Higher budgetary allocations for education have improved the student enrolment. The quality, however, is still a question mark. With 70% of our graduates being declared unemployable survey after survey, how will the country cash in on the much publicised demographic dividend? In an exclusive interview with Uma Keni Prabhu,Union HRD Minister Dr MM Pallam Raju answers all these and many more questions. The excerpts:
Q. Government efforts have primarily been aimed at increasing access to education through capacity creation. The quality aspect has largely remained unaddressed. Poor families are accessing private education even when the government schools offer free education. This is only because of quality issues. What is the solution to this?
A. I agree that quality of our elementary education is not up to the mark. I now want to spoil teachers and students to such an extent that they will have an impact on their homes. Education is a collective responsibility. Panchayats should take a strong interest in education. That we have a School Management Committee (where 75% are parents) under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) doesn’t mean that Panchayats should look upon it as parents’ responsibility. If Panchayats get involved wholeheartedly then the quality of infrastructure will never suffer, teachers will be better looked after and children who need early intervention to catch up with the learning process will get timely help.
A school should provide a wholesome environment. We should create an enabling environment in which a classroom is an exciting place to be in, where teachers learn and students are enthused enough to pick up the right kind of skills. It should have a playground, workable toilets, provision of clean drinking water, reliable water supply, cooking services etc. MHRD has just recently, issued a circular to all the states asking them to focus on these very issues.
We brought in the Right to Education (RTE) Act only to ensure that the maximum numbers of kids get quality education. We have met with the physical targets in terms of number of classrooms and schools, and also teacher recruitment.
Now there is greater focus on the learning outcomes. The assessment of learning outcomes is an ongoing exercise. I can say we are in the right direction but not in the quantum that is desired. Also there is a serious shortage of teachers in a number of states, which has impacted the quality factor and so one of the challenges is to get the desired number of qualified teachers. This is the current focus to get the desired number in order to meet the RTE deadline of 2015 for teachers.
A recent report says early interventions - in class I and II - are crucial for retaining children in the education system. We are working on this too.
Q. What about the quality of higher education?
A. We have to focus on the quality factor in institutes of higher learning. We are, therefore, strengthening AICTE to ensure this. We have now made it mandatory for all colleges and universities to be accredited to the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC). All the technical institutions will have to be compulsorily accredited to the National Board of Accreditation (NBA). Earlier, this was not the case.
Subsequent to the legislation on Accreditation being stuck in Parliament, we have used the existing provisions in the UGC and AICTE Acts to issue Executive Orders towards mandatory accreditation. The step will at least put quality in focus.
We are trying to motivate the states to be quality conscious and make necessary regulatory changes. Our new initiative Rashtriya Ucchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA) aims at incentivizing states which perform well. They get additional funds. We have held three to four workshops regarding this and the response is quite good.
Q The country needs 800 universities by 2020 to address the educational needs of 45 million students. How do you propose to tackle this issue?
A. This is a huge task. We have distance education, which is doing a decent job. We should leverage new technologies to enhance capacity of higher education.
We have taken education for granted. It should not remain stagnant. It should be constantly revised and upgraded. Revolution has to take place in the central universities, which are funded by the government.
To give different dimensions to academics, we will now increase the scope of an existing university by encouraging research hubs and incubation centers. Look at the Ivy League universities. The government has given them only land. But their education has an “element of enterprise” in it. We too have to inject an element of enterprise in our universities. During our IIT and IIM council meetings, we stress on the fact that linkages with the industry should generate resource for the universities. They have realized the concept and are working on a model, which could be emulated by other colleges.
Q. In the absence of proper regulation, close to 500 foreign institutions are conferring degrees on our students. Only a few have come through the AICTE route. What is the solution for this?
A. We have put certain conditions for foreign institutions seeking collaboration with our institutions. They have to be accredited in their own country and should be of a certain standing. As the things stand today, if a foreign university is running a course, which they ought not to run, all that UGC and AICTE can do is to publish the names of these erring institutes on their website. Beyond that it is the states which should act.
Q. On one hand we talk about standardization in the arena of higher education and on the other hand we have Delhi University opting for a four-year degree course when the country over we have a 10+2+3 curriculum?
A. The statute has granted universities freedom to innovate. The 10+2+3 model came into existence in 1993. In 2003, UGC said universities could impart a degree in “not less than three years”. That gave the universities the freedom to “go beyond”. Delhi University is now innovating to improve the employability prospects of the students. The University’s Academic Council has taken the decision. We respect their decision but we are looking out for the pitfalls. We have an ongoing dialogue with them.”
Q. Employment growth has almost remained static after 2004. One of the reasons being cited is the utter un-employability of our graduates. Almost 70% of our graduates are unemployable. How can we improve the situation?
A. We are encouraging institutes of higher learning to build strong linkages with the industry on a constant and continuous basis. We emphasize the need to start incubation centers and create R&D hubs where academia and industry could do research jointly.
Industry participation is crucial in imparting vocational skills too but this needs to be scaled up. Industry inputs on what is a relevant curriculum and how to upgrade it periodically are important. The skill set thus acquired could be deployed anywhere in the world.
Q. Qatar has proposed to set up IIT and IIM campuses on their soil. You were planning to meet the Prime Minister to take this further. What is the status on this?
A. Qatar has shown interest in setting up campuses for our IITs and IIMs on their soil. The Prime Minister was to take a review of this proposal, but that meeting hasn’t happened. IITs and IIMs are great brands and are recognized worldwide. It is a matter of pride that our institutions are being sought after. I am open towards our institutions of higher learning setting up campuses abroad.
Q. Have you ever given a thought to setting up an IIT and IIM in each district? Many more aspirants may get a chance to join these prestigious institutions.
A. “We have expanded capacities of both IITs and IIMs by setting up new campuses. It is important to consolidate the new IIMs and IITs before we plan new ones.”
Q. Do you think the Prime Minister’s vision of skilling 500 million by 2020 is achievable?
A. The Prime Minister’s vision of skilling 500 million by 2020 is an ambitious target to meet. It can be attained by joint efforts of the government and private sector. Private sector is proactively participating. People are getting jobs. They are willing to undergo training, even at a price, which will impart them a relevant skill set and which will be linked to employment.
Q. What is the latest on community colleges?
A. “Community college is still at a concept stage. The concept though is workable. We have ITIs and Polytechnics in place. Add to that a local industry and that is your community college. Their courses should be relevant to the existing businesses in that area where they are located. The industries may do hand holding of the college with respect to the course curriculum. For instance, if there is a Pharma industry nearby, then the college may start a lab technician’s course with the help of that industry. The industry will then automatically engage with the college on a continuous basis.
A community college should also be aware of opportunities. While in UK sometime back, I visited a community college. The Olympics were approaching. Large numbers of people were expected to visit the venue. Naturally, there was a need for hospitality arrangements. The community college did some quick thinking and designed courses in catering, cooking, restaurant management. They trained close to 5,000 people to cater to the need of the hour.
Q. Are you thinking in terms of starting some new courses?
A. I would like to start a degree course in sports, and also in national defense matters. Today political parties are too much embroiled in domestic issues. Issues of larger national importance take a back seat. I am getting people to start work on this.