Report of ‘The Committee to Advise on Renovation and Rejuvenation of Higher Education in India’
Renovation and Rejuvenation of Universities
(An Interim Report)
1 March 2009
Table of Contents
3.2 Low pedagogic quality
3.3 Distances: Within and outside
3.4 Isolation of the Indian Institutes of Technology
3.5 Divide between research bodies and universities
3.6 University as an inclusive space
3.7 State universities and affiliated colleges
3.8 Poor governance of universities
3.9 Interference in university functioning
3.10 Interference and loss of autonomy
3.11 Subversion of the principle of autonomy
3.12 Growth of private-commercial providers
3.13 Affordability problems
3.14 Other apprehensions about private universities
3.15 Unhealthy growth in the number of deemed universities
3.16 Multiplicity of regulatory systems
4.1 Theory and practice
4.2 The challenge of local knowledge
4.3 Curriculum issues and syllabus-making
4.4 Work experience as an aspect of learning
4.5 Rehabilitating professional education in the university
4.6 Teacher education
4.7 Few premises on institutional autonomy of universities
5. Reforming the Regulatory System
5.1 Objectives of the commission for higher education
5.2 Restructuring Universities
The government of India, through a notification issued by the MHRD in February 2008, constituted a committee to a) review the functioning of the UGC and the AICTE and, b) critically assess their role and preparedness in providing institutional leadership to the emerging demands of access, equity, relevance and quality of higher education/technical education and the university system. The terms of reference also included assessment of the role that the UGC and the AICTE play in determining and enforcing standards of higher/technical education in state universities and looking into the possibilities of introducing a system of incentives and disincentives so that national standards of higher education/technical education are not compromised or diluted. The committee was also mandated to examine UGC’s mechanisms in coordinating standards of higher education vis-à-vis the functional role of other statutory agencies such as AICTE, MCI, DCI, NCI, NCTE, DEC, etc. Later, the nomenclature of the committee was changed and it was named as ‘The Committee to Advise on Renovation and Rejuvenation of Higher Education in India’.
The committee felt that it was important to understand contemporary realities of the higher education sector in India and also the expectations that people in general have from this system before making any recommendation regarding restructuring of the agencies that monitor and regulate it. The efficacy of any monitoring or regulatory agency would be judged by its ability to respond to these changes and expectations. Any measure to restructure the UGC and other regulatory bodies will have to be determined by a clarity on the new challenges that have emerged in higher education. These challenges emanate from the dynamic growth of this sector in India. Going by the recent debate on higher education, it seems that there is a general agreement in the Indian society that there is a need for new policy directions. Absence of a coherent policy frame will cause chaos leading to a crisis.
The committee is aware of the work that has been done by various other committees and commissions on this issue, the most recent being the report of the National Knowledge Commission (NKC) on Higher Education. The committee shares the concerns articulated by the NKC regarding several issues on higher education. It feels that these concerns will have to be addressed keeping in view the geo-cultural and geo-political diversities In India, which play a crucial role in the shaping of higher education in the country. This also requires wide-ranging consultation with the academic community.
The urgency of reform in the higher education system has arisen because this sector has hardly seen any major reform in the last forty years. The world around us has changed dramatically but our higher education continues to operate in the old policy frame. There is a need for a major paradigm shift in this sector which would not happen with small incremental and unrelated changes here and there.
Recognizing the need to understand the complex ground reality, the committee travelled across the length and breadth of the country and had direct interactions with a wide range of academia. It held consultations with the heads of the academic institutions, which included public and private universities, Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), different professional institutions along with the members of the academic community, including teachers, researchers and students. These consultations were held at Thiruvananthapuram, Pune, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Amritsar, Kolkata, Varanasi, Guwahati, Bangalore and Delhi. Individual interaction with scientists, other professionals, and representatives of industry, students, researchers and teachers helped the committee to gain an insight into the nature of the problems and challenges facing higher education in India. The committee also invited comments over the internet. Its consultations were widely covered by the media, generating further feedback from various sections.
The absence of institutionalized and well-structured research on different aspects of higher education in India has led to a situation where many different kinds of perceptions and prescriptions are articulated without any supporting data and research. Despite this limitation, the committee gained a deeper understanding of the critical issues afflicting the Indian higher education sector by direct interaction with the academic community and has made some suggestions which could help to resolve them. The committee has sought to reflect the consensus in the academic community at large on the desired direction of higher education in India. Even though many eminent academics have reflected on the issues of higher education in the past, the committee recognizes the unique call of the present moment when the higher education system has grown and expanded in a way radically altering its character.
The committee is aware of the numerous problems that the system of higher education is facing in India. They range from the issues of shortage of competent faculty, their service conditions, the access to higher education, the fee structure, regional imbalances and a host of others. The committee does not seek to suggest or prescribe solutions to each of these problems. It has very consciously kept its focus on the essential and fundamental aspects of the critical educational processes, which, if not understood and addressed properly, would keep creating further distortions. These aspects include issues of the holistic nature of education, curricular renovation, autonomy of academics in general and institutions in particular and the desirable regulatory processes.
Higher education is primarily a state responsibility though there is a substantial role for the private sector. Issues of access, equity and social justice have to be considered concomitantly with the need for fostering quality and excellence so as to develop a creative and innovative human resource base. With this in view, the report seeks to reconstruct the basic idea of university.
The challenge that the universities and other higher educational institutions have to respond to is how to connect up the fragmented reality that has resulted from the powerful forces of modernity. It is the multi-vocal and contemplative nature of the university, which puts it in a most advantageous position to meet this challenge. It is desirable that there are different kinds of universities known for their different approaches and areas of strength. It is also necessary to avoid attempts to enforce uniform curricula and standards. It will be necessary to go beyond mere reform of the regulatory systems for higher education and to revisit the important epistemological issues underlying higher education. Creative and flexible mechanisms that ensure the autonomy of the diverse institutional responses should not be curbed. Such an approach is a precondition for producing an environment that nurtures a democratic, tolerant and inquisitive mind, ready not only to engage with but also create new ideas, free of regimentation. The committee hopes that the implementation of its suggestions will help to bring about the much needed paradigm shift in higher education.
Calls for reforms and renovations in higher education are not new. The context in which this issue is being discussed now is, however, radically different. We are passing through a phase, which is witnessing an unprecedented growth in the number of aspirants for university education. This is also an era of emergence of new kinds of knowledge areas.
There is a resolve on the part of the state to enable 20% of the 18-22 age-group to enter the campuses of the Indian universities in the 11th Plan period. A far greater number of young boys and girls, who are first generation school-goers of their communities, are now passing through the middle-level phases of their schooling. This has been possible due to various consistent efforts by society to ensure enrolment from social groups like the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes, women, minority religious communities and other economically depressed groups, mostly coming from the rural areas. Their entry into the hallowed spaces of higher learning should critically change the way we have been looking at the goals and direction of the policies and institutional framework of higher education. The culture of the classroom and pedagogic methods will have to change drastically. This is keeping in view the fact that with the entry of a large number of first-generation university goers, the very profile of the university campus, which has remained unchanged since the colonial times, would be transformed. There is an urgent need to further democratize universities to make them more equitable and inclusive places which would relate to the real life demands of the society. At the same time, universities should be able to excite the creative imagination of the young minds and create an ambience which helps generate diverse kinds of creative and academic innovations.
Any new effort to suggest renovation of higher education will also have to take into account the fact that for the past two decades new economic forces have already made a decisive impact on the systems of higher education. Opening up of new, technology-based, work areas has created a huge demand for the training of youth on a mass scale in these fields. Since the university structure had not anticipated this development, it was caught unawares. It has adversely impacted the work of knowledge creation, which was supposed to be the primary task of the institutes of higher learning. Chaotic expansion in many areas of higher education, largely outside the ambit of the university system, has not proved to be friendly to the majority of aspirants.
A sea-change of perception in the public mind about higher education has taken place. Traditional universities are now looked upon only as certifying agencies, with suspicion, and do not create public confidence, which is now drifting towards privately run universities and institutes. While there exist some centres of excellence in the private sector, most private institutions, instead of helping rejuvenation of higher education, have become commercial entities with very low quality.
The fear of the loss of the agency of the university and the pressure of the ever-expanding demand for quality education has been met with a nervous and hurried response. Creation of a few institutions of excellence and some Central universities, without addressing the issue of deprivation that the state-funded universities are suffering from, would only sharpen the existing inequalities. Mere numerical expansion, without an understanding of the symptoms of poor education would also not help.
A major area of concern which this expansion has not been able to address is an impoverished undergraduate education. The prospect of 6 millions of first degree holders passing through this system which has not renewed itself and has not been able to provide opportunities to the students to avail of a variety of curricular experiences which would be of relevance to their real life needs should lead us focus our attention on revitalizing our undergraduate programmes and prioritize them in our new scheme of higher education.
Renovation of higher education in India requires a focus on the very epistemology of knowledge, which has, since colonial times, determined the way the universities are designed. The dimensions of the growth in knowledge have begun to challenge the boundaries of disciplines, which so far have kept knowledge fragmented. The aim of education is to help the young find their role in the world at large and find ways to address the problems facing the society. It demands a holistic approach towards the human enterprise of knowledge and would lead us to walk away from the fragmentary attitudes responsible for the creation of stand-alone, specialized centers of higher education and the multiple structures of regulation that are set up to run such institutes.
Recent reforms in school education must now be reciprocated by significant changes in the university system, especially in curriculum and examination policies and governance systems. Treating education in a holistic manner logically implies an all-encompassing university system, dynamically and creatively responding to the ever-changing needs of life and society. Universities should thus become bodies of scholars growing in organic connection with society, taking responsibility for their decisions. Any regulatory system which has to cater to this sector should facilitate and catalyze this process.
There is an urgent need today to revitalize higher education and free it from an intrusive bureaucracy, mindless regulation and commercial pressures. Revitalizing the idea of university in an entirely new egalitarian context is the need of the hour.
The University Grants Commission (UGC) was set up as a statutory body with the mandate to perform an overarching function of steering higher education in the country. However, new structural necessities have emerged in the field of higher education, which could not have been visualized earlier while designing the UGC. Moreover, emergence of numerous national-level bodies, each looking after a separate area of professional education in isolation, has further fragmented the policies and resulted in poor coordination in their implementation. To keep pace with the changes impacting education, the higher education sector in India would require a radically different and new regulatory organizational architecture replacing the existing ones, including the UGC and other bodies.
In this context, it is proposed that an all-encompassing apex body, to be called the Higher Education Commission (HEC), be set up to replace the UGC and other regulatory bodies with a larger mandate of overseeing all areas of post-secondary education. The new HEC would be academic in nature and exist to help universities and other centres of learning identify their roles and activities and in guarding their autonomy and facilitate the distribution of resources available among them, keeping in view their various needs.
A university is a place where new ideas germinate, strike roots and grow wings. It covers the whole of the universe of knowledge. It is a place where creative minds converge, interact with each other and construct visions of new realities. Established notions of truth are challenged in the pursuit of knowledge. To be able to do this, universities have to be autonomous spaces. They are diverse in their design and organization, reflecting the unique historical and socio-cultural settings in which they have grown. Through research and teaching, they create, evaluate and further knowledge and culture. The principle of moral and intellectual autonomy from political authorities and economic powers is ingrained in the very idea of the university. This autonomy ensures freedom in research and training and it is expected that the governments and the society would respect this fundamental principle. Teaching and research have to be inseparable because the task of the university in not only to impart knowledge to the young people but to give them opportunities to create their own knowledge. Active and constant engagement with the young minds and hearts of the society also implies that the universities are to serve the society as a whole and, to achieve this, a considerable investment in continuing education is essential.
The founders of the Indian Republic, with these essential features of a university at the back of their minds, realized even during the freedom struggle that the future of Indian democracy depended largely on the ability of the society to create new knowledge. The enrichment and development of cultural, scientific and technical resources was to be done in centres of culture, knowledge and research, as represented by true universities. These expectations were to be fulfilled in a social context characterized by a sharp division between the rural and the urban, the elite and the masses, and between men and women. Since a university is based on the fundamental principle of transcendence and meeting of minds from diverse backgrounds, higher education was increasingly perceived as a means to overcome caste and class hierarchy, patriarchy and other cultural prejudices and also a source of new knowledge and skills, a space for creativity and innovations. Higher education, therefore, was considered a national responsibility and the state had to make necessary provisions to realize its potentials.
The university has been also regarded as the trustee of the humanist traditions of the world and it constantly endeavors to fulfill its mission by attaining universal knowledge, which can be done only by transcending geographical, cultural and political boundaries. By doing so, it affirms the need for all cultures to know each other and keeps alive the possibilities of dialogue among them. It is also important to remember that the university aims to develop a scholarly and scientific outlook. This outlook involves the ability to set aside special interests for the sake of impartial analysis. Standing for more than specific factual knowledge, a scientific outlook calls for an analytical and questioning attitude and the continuous exercise of reason. All this requires us to go beyond specialized knowledge and competence. This universal approach to knowledge demands that boundaries of disciplines be porous and scholars be constantly on guard against the tendency towards cubicalization of knowledge.
Apart from resisting fragmentation of knowledge, the idea of a university should aspire to encompass the world of work in all its forms. Work constitutes the human sphere where knowledge and skills are born, and where new knowledge takes shape in response to social and personal needs. Indeed, the experience and culture of work represents that core space where the humanities and the sciences meet.
 Higher Education in India: Issues Related to Expansion, Quality, Inclusiveness and Finance, UGC 2008
 Kothari Committee Report,1964