to expand, offer new courses, decide curricula, etc., provided they do not seek additional funds for this. Does this not lead to potential fee hikes?

State universities don’t seek funds from us. Private universities have nothing to ask from us. Deemed universities also don’t ask from us. Only Central universities and centrally funded deemed universities are what the Centre finances. As far as central finance is concerned, the Centre will give all the money required.

But in graded autonomy, this freedom given is their choice if they want to take it. We have not mandated that they have to take it. As far as centrally funded [institutions] are concerned, the fund regulations will apply. Because if [Finance Minister] Arun Jaitley writes the Budget, we can’t delegate budget-writing to institutes. So, they will have to submit financial approvals as regular financial approvals.

What about autonomous colleges?

Autonomous colleges are not something we have invented. It has been there from the 1970s and there are 635 autonomous colleges working smoothly in our country. There are another 350 applications pending. So, we process them. As far as Delhi University is concerned, we said it is not mandatory. It is your choice. As far as financial approvals are concerned, you will have to stick to our original framework. And academic freedom to conduct examinations, on the syllabus... that is the freedom they get. Conducting the examination, evaluation of papers — everything remains with the college, if they want to. But if they don’t want, we are not mandating. We are also not increasing fees in any way because of this. But if they have to expand and they want to increase the budget, they will have to seek approval from the Ministry.

The new education policy has been pending for quite some time. When do we expect it and what will be the major thrust areas?

I don’t know the major thrust areas, as I have not seen it. The draft will be presented to me next week. After that it will go through a routine process. We will share it with some people and then it will come to the Cabinet. The Kasturirangan Committee has almost completed its job. I am very sure that this will serve the next generation. There will be a revolution in education because of the use of technology and there is also scope for a new kind of teaching-learning process. All this will be taken care of and I think it will serve the next generation from 2020 to 2040.

Opposition parties are coming together in different States. What is your view on Opposition unity and its impact on the BJP?

It is Opposition opportunism. That opportunism will not reflect in any change in the people’s mandate. There has to be a purpose for coming together. Hating somebody cannot be an agenda and people do not like [any] negative agenda. During the Emergency, parties got together for a cause — restoration of freedom of expression, judiciary, etc. There is no positive agenda [now].

But is the BJP in a state of panic? It appears the BJP is struggling to keep its flock together. The Shiv Sena is very unhappy with you.

Amitji went to meet him [Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray] in the context of Sampark for Samarthan. We always conduct one meeting of the NDA once in six months at the national level. We call all those parties who do not have a representation in Parliament; we initiate a sustained dialogue. You have to see the meeting with Udhav Thackeray in that context.

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