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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 25 & 26 , June 17 & June 24, 2023

The Congress Government in Karnataka and NEP 2020 | P. S. Jayaramu

Saturday 17 June 2023

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10th June 2023

The Congress Party in Karnataka had included in its manifesto that if it comes to power, it would scrap the National Education Policy, (NEP) 2020. After winning the elections with an emphatic victory, the Congress Government has declared that since education is on the Concurrent List, it would take measures to scrap the NEP. In an article in these columns on 28 August 2020, I argued that while the NEP as mixed bag, the stand of the state governments would be crucial for the implementation of the NEP. My focus in this article is on the sphere of higher education, though I must emphasise that the BJP Government’s decision to saffronise the curricula must be done away with. It would be useful to have a truly autonomous body to revise school curricula once in five years. Its recommendations should be honoured by governments in power, instead of allowing curricula to be revised every time there is a change of government, putting students and teachers to enormous difficulties.

The minister for higher education Dr. M. C. Sudhakar has clarified more than once that the views of the stakeholders would be taken into account before taking any decision to scrap the NEP. In this regard, recently, the minister convened a meeting of the Vice Chancellors of state universities to ascertain their views. According to newspaper reports, the VCs were reluctant to express their views in a frank manner, leading to the minister giving them time to submit their views in writing. It is in the fitness of things that the Government should get to know the views of the students and teachers on the utility or otherwise of the NEP 2020.

Let me focus in some detail about the key aspects in the NEP regarding higher education. One of its recommendations is on the four years degree programme, with provision for students getting a certificate if they choose to terminate their education after one year, a diploma after two years, a degree after three years and a postgraduate research degree if they opt for the four years programme. With the government deciding to implement the NEP, many universities reportedly introduced the programme in a hurry. It is observed by many faculty members that they did not have sufficient time to implement the scheme in a just manner. This is where the Congress Government can order a thorough review of the programme by the universities and colleges in the best interests of students. The general tendency in India, both among the students and their parents, is towards obtaining a degree, maybe, even a two years PG degree with specialised knowledge and skills to compete successfully in the job market. If such input is made to the government from the stakeholders, the government can think of retaining the three years UG and two years PG programmes.

The entry and exit options, which the NEP provides, is an idea borrowed from the West, where, since parents do not generally pay for their ward’s education, most students feel the need to exit from their courses, earn and save enough money and rejoin to pursue their education. In India, most Parents feel it is their duty to pay for their ward’s education. Such being the case, the entry, exit and are-entry options will be hardly exercised. The government, if it deems fit, can do away with this aspect of the NEP.

After assuming office, in his interaction with students, the chief minister talked about his commitment to the marginalised and poorer sections of the society. In keeping with that, his government should accord priority to inclusive education. The best way of doing that would be to strengthen and empower Public Universities to provide access and equity to higher education for students belonging to such backgrounds. The minimum that is expected in this regard is to put a five-year moratorium on the establishment of Private Universities which have commercialised higher education and are making it exclusive.

The aspect in the NEP about moving away from the affiliation system, which India borrowed from the British and something the British universities themselves have given up, is a bold much-needed move. In State universities, the Affiliation Committees are headed by Syndicate members, who are mostly non-academic political persons, who use the position to obtain pecuniary benefits in return for sanctioning new colleges and or increasing the intake for courses sanctioned. Karnataka should move away from such a relic of the colonial past. As such, it is hoped the Congress Government headed by Siddaramaiah would conform to this feature of the NEP and free the universities from the negative aspects of affiliation. Of course, many Universities would argue that affiliation is a vital source of revenue to them and as such plead for a retention of the system. The Government needs to deliberate seriously on the matter and take a decision which will do justice to the universities as well as retain the positive aspects of the NEP.

While the emphasis of the NEP on the need to promote more and more autonomous colleges, which will eventually become universities can not be brushed aside, the Congress Government should tread cautiously on this issue. I am in favour of strict guidelines being formulated to grant autonomous status to colleges. Care should be taken to review the functioning of such colleges and if their performance ratings are not satisfactory, autonomous status should be withdrawn. It is interesting to notice that many colleges have expressed themselves against autonomy as it denies them access to government grants. Additionally, the guidelines prepared by the Government with the help of experts, should include provisions for strict adherence to reservations in admission and recruitment of faculty. In the name of promoting autonomy, Colleges should not be permitted to become commercial enterprises of the corporates and individual promoters of higher educational institutions. The erstwhile BJP Government did not address these issues seriously. One way of retaining and contributing to the utility of public universities and colleges is to increase Government spending on education. During 2020-21 and 2021-22, the state funding for education declined from 14.7 percent to 11.8 percent. The Congress Government should enhance spending on education and not drain its finances on keeping up the five guarantees it made to the people before the assembly elections.

More importantly, it is in the area of higher education management that the NEP clauses, that of creating an independent Board of Governors, and that body appointing Vice Chancellors, need to be retained. The Congress Government would be rendering a yeoman service to the cause of higher education if it implements this recommendation, an aspect, which the BJP government did not do as it wanted to retain its hold over the appointment of VCs, Registrars, Registrar Evaluations and members of the Governing Bodies. Government control over universities should be minimal, confining only to laying down appropriate policies, from time to time, regarding the admission of students to courses and the appointment of faculty. Considerations of social justice and not merit alone should be the criteria in the field of education.

Finally, while formulating its education policy, the Congress Government should consider establishing a Higher Education Task Force, consisting of reputed educationists of impeccable integrity and industry experts with a proven background of philanthropy, to guide it in disseminating education with a fair combination of knowledge and skills, while at the same time taking care to see that education is imparted to promote Constitutional values based on a commitment to egalitarianism.

(Author: is former Dean, Faculty of Arts, Bangalore University and former Senior Fellow, ICSSR, New Delhi)

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