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Higher learning and the community

Higher learning and the community
The present government has unequivocally demonstrated that it will follow a different paradigm of governance in which cooperative federalism will be the guiding principle. In the process, much responsibility and autonomy will be given to the state governments for achieving development through effective planning and decision making. All  development-related activities will be done through a synergetic action between state and local governments, and for which adequate resources will be provided. This message has been sent out through two major decisions, namely, abolition of the Central Planning Commission, and approval of the Fourteenth Finance Commission’s report on resource sharing; all within the neo-liberal framework of development. 

There is no ambiguity or vacillation in taking this stand on governance and development. The above paradigm is visible through the Central government’s decision to create NITI Ayog, proclaiming that the Centre will be involved in policy-making and not in preparing schemes and programmes for the states and local bodies. The federal government unambiguously stated that it will follow neo-liberal policies, but all safety nets have to be created for the poor only by the state governments and local bodies as they are closer to people at operational point.

When the Central Planning Commission was abolished, the Central government indicated that the local bodies and state governments have to initiate the planning process from the lower levels. Massive amounts of resources are given to state governments and local governments to carry out activities as they plan, with the active participation of all sections of society and particularly the poor, marginalised, and vulnerable groups. Till date, serious intellectual activities have been conducted at the level of the erstwhile Central Planning Commission, Central Finance Commissions, and the various ministries of  Government of India. However, at the state and local levels, all governance and development-related activities had been carried out only by the bureaucrats of respective levels. The state governments considered themselves as only implementing agencies of schemes  of the Central Government.

Barring a few state governments, many do not have adequate resources to evolve schemes and programmes for development. The efficiency of lower level bureaucracy is always questioned as they lack professionalism. There is always a gap between the Central government’s <g data-gr-id="92">decision making</g> process and implementation by the state and local governments. People who are involved in <g data-gr-id="91">implementation</g> of schemes are poor in professional competence as there are no adequate professional training institutions offering training and capacity building. Further, the institutional structure, design, and manpower at the grass root levels are always inadequate. There are fewer facilities and fewer professionals here compared to the Central government functionaries. In the <g data-gr-id="89">above given</g> context, people’s expectation from the government is increasing as political parties practice competitive populism for electoral politics.

Apart from the above, the life led by people is not based on science and technology but on cultural practices. Governance at grass root level is not based on <g data-gr-id="81">rule</g> of law and provisions of the Constitution, but on practices of the community. On many <g data-gr-id="80">occasions</g> we see a clash between community practices and Constitutional provisions. Given this, governance has to operate in the new paradigm. It has been noticed that while evaluating the effective resource utilisation, both the local bodies and state governments are criticised by the Central government. The Centre often cites evaluation reports and audit reports to push its claims. Why do the state and local governments deviate from the well-established financial framework of norms? The reasons are many. Some of them prefer closeness of the government to people, proliferation of rules and regulations by the Central government schemes and programmes by the state and local bodies without giving them flexibility to accommodate regional variations, poor professionalism of personnel, and competitive populism practiced by the political parties for electoral prospects.

But the present context is complex. The state governments must reorient themselves fast to cope with the expectation of the Centre in reshaping the process of governance to take advantage of the new paradigm. The new <g data-gr-id="97">context,</g> envisages the state governments and local governments to act in a transparent and professional man. They have to work with some active participation of people, and on the demand of people to achieve a better outcome from economic growth. For transforming the process of governance and development, institutions have to be strengthened and professionally equipped, for which the state and local governments can involve institutions of higher learning. As they have grown phenomenally, they can be involved in a systematic way in the process of social transformation. 722 universities, 39000 colleges, 11000 research institutions, 80,00,000 students are the real source of strength, and they can be involved in preparing a <g data-gr-id="76">data base</g>, micro level planning, and implementation. Even if all institutions are not involved, at least 400 institutions of higher learning fully funded by the Government can be involved in this process as they have 500 social science departments with 250000 teachers. The 200 social science research institutes funded by the Central and state governments should be involved in micro level research and planning.

From creating awareness to skill development and knowledge sharing, institutions of higher learning have to reach out to communities. In the process, the state and local bodies can act more professionally. For an effective governance process, people will be mobilised for achieving development and strengthening democracy. By doing so, the linkage between these institutions and the communities becomes a movement. The interface between society and institutions of higher learning will be meaningful and mutually beneficial if they work sustainably. Apart from the above, the quality of education will be enhanced. As the linkage between industry and technical education, the linkage between higher learning in social science and society will enhance the quality of higher education which will be both productive and creative. Both community and the educational institutions will find ways for engagement. Their engagement will make every university a worthwhile space. 

In the process of engaging the academic community in outreach activities, students will be sensitised to social issues. They will develop concern for the community. Academics and students will realise their social responsibility. It will serve not only the students but also the entire society directly or indirectly. Academic programmes and research programmes will be socially more relevant. It needs only a framework and the University Grants Commission can evolve that framework.

(The views expressed are strictly personal)
G Palanithurai

G Palanithurai

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