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Long-standing issues and imperatives in higher education

Indian higher education provided in its majority of institutions needs a boost in its quality. Some of the important factors influencing quality are infrastructure, teachers and the teaching-learning process.

Ved Prakash

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School education and higher education have a symbiotic relationship as the former is the basis for influencing the quality of the latter. Higher education in real sense is the basis of social, cultural, political and economic transformation of the country. The role of the universities thus becomes of paramount importance. We need to emphasise that universities are not only for dissemination of knowledge, they have an onerous responsibility to create new knowledge in all domains as this is the perspective which is at the heart of the idea of a university.

The idea has been beautifully expressed in the Report of a Committee on “Renovation and Rejuvenation of Higher Education” chaired by Prof Yash Pal, where it states: “A university is 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.  Established notions of truth are challenged in the pursuit of knowledge”. This vision of a university needs to be embedded into the thought process of the academic faculty and the students alike.

The annual growth rate of enrolment in higher education in India was frustratingly elusive until the mid-sixties. It showed some sign of improvement in the seventies when it registered an annual growth rate of about 2.5%. It remained in the commando crawl phase for a long time registering an annual growth rate of about 4-5% until 2005-06. Thereafter, it registered a sudden spike in 2012 crossing the Gross Enrolment Ratio of 20%. It was great but short-lived. Since then the annual growth rate has not maintained the same tempo, though the GER has crossed the 26.7% mark.

The current position reveals that the gender and social gaps seem to be narrowing down. Though the expansion process has accelerated during this century, it is still low for the country to become globally competitive. Therefore, there is a need to expand the system. It is also important to further pro-actively address the concerns of social and regional equity in higher education, as its futuristic agenda. This will require continued special support to historically disadvantaged groups for their faster, sustainable and more inclusive growth and enhanced effort to improve enrolment ratios and reduce drop-out rates, especially for girls among Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs) and Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and minorities. 

The expansion of higher education in India is accompanied by widening disparities across different regions, genders and social groups. The inter-state disparities in enrollment have increased over a period of time. Though the social disparities continue to be large, the disparities between gender groups are narrowing down. The state policies need to focus not only on expansion but also on equity in expansion. Some of the states like Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, etc, need to accord greater priority to higher education in the coming years.

In spite of the Persons with Disabilities (Equal opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995, a large number of differently-abled persons continue to exist on the margins of the society and have yet to fully benefit from participation in higher education. Initiation of special action plans in consultation with the stakeholders need to be ensured so that their concerns are adequately met. 

Indian higher education provided in its majority of institutions needs a boost in its quality. Some of the important factors influencing quality are infrastructure, teachers and the teaching-learning process. Many universities and affiliated colleges have poor infrastructural facilities and face severe shortage of qualified teachers. In general, around 40% of the teaching positions remain vacant in many institutions which is a cause of concern. Scaling of teachers in the university system should become a priority agenda for the country.

The UGC established External Quality Assurance (EQA) mechanisms to carry out accreditation through the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) in 1994, and the National Board of Accreditation (NBA) by the All-India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) in the same year. Internal Quality Assurance (IQA) mechanisms have also been established at the institutional level. However, the progress in accrediting institutions is very slow in India and a majority of institutions are yet to be accredited. Recently, the UGC has stipulated regulations that accreditation is a pre-condition to become eligible for funds. Similarly, the AICTE has made accreditation by NBA mandatory for all technical institutions. The ministry has also introduced another quality initiative in September 2015 in the name of National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF). This framework is used for ranking universities and institutions based on nine broad parameters. Efforts need to be intensified to meet the expectations in this regard as a significant input towards qualitative transformation of education.

Quality of higher education basically determines the level at which our university system is functioning. It sets a basic benchmark for ensuring the quality of mind of the youth coming out of the university system and their capacity to generate knowledge commensurate with developments taking place globally. In addition, it also has to ensure parity with international systems of higher learning. There is a need to move through the milestones which still have to be covered in bringing us closer to the coveted achievements in higher education. 

Curriculum reform is at the heart of what happens to the young minds in enriching them with knowledge and values and inculcates in them a spirit of inquiry, courage to question, creativity, objectivity, problem solving skills, decision making skills and aesthetic sensibility. Updating of curricula in different subjects was undertaken in 2013 in Central universities but this exercise needs to be attended to periodically so that our students do not learn things which may have to be unlearnt later. It may be helpful in reviewing some basic concerns, namely: Do our curricula in different subjects match indigenous expectations and also match requirements of international competitiveness? Do our assessment and evaluation procedures go beyond recall of information embodied as content of different disciplines? To what extent have we become at home with Choice Based Credit System (CBCS)? What curriculum transactional approaches will shift the focus from only teaching to ensuring learning?

Good teaching is as important as good research. Proverbially, we have focused on assessment of performance of our academic faculty largely in terms of their research publications. The result of this has been that faculty and students develop greater interest in increasing the number of publications unmindful of what the publications contribute to knowledge. It has added to sub-standard research. There has to be much greater focus of the faculty to produce quality research which meaningfully contributes to the body of knowledge. 

While research is important as a prime function of a university, it is no less important that the primacy to excellence in teaching is also catapulted to its place of rightful dignity. Good research has a symbiotic relationship with good teaching. Academics who have established their credentials as good pedagogues should also be treated at the same level as good researchers. Therefore, some fresh thinking is called for, namely: Should there be incentives for good teaching as for research? What parameters will assess it? Should we move to student assessment of teachers? Should publications of faculty on innovations in teaching not have parity with research publications?

Patents of innovations, based on research accomplished in the universities, have not received the attention they deserve. Multi- and interdisciplinary research, cutting across disciplines and the departments of a university, is confined only to a few islands in the university system. How do we ensure that interdisciplinary research takes firm roots in the culture of our universities? Can individual universities undertake substantive research initiatives to address issues of critical national importance like renewable energy, community health, climate change and disaster management? We have been talking about the university-industry interface to give a boost to research and development (R&D) for long, but there is not much headway. How this interface works in other countries could be studied so that we can adopt/adapt international best practices to strengthen this interface in our national context.

Creating Global Alliance for Institutes for Research, Innovation and Technology Development needs serious attention. It is admitted that establishing global alliance is more feasible among institutions operating at the same frequency of intellectual productivity as their counterparts in other parts of the globe. The issues of raising standards of research, innovation and technology development within the country would require to be addressed at various levels to improve the possibility of their becoming partners of a global alliance. Institutions that have had a long and reasonably good academic culture of research and innovations too have been facing serious procedural problems such as lack of administrative support, delay in clearance of research proposals, timely release of funds and institutional monitoring of research needs. Most of our universities need to strengthen the support for Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) related initiatives in order to encourage successful patenting as well as innovation in teaching and research. The problems which impede the intellectual output of the university system need to be mitigated for enhancing global partnership in higher education.

These are the long-standing concerns that have repeatedly been raised, debated and investigated in piecemeal manner with no end to problems faced by the ambivalent university system. The time is running out when the yesteryears’ fail-safe approach needs to be replaced by a shared understanding of the issues and the strategies to resolve them.   

The writer is former chairman, UGC. The views expressed are personal.

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Opinion

Need to create confidence and positivity to tackle the coronavirus surge

Besides putting in place necessary restrictions and enforcing Covid-appropriate practices, there is a need to instil a sense of positivity and confidence among people right now. States need to ensure that their Covid protocols do not cause panic or stress among citizens.

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The Covid-19 pandemic has shaken the whole world and affected vulnerable sections of the society physically, mentally and economically. The recent surge in cases seems to be worse than the previous one and has hit the healthcare system tremendously. The need for hospital beds is on the rise and patients are finding it increasingly difficult to get admission into hospitals. The surge continues to rise in some states and projections indicate that a possible decline may take some weeks. 

In some of the states, mutated virus variants have created a new sense of disquiet. The UK variant, known to be more contagious, is more prevalent in Punjab. Further, this variant affects younger age groups much more than the original virus. Recent data also shows that the UK variant is more virulent, resulting in increased mortality, even in younger people. There is thus a need for viral sequencing in other states to better understand this surge. 

In view of this serious surge, various state governments have rightly initiated some needful restrictions. These include a ban on rallies, a restricted number of people at social functions, in cinema halls and restaurants, and the closure of schools and colleges. However, such restrictions have led to many anticipating more hardships, especially people from low- or medium-income families. The migrant workforce is also scared of consequences if another lockdown is imposed.

Uncertainty about the future has gripped us and people are wondering whether 2021 will be another year full of stress and waste. The effectiveness and feasibility of lockdowns are again a subject of public debate. Experience has perhaps taught us that a full-fledged lockdown can have serious unintended consequences and cause unpalatable collateral damage by endangering the poorer sections of our populace. Therefore, at this time, there is an urgent need to create confidence in the society.

Of course, we have to religiously follow all Covid-appropriate behaviours and Covid-protective practices to prevent the spread of the viral infection. These are simple yet effective daily practices, such as the right use of masks, maintaining the desired physical distance and hand sanitation, which would go a long way in managing and containing the novel coronavirus.  During this surge, non-essential activities will also need to be regulated, albeit in a manner that, as far as possible, work should be carried out to ensure the livelihood of every section of society while taking steps to control viral spread.  

We must also avoid creating a sense of panic and make every attempt to generate a sense of positivity. While people must be educated about the contagious nature of this virus, it is important that no sense of stigma be permitted to arise against those who test positive. I feel happy that many governments have abandoned the practice of putting labels in front of houses with Covid-positive inhabitants. This had been causing stigma for families. The contact tracing procedures as well as quarantine guidelines must be rationalized so as not to discourage testing. Any hesitation in regard to testing must be removed to enable the early detection of positive cases. To this end, the Government of India could reconsider its suggestion that 25-30 of the contacts traced be isolated and tested. It is a well-known fact that contact for about 30 minutes and within 3 feet without the use of masks is liable to infect an individual. Thus, only such contacts need to be tested. The CDC also recommends testing ten close contacts and this should be carried out within the first four days or so. These measures will go a long way in removing any sense of anxiety or fear from the minds of the public about the fallout of getting tested unnecessarily. Even family members of those who test positive must have the confidence that by maintaining the desired distance, using face masks and following other hygiene practices like frequent handwashing, they can avoid the further spread of the virus within the household.

An aggressive and comprehensive rollout of the vaccination programme is also a must now. Vaccination must be undertaken on a war footing across the country. We must make every attempt to cover as much of our population as we can, in the shortest possible time, given the obvious time constraints arising from a two-shot vaccine. Fortunately, the atmosphere of indecision or vacillation about the vaccination, which we witnessed in the early days of the rollout, now appears to have been replaced by a sense of urgency and enthusiasm regarding vaccination. Full information about the vaccines should be made available in the public domain and doubts or queries should be addressed by the authorities in order to instil further confidence. We need to innovate ways to ensure easy and safe access to the vaccine for every needy person.

In the final analysis, it is only a concerted and coordinated effort by all segments of society which can defeat this virus. We are going through a difficult phase, and some course correction is the need of the hour. Initiating various measures to generate a feeling of confidence in the common man is necessary as an important parallel exercise. The Delhi government’s decision to not admit even non-Covid emergencies in various private hospitals also needs to be urgently reviewed. Does it mean that an acute myocardial infarction emergency can only be treated if it is Covid-positive and not otherwise? All such decisions only further stress the society. It should be a priority that no one is made to feel helpless and stressed at this critical time.

The author is a former Director, PGIMER, Chandigarh and Chairman of the PSRI Heart Institute, New Delhi. The views expressed are personal.

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Opinion

NCAH Act: A welcome move for allied & healthcare professionals

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The National Commission for Allied and Healthcare Professions Bill, 2020 (NCAH Act) has been passed by Parliament after a long wait. The Act provides for the regulation and maintenance of standards of education and services by allied and healthcare professionals, assessment of institutions, maintenance of a Central Register and State Register, and creation of a system to improve access, research and development and the adoption of latest scientific advancements and for matters connected. 

The Act defines an ‘allied health professional’ as an associate, technician or technologist trained to support the diagnosis and treatment of any illness, disease, injury or impairment. Dr Harsh Vardhan, the Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare, explained the reasons and objectives of the Bill as, “Honourable Members, I would say that most of you must have had paid a visit to a hospital at some point in your life, and I wish not, but you might have had to … Please recall those days and remember the people who took care of you and who brought you out of your illness. You may remember the name of the doctor. You may remember the name of the hospital. But do you also remember the name of the persons who took your blood samples, gave you physiotherapy, took your X-ray, advised you on what you should eat, checked your eyesight, assisted your doctor or surgeon, looked into microscopes and bid you farewell with a smile? Who are these people?” They are varied health professionals: lab technicians, physiotherapists, radiographers, dieticians, record keepers, optometrists, X-ray technicians and many more, who are a critical part of the healthcare system and the foundation of the pyramid.

According to studies, the role of doctors, undoubtedly critical, varies between 25 to 50 percent in the entire healthcare chain. A saying goes, “The doctor is next to God, the nurse is next to the doctor, and the pharmacist is closest to the patient’. But there are others who are as vital and integral to the healthcare chain. In fact, these healthcare professionals are the bedrock of an increasingly complex healthcare system. After enacting the National Medical Commission Bill, 2019, which was fiercely contested by a large body of medical practitioners, another transformative piece of legislation, the NCAHP Act, has been enacted. It covers a wide range of healthcare professions which were unrecognised or unregulated till date. The Act is a paradigm shift in healthcare delivery as it recognises the specialised skills and contributions of more than 56 types of allied and healthcare professionals.

The nation, nay, the world, has witnessed the invaluable contribution of these professionals during the Covid-19 pandemic as frontline health workers risked their lives every day fighting the virus. The need for the development and maintenance of standards of services and education of these professionals through a national regulatory body has been long overdue. As early as 1948, the Bhore Committee had stressed the importance of ‘human resources for health with right skills and training’, followed by a host of committees over the years.   The first attempt at such a legislation was made in 1953 but the proposal never received the priority that it deserved, perhaps for a lack of unanimity and the dominance of a doctor-centric healthcare system. 

The Minister told the Rajya Sabha on 16 March, while responding to the debate on the NCAHP Bill, that bills were introduced on this behalf under different names in 2007 and 2011 which lapsed, and between 2015 and 2021, the legislative proposal was redrafted as many as 75 times. The NCAHP Bill, 2011 was introduced in the Rajya Sabha in December 2011. However, the bill faced opposition from the existing regulatory bodies. The Standing Committee on Health made wholesale recommendations on the bill. A new bill was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on 31 December 2018. It was referred to the Standing Committee on Health and Family Welfare on 4 January 2019. Based on the recommendations made by the Committee in its 117th Report in January 2020, a fresh bill, titled the NCAHP Bill, 2020, was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on 15 September 2020 by withdrawing the pending bill of 2018. The Committee made 110 recommendations and the Government accepted 102.

The Minister assured Parliament that some recommendations and the observations of many of the members who participated in the debate would be suitably incorporated in the rules to be framed under the Act. The Act would regulate and leverage the qualified allied and healthcare workforce and ensure high quality multidisciplinary care ‘in line with the vision of universal health coverage moving towards a more care-accessible and team-based model’. The Act would reform and regulate this entire sector in order to give these professionals their due, increase their employment opportunities, and, more importantly, enhance their dignity by recognising their true worth within the country and globally.  

According to a WHO report, there would be a demand of 1.80 crore such professionals by 2030 and qualified Indian professionals would cater to the global shortage. Further, their potential can be utilised to reduce the cost of care and to make quality healthcare services accessible to all. The Act envisages the establishment of a Central Statutory Body as the National Commission for Allied and Healthcare Professions. The Commission will frame policies and standards, regulate professional conduct and prescribe qualifications for all these professions. It will be supported by ten broad Professional Councils, each comprising one or more professions. The institutional structure would enable the assessment and rating of all the allied and healthcare institutions to ensure uniform standards and quality assurance. The Act provides for the registration of all the allied and healthcare professionals. All the professions have been coded as per the International Labour Organisation’s international standards for the classification of occupations which also allows them global recognition and mobility.

A National Allied and Healthcare Advisory Council to advise the National Commission with representation from all the states is provided under the Act to enable adequate representation from all states and Union Territories. Further, each state will have a separate State Council with four autonomous Boards pertaining to undergraduate education, postgraduate education, assessment and rating, and ethics and registration. At a time when there is an acute need for critical reforms in public health, the Act will provide a robust institutional mechanism to improve access to health by focusing on the preventive, promotive, curative and rehabilitative needs of the population. While doctors, nurses, dentists and pharmacists in India are regulated through their respective regulatory bodies, the allied and healthcare professions are still unstructured and unregulated. The potential of these professionals can be harnessed to reduce the cost of care and make quality healthcare services accessible to all. A healthcare professional includes a scientist, therapist, or any other professional who studies, advises, researches, supervises, or provides preventive, curative, rehabilitative, therapeutic, or promotional health services. Such a professional should have obtained a degree under this Act. These are mentioned in the Schedule to the Act and they include life science professionals, trauma and burn care professionals, surgical and anaesthesia related technology professionals, physiotherapists, and nutrition science professionals, etc. Anyone who contravenes the provisions of the Act shall be punished. 

Globally, most countries have a regulatory framework for standardised education and training. But in India, there was an absence of a regulatory framework and lack of a standardised education curriculum as well as training for these allied and healthcare professionals – a void now removed. The NCAHP Act, 2020 is a landmark legislation which will go down in the history of healthcare revolution in India. It will go a long way in transforming the healthcare scenario as it makes a paradigm shift in the administration of the entire healthcare system.  

India is on course for wholesale health sector reforms. Apart from the two transformative laws enacted, and referred to above, the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act, 2021 has been passed during this Budget session. But the arch of reform would be completed with the enactment of the National Nursing and Midwifery Commission Bill, the National Dental Commission Bill, the Surrogacy Bill, and the Assisted Reproductive Technology (Regulation) Bill. Hopefully, the government will complete the remainder of the health sector reforms, mindful of the fact that healthcare costs hit voters hard and, if ignored, will hit back at politicians harder. Healthcare is no more a thing of benevolence but an integral part of the right to life, and a game changer for electoral politics.

The author is former Additional Secretary, Lok Sabha, and a public policy expert. The views expressed are personal.

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Opinion

OUR CONFUSED RESPONSE TO COVID-19

Priya Sahgal

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On the one hand we have our television screens full of visuals of crowded elections rallies and even more crowded gatherings at the Kumbh Mela, some masked, some otherwise. On the other hand, we are told that if we are seen without a mask in a public place, even if that is one person travelling alone in his or her car, then we will be fined. How does one correlate the two? Social media is full of memes and tweets raising this issue but somehow various state governments—and of course the Centre—are oblivious to this irony. This reminds of the delay in implementing the lockdown. We delayed because of the Madhya Pradesh government trust vote initiated by the BJP against the then Kamal Nath government. We delayed because we had the high-profile Donald Trump visit. We didn’t listen to the one politician who was warning us about the looming disaster en route from Wuhan simply because we felt Rahul Gandhi as a politician lacks credibility. Yes, of course, the Prime Minister was able to implement the world’s longest lockdown but he lost on the timing and the suddenness of the move, catching thousands of migrant workers unaware. That time it could be argued that he—or anyone else—did not know better as a pandemic on this scale was something no world leader had grappled with earlier. 

But what explains now. We have the scale to be the world’s largest vaccine producer and yet, it is India that is running short of vaccines. The Serum Institute of India (SII) is the world’s largest vaccine producing company. India has to vaccinate 1.3 billion people but after hitting a target of approximately 94 million the stocks are running low. Cyrus Poonawalla has publicly appealed for more funds; various experts are suggesting various solutions—anything but a lockdown. But there seems a remarkable lack of follow up. As a result, in all probability another lockdown is exactly where we are all heading. Maharashtra is already toying with a limited lockdown, various cities have gone in for graded lockdowns, there is night curfew in place as well. The Delhi Chief Minister has made it clear that he is not in favour of another lockdown, but his latest statement is worrying as he is hinting that this may be the only option left for him.

In the end, the grim message is one of failure. From the covidiots who are still not taking the adequate precautions, to the politicians addressing, pandering to their vote-banks by allowing the Kumbh Mela but hitting the small traders, restaurant owners and other MSMEs by limiting their sphere of activities. Top this with the vaccination shortage and we have a pandemic plus problem on our hands.

The Delhi Chief Minister has made it clear that he is not in favour of another lockdown, but his latest statement is worrying as he is hinting that this may be the only option left for him.

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Opinion

NSUI CELEBRATES ITS GOLDEN JUBILEE BY REMEMBERING INDIRA GANDHI

Pankaj Vohra

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The National Students Union of India, the student wing of the Congress, celebrated its golden jubilee on Friday (9 April) by recalling the contributions of the former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, under whose leadership the frontal organisation was launched in 1971. To mark the occasion, a poster of the former PM with Brij Mohan Bhama, one of the founding members flanking her, was released. Also on this day, Hari Shankar Gupta, former Delhi University Students’ Union president, the first NSUI nominee to be elected to any position in the capital, also released a letter signed by former NSUI chief Geetanjali Maken appointing him as the treasurer of the Delhi unit in 1977.

The NSUI has come a long way since its inception and has produced several distinguished leaders including Rangarajan Kumaramanglam, the founding president, K.C. Joseph, Harikesh Bahadur, Ashok Gehlot, Anand Sharma, Mukul Wasnik, Ramesh Chenithala, Ajay Maken and Manish Tewari amongst others. Soon after the Congress split in 1969, and Babu Jagjivan Ram was appointed the president of the Congress owing allegiance to Indira Gandhi with Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna as his general secretary, a need was felt to have a students’ wing of the party to oppose the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the student arm of the RSS, as well as the Samajwadi Yuvjan Sabha (Socialist Party), the All India Students Federation (CPI) and the Students Federation of India (CPM). Bahuguna was successful in getting Indira Gandhi’s approval and the organisation was founded under the name of National Union Of Students at a convention attended by four of its founding members—Rangarajan, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, Vyalar Ravi and Brij Mohan Bhama, then an upcoming student leader of Delhi. However, in 1972-73, the NUS was renamed as the NSUI with Rangarajan as the first president and Harikesh Bahadur, K.C. Joseph and Pradeep Bhattacharya as general secretaries. The body was expanded by including Ram Kumar Bhargava as general secretary and Rohit Bal Vohra (Pappu) as the secretary besides Raman Chopra as office secretary.

The NSUI contested its first DUSU election by fielding Mool Chand Sharma against the present VHP chief, Alok Kumar, in 1973-74 and a year later by declaring Bhama as its candidate to oppose Arun Jaitley of the ABVP. In Delhi, it became a force under the leadership of Deepak Malhotra, who was ably assisted by Prem Swarup Nayyar, Vijay Lochav, Kewal Krishan Handa, Kavita Mehra and subsequently by Sunil Chopra and Mehmood Zia. The NSUI was also patronised by Nasikrao Tirupude and Sharad Pawar in Maharashtra. Tirupude was able to assist Satish Chaturvedi to get elected as the president of the Nagpur University despite a stiff challenge from the ABVP in the RSS bastion. Geetanjali was elected as the president of the Bhopal University Students Union.  After Rangarajan, the NSUI was headed by Mohan Gopal, till recently a close aide of Rahul Gandhi and then by Geetanjali Maken. Deepak Malhotra, Anand Sharma and Imran Kidwai were its principal leaders with Ashok Gehlot heading the Rajasthan unit. In fact, when Gehlot was declared as the Rajasthan chief, Rohit Bal Vohra, drove all the way to Jaipur to deliver his appointment letter personally to him. Gehlot never forgot this gesture and when Vohra passed away in 2011, he flew especially from Jaipur to attend his funeral. Such were the bonds.

In Delhi, the NSUI tasted success for the first time in 1978 with Hari Shankar Gupta as its candidate. The losing ABVP nominee, Surendra Pushkarna, committed suicide. A mystery in the Congress is that Hari Shankar despite being a great organisation man has never been considered for heading the Delhi Congress which badly needs a person of his calibre. The NSUI saga in the university had begun and in 1985, Ajay Maken and a year after him, Madan Singh Bisht were elected DUSU presidents. The Congress, if it wishes to revive itself, must strengthen its frontal organisations. And when it celebrates its momentous occasions, it must not forget to invite its former members and office bearers. All of them had, in their own ways, played a role in the evolution of the NSUI.

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Opinion

Are deemed to be universities on the path of self-improvement?

Pre-eminence of deemed to be universities gets further corroborated by the National Institutional Ranking Framework data, which shows that as many as 35 of them have figured in the first hundred institutions during the last two cycles.

Ved Prakash

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The country did not have a proper national public education system at the time of Independence. The overall literacy rate was at a rock bottom. The number of institutions right from primary to post-secondary stage of education was excessively frustrating. There was hardly any network of premier institutions which could significantly contribute in nation-building. There were only 25 universities and about 500 colleges. The nation-building clearly was a daunting challenge under such unfavourable circumstances.  But the leadership of the time was ardently committed to lay the foundation of an empowered and strong India through education. Since they knew the situation well enough, the first-ever decision that they had taken in 1948 was to set up the University Education Commission (UEC) to give new direction to higher education in independent India which had come out of the burden of colonial rule after a prolonged struggle.

One of the most important recommendations of the UEC was related to the creation of a statutory regulatory body, the University Grants Commission (UGC), which resulted in the enactment of the UGC Act, 1956. The UGC was chartered with the task of maintenance of norms and standards in higher education along with disbursement of grants to enable the university system to perform its anticipated challenging roles. There was an element of farsightedness in the provision of the UGC Act, as it had envisioned that there could be institutions beyond the universities to play a seminal role in higher education and research and they could be treated like universities.

The basic idea behind this proposal was to recognise the academic excellence of an institution and authorise it with powers to award degrees identical to those of universities. The UGC Act thus provides for the establishment of an institution deemed to be university. Accordingly, the Central government, on the advice of the UGC, was mandated to notify any institution for higher education, other than a university, as deemed to be university. The provision of the creation of an institution deemed to be university is indeed a tribute to the visionaries who laid the foundation of higher education in the independent India.

The Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore and the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), Delhi were the first set of institutions that were notified as institutions Deemed to be universities in the year 1958 because of their pioneering contributions in the fields of applied sciences, technology and agriculture. Four more institutions joined the league of deemed to be universities over a period of next six years. Gurukul Kangri, Haridwar, became a deemed to be university in 1962, Gujarat Vidyapith in 1963 and BITS, Pilani and TISS, Bombay in 1964. Thus, only six institutions were conferred the status of deemed to be university in a span of eight years after the commencement of the UGC Act. Most of these institutions have proved to be excellent examples of meaningful partnership between public and private sectors in higher education.

Much of the progress in higher education during the initial period was credited to public institutions. The share of the private sector was almost negligible prior to the era of liberalisation. The total number of degree awarding institutions at that time was only 185. Of them, the private sector was represented only by 8 deemed to be universities. There was not a single state private university at that point in time. This was the time when the sector of higher education was under tremendous pressure for expansion partly due to spike in transition rates from secondary to post-secondary and partly due to swelling aspirations of the middle-class population. Since the public sector was not in a position to make new capital investment due to resource crunch, the sector was thrown open to private entrepreneurs. However, the only window available to them was that of becoming a deemed to be university because by then neither the states nor the centre had enacted any legislation for the establishment of private universities.

Thus the private entrepreneurs gradually took advantage of this unique opportunity. Though the number of deemed universities grew at a very slow pace between 1990 and 2000 despite neoliberal reforms, shortly thereafter, it picked up momentum. The number of deemed to be universities rose from 37 to 128 within a short span of ten years between 2001 and 2009, with a maximum number of such institutions in the states of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. It is important to recognise the trend in the growth of deemed to be universities both from the point of view of the year of their notifications and their proliferation only in a few states.

It seems that there were a couple of reasons for such a sudden spurt in the number of deemed to be universities. The first reason was the absence of any legislative enactment by the states for the establishment of a private university till 1995. The states of Madhya Pradesh and Sikkim were the first to enact the laws in 1995, resulting in two private universities, one in each state. The second was the inability of public universities to maximise their residual capacities and the third was the ambivalence of public universities to diversify their curricular provisions from general programs to market oriented ones.

Nevertheless, the growth trend of deemed to be universities shows an otherwise inexplicable phenomenon. Initially, there were several gap years when no proposal seemed to have been submitted for grant of deemed to be university status. This scenario continued for over four decades. But then there was a sudden rise in numbers with maximum concentration in a few states with resultant possibilities of commercialisation. Besides, their programmatic structures, that were not in any specialised areas, as were reflected in their proposals, gave rise to suspicion in the minds of authorities about the quality of their programmes, leading to intervention petition and Court’s direction to the UGC to replace its Guidelines by Regulations.

In keeping with the developments, the MHRD constituted a five-member Review Committee under the chairmanship of Prof P.N. Tandon in 2009, to ascertain whether they were serving the purpose for which they were conferred the status. All 128 deemed to be universities were evaluated by the Review Committee against nine parameters. Many of these institutions were not found to be up to expected standards on these parameters. The Committee decided to classify them into three categories. Of them, 38 which justified their continuation were placed in category-A. Another 44,that were found to be deficient in certain areas were placed in category-B. They were given three-year time to rectify their deficiencies. The remaining 44 were found unfit and thus placed in category-C. Two of them had opted out on their own from the review process. 

The Category-C institutions approached the Supreme Court with an impassioned plea for relief. The Court directed the MHRD in 2011 to give individual hearing to these institutions. Further, the Court directed the UGC to examine all reports with notices to all these institutions and take an independent decision in accordance with law. After inspecting 7 of those institutions that filed interlocutory before the court, the UGC submitted its report. In 2015, the court directed the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) to carry out accreditation of ‘C’ category institutions. Thereafter, the matter was disposed of by the Court.

Analyses of the accreditation data of as many as 104 out of 125 deemed to be universities reveal new insights into the current functioning of these institutions. Fairly a large number of them seem to be on a path of self-improvement as is evident from their overall rating indicated in the form of Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) by the NAAC. Out of a pool of 80, as many as 24 made the cut in the top grade (A++), followed by 21 in the next grade (A+) and another 35 in the next to next grade (A). In the subsequent group of 23, as many as 11 passed the muster with B++, followed by 5 with B+ and another 7  with B grade. Only one of them got the ‘C’ grade. 

The data visibly reveal that the accreditation status of deemed to be universities is much better than the private universities both in terms of quantity and quality. As against 104 out of 125 Deemed universities, only 54 out of 372 private universities have got themselves accredited by NAAC thus far. Correspondingly, while 24 Deemed to be universities got the highest grade (A++) and another 21 the second highest (A+), none of the private universities could make a cut into either of the two. Similarly, as against 35 deemed to be universities, only 13 private universities could barely attain grade – ‘A’. Clearly, it is an apology to quality and more so when mandatory accreditation had been in vogue for over two decades.

Pre-eminence of deemed to be universities gets further corroborated by the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) data, which is wholly compiled and collated by the Ministry. It shows that as many as 35 of them have figured in the first hundred institutions during the last two cycles. Furthermore, six out of ten private institutions that have been identified by the government as Institutions of Eminence (IoE) in 2019, happened to be from amongst deemed to be universities, like KIIT, Bhubaneswar and VIT, Vellore. It is evidently clear from NAAC accreditation and NIRF ranking that institutions deemed to be universities are on the path of self-improvement. It would be worthwhile for others in the sector to try to emulate the recent success of these institutions.

While these institutions have every right to take profound satisfaction in their achievements, they should give equal credit, if not more, to the Tondon Committee which made them realise that in education it could not be business as usual. Surely, it would not have been accomplished without the hard-hitting review by the Committee. The most important lesson that needs to be learned from the Tandon Committee is that the purpose of any review or accreditation or ranking should not be mere certification of quality assurance. It should rather be a mechanism to provide for step-by-step advice by the peers to move to higher levels.

The writer is former chairman, UGC. The views expressed are personal.

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Opinion

HOW SHALL NIGHT CURFEW CURTAIL COVID CASES WHEN DAY NORMS ARE FLOUTED?

Pankaj Vohra

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The Delhi government as well as several other political dispensations around the country have imposed night curfew, supposedly to check the surge in Covid cases. While the declaration appeals to a number of people, the logic behind this exercise is unexplainable. There are a very few citizens who are on the road between 10 pm and 5 am as compared to the remaining period during which so much activity is witnessed both in public spaces and also in offices and other establishments. The curfew suggests that the Covid pandemic is transmitted mostly at night and hence it was paramount to somehow discourage any kind of movement in this period. The better thing would be that the corona norms should be observed and enforced during the day time when there is a tendency on part of many people to flout the rules and regulations. Any visit to the crowded markets of Sarojini Nagar and Karol Bagh would prove that by and large. The citizens have apparently thrown caution to the winds and been violating even the basics. In the walled city, there are very few people who can be seen wearing masks or observing social distancing. All these precautions are a must since the vaccines are no guarantee that the ailment would not afflict even those who had been vaccinated. A huge controversy over a certain type of vaccine has broken out in Europe and the UK where cases of blood clotting have been reported.

Back in India, Maharashtra has seen the maximum spike and even Delhi is not far behind. Politics over the availability of the vaccine has come into play with state governments accusing the Centre of not sending sufficient supplies. The Union government is also being attacked for sending vaccines to other countries when the domestic needs have not been met. The Health Ministers of several states have locked horns with Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan over the issue. This is really unfortunate since there should be no politics over the pandemic and all concerned whether in states or at the Centre must work unitedly to provide as much relief as possible to people. Fortunately, in India, the spread of the virus was not as pronounced in the first phase as compared to many other countries. This may have been due to a better immunity system but all the same, it does not mean that precautions should not be taken. A person has no business to put someone else’s life at a risk and must cooperate with the authorities fully. The state governments also must take pragmatic steps instead of putting various businesses and vocations in difficulty of some kind.

The economy has suffered drastically since the demonetisation took place and the prolonged lockdown has made things worse. People have to both survive and fend for their families. Therefore, any step which deprives someone of livelihood should not be taken unless it is an urgent requirement to preserve the life of a greater number of people. The night curfew announcement has surprised many since there are restrictions in Delhi, Noida and Ghaziabad but none in Gurgaon and Faridabad. Surely, the virus is not region specific. People must cooperate and make this fight against the pandemic a success.

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