Millennium Post

Modi’s HRD comes as breath of fresh air

The Narendra Modi government’s focus on human resource development (HRD), a slew of directional measures and announcements to improve access to education, enhance quality of delivery and
spur innovation in science and technology, is a breath of fresh air.

Beginning with President Pranab Mukherjee’s address to a joint session of parliament, the government signalled that HRD will be a priority over the next five years. The government’s plan to formulate a National Education Policy, set up IITs and IIMs in each state and bridge the gap between formal education and skill development could indeed pave the way for youth-led development for the country. The speed with which HRD Minister Smriti Irani held consultations with the directors of Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and the secretaries of higher and technical education across the country is a strong indication that the government is not only aware of the magnitude of the task but is also addressing the quality and quantity of higher education.

The HRD minister enlisted support of the secretaries to address the patchy quality of education at a large number of institutes and universities that do not conform to standards, especially with regard to facilities or full-time faculty. The government simultaneously connected with the Indian Centre for Assessment and Accreditation (ICAA) to help assist Indian universities climb the global ranking charts. I consider the human resource a mega resource for the development of India and quality education a key for each Indian to achieve his or her potential. India’s Human Development Index, at 136, calls for massive improvements in education, health, gender equality, life expectancy and opportunities. Education, to my mind, is the only way to get 612 million Indians out of this ‘multi-dimensional’ poverty.

Universalisation of education – Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan – and the rapid increase in universities have swelled the Gross Enrolment Ratios but not the quality of output. Today, only four Indian universities feature in the top 400 of the world and none in the top 200. No Indian institute figures in the list of top 10 QS BRICS 2014 University Rankings presented to the prime minister earlier this week. India’s long-term growth can be only achieved by transforming its youth into a talent pool comparable to the best from the haloed portals of learning in Europe and the Americas. Education has a huge role in shaping the future of India by firing a new quest for knowledge on all fronts – liberal arts, science, technology, engineering and management. The HRD minister has a daunting task – of creating a skilled manpower pool that can fit 100 million new jobs at one end and enabling researchers and scientists, at the other end, to create technology that India can proudly call its own. We need an education system that has a quantitative as well as a qualitative component – one that can reverse the trend of churning out graduates with poor employability.

Millions of degree holders – ranging from unemployed to under-employed – need re-orientation so that industry gets manpower that is trained and creative and matches the best productivity levels. How can the HRD minister improve the overall standard of education, one that is worthy of earning global recognition for Indian universities and research institutions? What can she do to make India one of the top five countries in terms of research papers, citations and number of PhDs? Is it too much to expect half-a-dozen researchers from the Indian university system winning Nobels?
By focussing on skill-building and awarding academic equivalence to vocational qualifications, the government has articulated a desire to help the youth in the interiors of the country. Irani and her leadership team, both at the administrative and academic level, need to formulate new ground rules for governance, policymaking and bias for action necessary to step up the country’s Human Development Index.

In keeping with the Modi government’s mantra of ‘Minimum Government, Maximum Governance’ the education industry can do with less regulation and more autonomy, lowering of barriers between private and public universities, regulating outcomes and not inputs and encouraging accreditation.
The Indian higher education sector can flourish with the government doing away with debilitating regulations and restoring the autonomy of institutions of higher learning. In the past, such institutions had to contest many of these stifling regulations and seek justice from the courts. Regulatory bodies should redefine and reinvent their roles as ‘nurturing quality’ and ‘promoting autonomy and accountability’ which will ultimately lead to ‘self-regulation’.

Private and public universities need to collaborate. It means that private universities should pay attention to their responsibility towards society and public universities should generate funding from the industry based on the strength of the knowledge that they create as if they are a private university.

One of the key concerns of the private business schools has been the potential lack of a level playing field for Indian and foreign universities. Healthy competition in higher education and more choices for students will be good for the health of Indian higher education.

Internationalisation of top universities and institutions, both public and private, by encouraging enrolment of foreign students on merit – neither by HRD ministry-sponsored scholarships nor by way of entitlement – and hiring foreign faculty cannot be overstressed.
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