(The NEC of AIFUCTO has decided to hold a nation wide debate on Yashpal Committee Report on higher education with a view to formulating AIFUCTO’s response to the report. What is presented below is a draft for discussion. Responses may be e-mailed to the President / General Secretary @ firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. For full text of Yashpal Committee Report log on to www.aifucto.org)
Prof.Yashpal committee report on higher education is a curious document in many ways. Yashpal could happily exceed his limited mandate which was only to make a progress report on the performance of UGC and AICTE. He could prevail on the then HRD Minister Arjun Singh to change the nomenclature of the Committee from “UGC /AICTE Review Committee” to “Committee to Advise on the Renovation and Rejuvenation of Higher Education”. But he could not change his mandate .The office memorandum permitting the name change categorically states that the constitution and the terms of reference of the committee would remain the same. Arjun Singh and Prof Yashpal, both well matched in age and wit, agreed to disagree with each other. Accordingly, they pursued their diverse hobby horses ---that of reforming UGC /AICTE and that of dismantling UGC /AICTE and a whole set of central regulatory agencies along with them. There is no opportunity now to watch the endgame in this battle of wits. Arjun Singh is no longer the HRD Minister. However it would be interesting to conjecture how Arjun Singh would have reacted to the report that had completely recast its mandate.
The hasty acknowledgment of Yashpal committee report and National Knowledge Commission (NKC) report by Kapil Sibal, the new HRD Minister, as his Bible for reforms and his ominous assertion that reforms cannot wait give little respite for such idle curiosities. “What Manmohan Singh did to the economy in 1991 must be done to the education sector in 2009”, the HRD Minister has stated. It is not accidental that he has clubbed the Yashpal and NKC reports together .While there are basic differences between the brazenly pro-reform approaches of NKC and the humane and academic orientation of the Yashpal committee recommendations, the major administrative recommendation of both NKC and Yashpal appear to be the same. Though Yashpal protests that his brainchild National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER) is different from Independent Regulatory Authority for Higher Education (IRAHE) mooted by NKC, the obvious resemblances in the constitution and powers of the institutions cannot be overlooked.
Both IRAHE and NCHER are conceived as apex regulatory bodies with over arching powers and responsibilities. Both are required to be set up by an act of Parliament. Both will have advisory, administrative, funding and regulating functions. The status and mode of appointment of the chief functionary of the NCHER will be similar to that of the Chief Election Commissioner. There would be six other members representing diverse fields of knowledge and experience, all enjoying the status of members of the Election Commission. Existing thirteen regulatory bodies like UGC / AICTE will be subsumed within the new body. If at all these bodies are permitted to continue, their roles will be limited to the conduct of qualifying tests for professionals in their respective fields. They would be divested of their academic functions.
One of the important drawbacks in the structure of NCHER as recommended by Yashpal is that it has ignored the importance of consultative process in the evolution of educational policies. The NCHER, as it is presently conceived, is a body of seven wise men. It is assumed that they will be able to rise above narrow prejudices and personal biases in policy formulation and implementation. There is no guarantee that a body selected by a search committee comprising the Prime Minister the leader of the opposition in the Parliament and the Chief Justice of India and insulated against day to day political interference and endowed with adequate finances would always act wisely and in public interest. Policy formulations made by such an authority, even if it has to be vetted by the Parliament, would carry an aura of authority. The check against arbitrariness in policy formulation and implementation is a mechanism for larger consultation and monitoring. Therefore, an arrangement for mandatory consultation with all stake holders in education including the states and the universities should have been built into the structure of the proposed NCHER. Similarly a provision for ensuring accountability not only to the Parliament but to the larger academic community should also have been provided. Given the impatience with which Kapil Sibal is itching for reforms, such a process, which would slow down decision making, is unlikely to find favour with the mandarins at MHRD.
The proposed NCHER is likely to collapse under the weight of its responsibilities, if ever it makes an attempt to grapple with all of them. A more likely and less welcome prospect is that NCHER would continue to survive at the cost of its most important agenda – academic innovation and regulation. The UGC has had a similar fate. Conceived as an academic, regulatory and funding agency, the UGC largely ignored its academic responsibilities and messed up its funding functions. While no tears would be shed over the demise of UGC/AICTE and other similar regulatory agencies which have become corrupt and dysfunctional over the years, there is no reason why these agencies should be dispensed with, lock, stock and barrel. These could be pruned appropriately and asked to continue with the function of funding, of course with a greater sense of accountability than they are used to. The proposed NCHER could take over the academic responsibilities from these agencies and remain contented with it. A separation of academic and funding responsibilities and an arrangement for sharing such responsibilities by different agencies are likely to ensure better results in respect of both than combining them under one roof.
Despite Kapil Sibal’s camaraderie with Yashpal and Sam Pitroda, the two veterans share little common ground in education. Yashpal’s vision of education is the very opposite of Sam Pitroda. The vision of NKC is fragmented and divisive .It sought to divide disciplines, institutions and academics into different categories. It prioritized new generation disciplines with commercial prospects over traditional disciplines and national level institutions of excellence over state level universities. It prioritized application of knowledge over creation of knowledge. It wanted to divide the teaching community into different categories on the basis of the market value of their disciplines. It wanted professional education sector to be opened up for commercial exploitation. It wanted the market to set the agenda for academic reforms and access in higher and technical education.
The holistic vision of Higher Education presented by Yashpal committee is refreshingly different from the narrow commercial orientation of the NKC report. The report warns against cubicalization of knowledge by creating exclusive centers of learning for different disciplines. The report tries to recover the idea of a university as a meeting place of all knowledge available through all disciplines. It stresses the need for learning across disciplines by giving students opportunity to learn subjects outside their field of specialization .It promotes the concept of interdisciplinarity by perceiving that new knowledge is likely to be created at the intersections of disciplines. The committee regards both theoretical learning and applied learning as equally important and recognizes the use of local data and resources to make knowledge covered in the syllabus come alive as experience. It recommends that curriculum reform would include compulsory exposure and engagement with different kinds of works, including manual work.
Yashpal Committee recommends that existing IITs and IIMs and such other institutions should be transformed into universities by providing access to all disciplines. The report makes a strong plea for integrating teaching with research and research with teaching. It rightly lays stress on the development of undergraduate education which is the foundation of higher education. While NKC had sought the separation of undergraduate education from post graduate education except in a few institutions of excellence, Yashpal committee recommends the integration of undergraduate with post graduate learning in all institutions.
Yashpal committee report regards autonomy as an essential ingredient of excellence. It wants the universities to become self-regulating agencies. It says that the teacher should have complete autonomy in academic matters. He should have freedom to frame his courses and to choose the manner of assessing his students. The freedom of the student consists in choosing his courses and the pace of his studies. The report lays stress on cooperation rather than competition. The need for developing close interaction among neighboring institutions by forming clusters for enhancing both access and quality is given considerable attention in the report.
Yashpal committee projects accountability as an important social obligation of academic institutions. One of the concrete issues raised by the committee in this connection is in regard to the Deemed Universities, especially the denovo variety. The committee criticizes the cancerous growth of denovo deemed universities in recent times and demands that the provision be scrapped. The report also raises issues of equity in higher education. It points out that the capitation for engineering courses vary from Rs.1 lakh to 10 lakh, for MBBS from 20 lakhs to 40 lakhs, for dental courses Rs.5 to 12 lakhs and courses in arts and science from Rs.30,000 to 50,000/-. It calls for measures to ensure that all meritorious students are given access to higher education, irrespective of their financial status. It warns against indiscriminately opening up the higher education sector for foreign investment. It would have been better if the committee had closed its doors to all direct foreign investment and only recommended academic collaboration of Indian universities with the best of foreign universities, short listed for the purpose by a competent body on the basis of transparent norms.
The similarity between NKC and Yashpal Committee reports are confined to the central level regulatory mechanism. But the reports differ considerably in their academic perspectives. Obviously Yashpal committee report cannot be implemented along with NKC report. An implicit assumption that runs through the Yashpal committee report is that the grand vision of education as outlined in it would be imbibed by the seven wise men who would constitute the NCHER. Such complacence would be misplaced even if the philosophy of Yaspal Report is incorporated into the text of the statute that would bring NCHER into being. The most telling example is the failure of the Indian State to govern the country in accordance with the democratic, secular and socialist tenets enshrined in the preamble to the constitution. The chances of such failure are greater today.
The recommendations of the National Knowledge Commission have already been acted upon by the Government in part by incorporating its proposals in the action plan for 11th Five Year Plan. The project of setting up numerous IITs, IIITs & IIMs as institutions specializing in their respective disciplines reflect priorities different from that envisaged by the Yashpal Committee. The islands of excellence sought to be set up under PPP mode leave little room for adequate and equitable state funding of central and state institutions, as recommended by Yashpal committee. Implementation of the recommendations of Yashpal committee would thus necessitate a rethinking on the priorities and programmes of the 11th Plan. Such a step is very unlikely to materialize. But the Yashpal’s report could be compromised and co-opted. Unfortunately, the seeds for such cooption have inadvertently been sown by Yashpal himself through his half baked notions of NCHER.
The new Government at the Centre makes no secret of its commitment to the neo liberal agenda and to its distrust of the democratic process of decision making. The announcement by the HRD Minister of the 100 day action plan which includes such sweeping changes as the discontinuance of examinations at the 10th standard is indicative of the democratic deficit in governance that has become the hall mark of the new dispensation at the Centre. The Minister did not consider it necessary to consult the Parliament or the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) before making such an announcement. The equation drawn by Kapil Sibal between such dissimilar reports as the Yespal Committee Report and the NKC Report is a pointer to the shape of things to come. It is quite likely that Yashpal committee report would be subsumed within the NKC Report.