Where are India’s world class rural institutes?
Transforming Rural India by enabling the people who live in the villages to lead a decent, dignified human life is an enormous challenge to both the Central and state governments even after implementing a plethora of schemes and programmes since Independence.
It was M.K. Gandhi who envisioned a new educational paradigm to transform India. He evolved various approaches to transforming rural India of which creation of a new educational paradigm remains relevant for solving many problems in rural society. The first education commission after Independence under the leadership of Dr Radhakrishnan had given due attention to the educational paradigm of M.K. Gandhi, and it devoted a chapter in its report on the need to create rural universities. This chapter had significant inputs from Dr Arthur E. Morgan and Dr Tigert, members of the University Commission of Education 1948.
The rural university or Rural Institute was conceived to prepare transformational leaders to work with people in the countryside to transform the community without ruling over them. Its conceptualisation integrates the three experiences and experiments of Danish People’s College Denmark, the land-grant model of American Agricultural and Technical Education and Gandhi’s model of Nai Talim tested in India for about 25 years. Within a short span of time, yet another committee was constituted under the leadership of K.L. Srimali in the year 1954, and it was called committee on “Higher Education for Rural Areas”. While constituting the committee, two important assignments were given through its terms of reference. One: how to take forward the experiments of rural higher education that was being conducted in many Gandhian institutions and secondly, to suggest ways and means through which existing conventional universities can make a useful contribution to the rural areas by solving the problems of the rural communities. These rural institutes were expected to break the development barrier between rural and urban population, and enable the narrowing down of the gap between culture and work, between humanities and science and technology, and between the practice and ideals. Rural institutes are supposed to essentially focus on planning for the development of the region. These institutions are expected to produce transformational leaders to change the communities and the rural scenario. Their core function is to link higher education to communities and societal aspirations.
In the Second Five-Year Plan of Government of India, a reference was made under the heading “Rural Higher Education” with a note mentioning that rural institutes are intended to perform a variety of functions for the rural community. Time and again it has been reiterated that the rural institutes are meant for a comprehensive educational programme integrating with research and extension activities. These have been visualised as a combination of local culture and training centre and apart from the above, these institutions have to work as centres for development planning in rural areas. The Ministry of Education proposed to establish ten rural institutes during the Second Five Year Plan period with the investment of Rs 2 crore. These institutes were not meant to be new entities altogether.
Leading centres working on the lines of Nai Talim had been selected for this purpose. To coordinate the activities and functions of the rural institutes, the Central government had constituted a Council for Rural Higher Education. Subsequently, few more institutions were added to the list. At one time, a total of fourteen rural institutes were functioning in various regions. Following the rural institute model, there have been several other experiments in the country. While evolving a new education policy in the year 1986, some aspects of rural higher education were included in the policy. Even at that point of time, neither the government made a thorough analysis of the functioning of the rural institutes nor did it examine the possibilities to move in a new direction. On the other hand, in stead of a new framework for rural higher education, it advocated only for extension or outreach activities.
Over the course of years, the mainstream educational framework has not accommodated these new experiments, and as a result, thirteen rural institutes merged with mainstream educational framework abandoning the Rural Institute operations. Since it was convenient for teachers of the Rural Institutes, they also have accepted to toe the line of the mainstream educational pattern without raising any question. But it was a loss for the rural community. However, during the tenure of P.V. Narasimha Rao as Prime Minister, an initiative was undertaken to revive rural higher education in India to meet the challenges of globalisation. A National Council for Rural Institute was created with a mandate to further the activities of the rural institutes contextually. Under the agency of the National Council for Rural Institute, Hyderabad, a comprehensive study was undertaken to trace the achievements, failures, and needs of the rural institutes in India.
The comprehensive study was undertaken by Dr J. Karunakaran, former Vice-Chancellor of Gandhigram Rural Institute. He brought out a volume titled “Liberating Education for a Knowledge Society: Lessons from Nai-Talim and Rural Institute Experiments”. However, the initiative of P.V. Narasimha Rao could not move further, and now the National Council for Rural Institute is dormant and defunct due to lack of financial and institutional support from the successive governments at the Centre. The comprehensive study undertaken by Dr Karunakaran came out with a strong proposal for creating universities centred on regional development to meet the challenges of globalisation for the rural areas. The new regional development university is envisaged to work with the community by extending knowledge, skill, and approach to making use of the opportunities of globalisation, and, at the same time, mitigating the threats of globalisation. It was a well thought out proposal to create such universities. He has given a blueprint for the regional development university as rural-urban continuum needs support from this kind of a new university.
Further, the newly proposed regional institutes are highly relevant to support the activities of the rural and urban local bodies to evolve development plans, as per the mandate based on the recommendations of the Fourteenth Finance Commission of Government of India, as resource agencies. While developing such a plan for village development in the context of climate change, disaster preparedness, and green growth, the regional development universities’ role is inevitable. Against this background, the new draft education policy neither talks about extension nor rural higher education. It can be observed as a conspicuous omission in the report. It needs to be deliberated. Further, our policy community is very vociferous in making declarations that India has been establishing world class IITs and IIMs, world class central universities, but there are no such claims for creating world class rural institutes meant for rural transformation.
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)