A riddle wrapped inside an enigma. This can very well summarise the higher education scene in India. There has been no dearth of committees formed by successive governments at the Centre over the last four decades to probe into the ills plaguing the system. No doubt, the report submitted by these panels highlighted the lacunae and quite a few recommendations emerged as a result of their labour. However, as it often happens, these reports are now gathering dust in the shelves.
If a list is to be made of even a few of these committees, one glaring fact will come to the surface. The terms of reference harp on the same continuing malaise and the urgent need for setting right the defects.
Without going too far into the past, one can begin with the New Education Policy of 1986 and the Programme of Action (POA) that was its sequel. There were admirable documents which portrayed the issues in quite a transparent fashion. Then followed the Review Committee on NPE in 1990 headed by Acharya Ramamurthy. The impressive title of its perspective paper on education was 'Toward an Enlightened and Humane Society"
The formation of the National Knowledge Commission in 2006 with Sam Pitroda as chairman produced a sort of sensation in academic circles. The NKC was set up with the avowed 'Objective of Transforming India' into Knowledge Society". Its recommendations included: Creation of more universities, altering the regulator mechanism for higher education, increasing public funding, and diversifying sources of financing.
As a sequel to certain recommendations of NKC, a committee under the late Prof. Yashpal was constituted in 2008. What was the result? The National Commission on Higher Education and Research (NCHER) Bill 2010. Yashpal committee frowned upon the pernicious practice of according "deemed university" status to educational institutions. This, of course, touched a raw nerve among the private education agencies (Vested interests) which had capitalised on certain provisions of the UGC Act and embarked on a process of commercialisation of higher education. The NCHER Bill sought in a way to rectify things, but it was stillborn.
In the more recent past, two panels (One headed by TSR Subramanian, former Cabinet Secretary and the other by Kasturirangan, former ISRO chairman) came into being. They also produced documents which claimed a lot of media attention. What matters here is the way in which such a complex field as education is sought to be treated by the powers that be.
India is a vast country with a diversity of languages, cultures, traditions and institutions of all hopes. Setting up so many committees, one after another at intervals of two or three years, may satisfy the government in power commending these panels to produce their reports in a specified time without an opportunity of adequate consultation with state holders does not renowned to the credit of the government and the panel members. This practice has been going on over the last two decades or more.
The latest flash in the pan is this: Bestowing the tag of 'Institution of Eminence' on some institutions, thanks to an empowered Expert Committee set up by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD). These include ten public institutions and ten in the private category, which have, of course, earned a good reputation. The idea is to encourage them to be counted among the world's best. Quite laudable, no doubt.
The question ultimately to be faced by society is: Are we addressing vital issue with a view to reach effective, long term solutions? Regrettably, the answer is in the negative. Small notifications in suggested remedies of one committee by another may satisfy the authorities and the mandarins of education for a brief period. But the parents and students, along with the foot soldiers, namely the teachers, who form the crucial segments in the fabric of education are taken for a ride as it were.
(The author is veteran teacher and journalist)...