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A Critique of Yashpal Committee Report on Higher Education from the Perspective of Self Reliance and Freedom

V.K. Tripathi The Committee to Advise on Renovation and Rejuvenation of Higher Education, headed by Prof. Yashpal, has submitted its draft report to MHRD on March 1, 2009. The report has some innovative suggestions that may help substantative quality improvement in higher education. It proposes research laboratories to engage in teaching in neighbouring universities, universities to have on-campus undergraduate (UG) programs so that top ranking professors and researchers could teach and interact with younger minds, single discipline institutes like IITs and IIMs to be converted into sort of universities where horizontal mobility and cross-discipline knowledge could be acquired, projects become an integral part of learning by which students apply knowledge to problems on ground, subsidiary courses (in honours programs) be replaced by elective courses from among the main courses of other departments, every needy student be provided with loan or scholarship, the university teachers be trained through full fledged orientation programs, and so on. It proposes full autonomy to universities with democratization of their functioning and recommends creation of National Commission for Higher Education and Research by dissolving bodies like UGC and AICTE. These are useful recommendations. Yet the report oversights the cause of affiliated colleges, where 80% of our UG students study, and of those who have no access to higher education. There are two distinct streams of students in higher education, one, those coming from government schools or low tuition schools with weak command on English and lack of worldly exposure, and second, those coming from public schools with strong career motivation. How would the two fit in the same program of study? How would they gain self reliance and how would they commit themselves to the uplift of those left behind? These are serious issues and it is in their context that the vision of ‘university’ needs to be revisited.

The Vision of ‘University’ The report views university as a place where new ideas germinate, strike roots and grow tall and sturdy. It is a unique space, which covers the entire universe of knowledge. It is a place where creative minds converge, interact with each other and construct visions of new realities, where established notions of truth are challenged in the pursuit of knowledge. This is a noble vision. However, only a few universities in the world would qualify on this scale. There are severe constraints on researchers and teachers. In USA, for instance, faculty is under constant pressure, for its tenure, survival and promotion, to bring research contracts. Many of them end up working on defence

projects despite having strong reservations about government defence policies. Seldom have universities risen in support of freedom when their government launched invasions against other nations. Gandhi would not call for boycott of Indian universities had they been active in freedom movement. I think a more down to earth notion of universities is to be developed. The education at all levels must keep three vital objectives in focus:

i) To develop the capacity to understand and think, ii) To impart technical and professional skills to every child, so that, in future, she/he can stand on her/his own and fulfil the needs of the nation. iii) To develop sensitivity and commitment to freedom (of oneself as well as others) so that exploitation, discrimination and inequality could be diminished.

Quality Improvement The report makes innovative suggestions in relation to the first objective. One can add a tutorial component to lectures to develop conceptual clarity. A major problem is that a majority of the colleges are away from university campuses, hence, how could the UG students have the privilege of lectures by university professors/ researchers as do the students of IITs have? Computer aided lecturing could be an option (though a distant second best) but the tutorials must be conducted locally. A reorientation program must run for students having deficiency in the medium of instruction and exposure. The major responsibility for teaching should lie on local faculty. Ten years ago the total number of teachers, spread in 11,000 colleges of the country, was above 2.5 lakh. For quality teaching they need to be activated/ involved in research. Five years ago only 3% of research money was being used for extramural research (the research conducted in colleges, universities and IITs), rest was used in research laboratories with hardly any teaching component. A very major shift in the distribution of research funding and research policy is required. The teachers also need to be trained for tutorials and projects.

Access to Technical/ Professional Education In order to impart technical/ professional skills to every student, from the perspective of his/ her self reliance, the walls between professional/ technical and non- professional colleges must fall. Every B.A., B.Sc, student should have access to technical courses and these courses must form about one third of their curriculum. In March 2007, the country had 2439 engineering colleges and 1917 polytechnics with respective intake of 6.36 lakh (B.Tech. first year) and 3.38 lakh (diploma first year). Besides these 996 institutes offered MCA and 1119 offered MBA programs with annual intake of 53,000 and 89,500 respectively. These institutes can be galvanised to give access to B.A./ B.Sc. students of non-professional colleges in their professional courses at reasonable cost. The prime responsibility of premiere institutes like IITs is to strengthen the base of technical education in the country. So far they have evaded this responsibility, despite government

spending over ten times more money per student per year in these institutions as compared to a college student. This must change.

Sensitivity and Freedom The biggest deficiency of higher education is that it is not developing sensitivity and commitment to freedom. The social science subjects, economics, history, linguistics etc. are specially meant to help students see exploitation and discrimination with clarity. From among the students of these disciplines emerge civil servants, judges, lawyers, businessmen, economists, etc. who can assert their authority but can not see the realities of living of the masses. May the concepts of surplus value and per capita GDP be ingrained in their psyche so that they could quantify exploitation and feel for the masses. The per student annual cost of education, assuming teacher to student ratio of 1:15 and other costs being 100% of teachers’ salaries, would amount to Rs, 50,000. This is about two times the per capita GDP. As one envisions to bring all the interested senior secondary graduates into the realm of higher education, the tuition fees for any UG program of study must remain below per capita GDP, hence, half the cost of education must be borne by the state. In the courses where cost is high, the institute may charge the entire cost of education from prospective employers (who are the real beneficiaries) rather than burdening the parents.