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Mainstream, VOL 60 No 37 September 3, 2022

Report of the Commission for Reforms in Higher Education in Kerala, 2022 | P. S. Jayaramu

Saturday 3 September 2022

by P. S. Jayaramu

July 29, 2022

The Government of Kerala appointed a Commission in 2021 headed by Shyam Menon, former Vice Chancellor of Dr. B.R. Ambedekar University, Delhi, some of the former Vice Chancellors of the universities Kerala, Prof. R. Rama Kumar of the Tata Institute of Sicial Sciences, who is also a member of the Kerala State Planning Borard, and Prof. T. Pradeep of the III, Madras, as Convenor of the Commission. The Commission recently submitted its report to the Government.

It is appropriate to analyse the key recommendations of the Shyam Menon Commission. The report has 12 chapters and runs to 129 pages including the Appendices, covering issues like access and equity, ease of doing education, a phrase borrowed from the corporate world, the higher education ecosystem etc.

The report rightly accords importance to reforms in the governing structures of the universities. Its focus is also on issues like providing access and equity in higher education, which is diminishing in the country with unregulated private players masquerading as poviders of higher education. Its focus is also on curriculum reform, encouraging research in basic sciences with emphasis on innovation and incubation, according importance to Social Sciences, Humanities and Languages, digitisation of library resources and funding of higher education, including mobilising resources from private sources.

It is well known that the quality of education in higher educational institutions( HEIs) is critically dependent on the quality of leadership provided by the Vice Chancellor and the governing bodies. The Commission seems to have kept in mind the recommendations of the Kasturirangan Commission on NEP 2020, but has deviated from it in certain respects.

In the chapter on University Governance, the Commission refers eloquently to the need for adhering to five prerequisites for effective institutional governance like ensuring academic freedom, financial autonomy, governance from within while regulating the nominated membership in academic bodies from the government and the need for separation of academic and and administrative strands of governance.

The Commission, however, has recommended that the Chief Minister shall be the Visitor of the public Universities in the State. By doing so and taking away the role by the Governor in the management of higher education. Instead of staying neutral on the ongoing tussle between the Government and the Governor, the Commission has taken sides by siding with the Government. An appeasement of sorts.

The novelty of the Commission’s recommendation lies in the creation of a restructured office of the Chancellor for universities. The Commission has recommended that the Chancellor of each university will be elected by the Board of Regents, an earlier version of the Senate. The Commission suggests that ‘the Chancellor shall be a person of eminence with impeccable reputation who has distinguished himself/ herself in public life through a lifetime of excellence and leadership in fields like academia, science, culture, professions, industry, governance and public life’. The fear, however is, that the eligibility conditions for becoming a Chancellor are too genetic in nature, which may be misused by the authorities to put pressure on the Board of Regents to instal persons of their choice in such a pivotal position.

Regarding the appointment of Vice Chancellor, the Commission last down ten years of teaching experience as an eligibility condition to alloy for the post in addition to clauses leadership qualities etc. The Commission recommends that the Board of Regents, consisting of the government nominee and others, will appoint the Vice Chancellor of the universities on the recommendations of the Search-cum-Selection Committee, consisting of a nominee of the Visitor, namely, the Chief Minister, a nominee of the Board of Regents and a nominee of the UGC Chairman. It is likely that the government’s nominee may play a key role in the appointment of Vice Chancellors as has been so far.

It is, however, in respect of key governing bodies, like the Syndicate, that the Shyam Menon Commission fails to come up with bold recommendations. For instance, the Commission allows for the continuation of the Syndicate as the paramount policy-making body in the university system, which will be headed by the Vice Chancellor, ( thereby allowing for continuity/ status quo) with the Pro- Vice Chancellor, three Heads of Departments chosen by rotation from different faculties as members, plus three members of the Academic Council, three external experts nominated by the VC, two eminent ‘thought leaders’ nominated by the Chancellor and one elected student representative as members. The composition will be loaded in favour of the VC. The qualifications for membership of the Syndicate are too generic to be misused to bring in loyal persons than independent-minded experts with appreciable records in policy making. In the existing system, it is widely observed that people with ideological proclivities to the party in power are finding their way to the Syndicates of universities.

As regards other academic issues like the duration of UG and PG programmes with exit and reentry options, capacity building of students, the recommendations are broadly in tune with the NEP 2020 guidelines.The report provides a road map to achieve 60 percent Gross Enrollment Ratio by 2031 and 75 percent by 2036, which is possible given the higher rate of literacy in the State. The report stresses that while aiming for quantitative expansion of higher education, the State should strive for providing a level playing field by providing for access to the underprivileged students in higher education.

It is hoped the Government will elicit feedback from different stakeholders before taking any decision regarding the implementation of the report.

(Prof P. S. Jayaramu is a former Professor of Political Science and former Dean of, Faculty of Arts, Bangalore University)

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