Science Advisory Council: Declare Higher Education as a National Mission for the Next Decade

An action-oriented document on higher education is prepared as early as possible to prepare the country to face many of the problems and challenges in the higher education sector. Giving the recommendation of the Science Advisory Council to the Prime Minister (SAC-PM) regarding higher education, which has since been submitted a 10-point check-list covering various issues, Prof. C.N.R. Rao, Chairman, SAC-PM said, “it is necessary for the Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD) to declare higher education as a national mission for the next decade and designate capable individuals to be in-charge of each important item in the check-list without much delay.” Prof. Rao added, “ What is required is a serious application of mind to these and related issues, to ensure that major transformations are brought about in the country that would create a healthier higher education scenario. It is only when we bring in such a transformation in the higher education that we can hope to meaningfully compete with neighbouring countries such as South Korea, Singapore and China.”

Expressing concern about serious problems and challenges India facing today, Prof. Rao said, “There is big rush of young people to go for higher education, declining quality and indifferent performance of institutions. Besides, there are serious problems related to administration of the education sector and increasing global competition. These problems will get even more severe in the near future. In spite of the variety of problems, India is also a land of opportunities with certain advantages, young India being an especially noteworthy feature. In view of the crucial importance of the higher education sector for the overall development of the country, we found it imperative to highlight the most essential aspects, which need immediate attention in our effort to improve the status and quality of higher education and to ensure that the steps taken are the right ones.”

Prof Rao said, “It is time to seriously consider a possible scenario wherein the young India advantage enables India to emerge as the provider of trained manpower for the entire world in the next 20-30 years. This could be a worthwhile national objective. What is required is a serious application of mind to these and related issues, to ensure that major transformations are brought about in the country that would create a healthier higher education scenario. It is only when we bring in such a transformation in the higher education that we can hope to meaningfully compete with neighboring countries such as South Korea, Singapore and China.”

The check-list begins with a serious manpower planning effort. It says it is necessary to handle the surge of young students in the next two to three decades and to give them direction to different areas of study, instead of all of them going for standard university courses in science, engineering and other subjects. The Council appeals to ensure that undergraduate education is relevant to employment, well rounded and at the same time sufficient for taking up higher studies. Variety of course packages and flexible curricula will be helpful in this direction. A group needs to be appointed by MHRD to prepare a vision document, which foresees the problems 20 years hence.

In the year of science (2011-12) declared by the Prime Minister, to make India a major contributor of higher quality research and a global leader in science and technology, around ten higher educational institutions could be provided all the support required to enable them compete with the best of institutions in the advanced countries. Today, there is not a single educational institution in India which is equal to the best institutions in the advanced countries. It is important that in the next 10-15 years, several of our educational institutions are in the top 100 in the world.

Talking about the present examination system, the Council suggests to re-look at the entire examination system including the system of final examinations, entrance examinations, qualifying examinations, selection examinations, and so on. It further says we have an examination system but not an education system. Examinations have got increasing importance in the last few years and Entrance examinations have become a menace. IIT entrance examinations have the reputation of being difficult and purposeful, but they also had a negative effect on young minds. Young people suffer so much to succeed in these entrance examinations, and in the process lose excitement in education itself. Those who do succeed would have got exhausted and are not able to perform as well as young people with fresh minds. For entrance examinations related to admission to higher education institutions, there should be only one national examination, which should be able to assess the eligibility of the candidates.

The Council suggests the administration of the education system must be given to person having interest in education and background from that particular stream instead of giving them to administrators trained in bureaucratic practice. Unless this situation is changed, it will be difficult to improve the quality of educational institutions. Even more serious is the direct intervention of governments in administering institutions, particularly those run by the States. For example, governments choose vice-chancellors of universities. Universities are overloaded with work related to the conduct of examinations. Some of them are too large because of the affiliated colleges. There should be guidelines as to the maximum number of students in educational institutions.

State governments should be persuaded to support higher education with greater care as well as investment. Administrative autonomy, dedicated budget for R&D, recruitment and promotion of faculty are some of the other issues that require attention. It will be counter-productive to allow uncontrolled increase in the number of government-supported colleges and universities without careful consideration of manpower requirements. It is also suggested to plan for educational institutions in the future, number of university type institutions, different curricula for general-purpose basic degrees and degrees with subject specialization, find the best way(s) of rating institutions and fix criteria and procedures for appointment of Chairmen of Governing bodies of institutions, Directors of national institutes and VCs of Central Universities etc.

Greater importance to the teaching profession and accord due respect to teachers is necessary. This would involve providing good emoluments and amenities as well as continuing education opportunities to teachers. It also recommends High-quality continuing education and training programmes for teachers at all levels should be provided on a massive scale.

In order to tap most talented young people from rural India, the Council suggests to increase the number of fully supported residential schools up to higher secondary level in rural India. Best of these students should get opportunities to pursue higher studies in the best of our institutions. It also says to make serious efforts to promote creativity and innovation amongst the youth. The examination system as well as the reward system seem to have destroyed creativity in young people. We need highly creative and innovative people to take up challenges in science and other subjects and also to tackle problems related to national and global needs.

 

Source: Press Information Bureau, Govt of India

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