The mission mode of SSA has suited our conditions and seems to have paid dividends in terms of achieving almost the targets. We must appreciate the initiatives and the reasonable success
The Union Ministry of Human Resource Development has drafted RUSA, Rashtriya Uchchatar Siksha Abhiyan (National Higher Education Mission) for public debate. The mission document seems to have been drafted on the lines of Sarva Siksha Abhiyan for school education that is implementing MDM and other programmes to achieve universal elementary education by 2015. The Central government seemed to have been exasperated with the established regulatory bodies that became notorious in recent years in safeguarding and improving the quality of higher education and, therefore, brought out RUSA.
The UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have obliged nations to develop strategies to achieve the targets by 2015. Among the eight prominent goals, realizing universal schooling is one of the very important aims that had a bearing on the whole system of education. The Government of India has started different models to execute the strategies to accomplish the targets by 2015. It appears that the RTE, SSA and similar models are the outcomes of this craving in school education. The mission mode of SSA has suited our conditions and seems to have paid dividends in terms of achieving almost the targets. We must appreciate the initiatives and the reasonable success.
It was projected by some of us who worked in the area that the universalization of school education would ultimately put pressure on other levels of education in view of the rise in incomes and the eligibility of students to enter higher education. Now we have seen the pressure mounting on our colleges and universities. This will continue.
Yet, the enrolment ratio of the eligible group 18-23 who entered higher education has almost remained around 15 per cent, one of the lowest in the world. The ICT boom in the West and the demographic dividend helped India (some pockets) to capture the opportunities by creating short-term mechanisms that had ramifications for our system of higher education. No one seemed to have bothered about the consequences and we have responded to the circumstances and external demand by making some changes in the structure, content and process of education.
All kinds of incongruities entered the system. Some bureaucrats responded to the situation without much vision and comparative study except getting clues from the West and the World Bank. They landed us in trouble and higher education, particularly State universities and colleges, suffered the most. There are no teachers; labs are empty and research output is dismal. Can RUSA bring remedy?
RUSA draft consists of features like mission mode, flow of funds through State councils, State-specific plans and outcome-dependent grants to colleges and universities. The major objective seems to be to achieve the target of 30 per cent GER in higher education. RUSA would also take care of autonomy, faculty, quality, regional balances and equity considerations.
The strategy to achieve the targets is indicated as ‘Centrally sponsored scheme’ with ratios of Centre and State contributions varying with the status of each category of State. The funds will directly flow into the institute through State councils. The scheme has ambitiously taken on itself 21 targets.
It has also provided a methodology to arrive at equalisation formula based on 19 indicators to allocate grants to different States. It appears that RUSA is following the route set by SSA to avoid political interference in the distribution of grants to State universities and colleges, shelving the UGC, the AICTE, etc. Education was brought under concurrent list under item 25 through a constitutional amendment that came into effect from1977. Yet, school education has been the obligation of the provincial governments and, in some States, the major part of the budget consisted of expenditure on school education.
It was only in the recent period, particularly after SSA, that some grants have been given by the Centre to the States because the education cess on income tax is collected and supposed to be spent on education. In other words, school education was purely a State enterprise designed and advanced to suit their specific conditions, occasionally leading to controversies due to the political mandate of the ruling party. Higher education or university education, on the other hand, is a wide-ranging academic enterprise, often supported by the Central government in matters of standards and funding from the very beginning.
The scope and mandate of higher education is substantive knowledge and, therefore, required the support of a national government for an international or so-called universal learning and application. Thus, national leaders in their wisdom discussed and drafted the University Grants Commission 1953-56 on the lines of the University Grants Committee of the UK.
The broad objective of creating a secular socialist republic guided the policymakers in designing our education and institutions like the UGC in 1956. Commercialisation, private profit and supply of cheap labour to outsiders were not the considerations of higher education in the 1950s. All kinds of interests and dominance of privatisation and liberalisation, along with the injudicious theories like higher education as private good, entered our academic discourse and policymaking around 1990s.
The 1986 World Bank document on ‘Financing of Higher Education in Developing Countries’ was considered by the policymakers as a bible and policies were pushed citing the report and the received wisdom. The UGC Act, as amended in1972 and 1985, was aimed at “promotion and coordination of university education and of the determination and maintenance of standards of teaching, examination and research in universities” (Article12).Chapter III of the Act contains the powers, and functions of the UGC seem to have been repeated in the National Commission on Higher education and Research Bill.
The Bill was drafted as an omnipotent structure to appropriate functions of State, Central and autonomous organisations of MHRD. In other terms, it was conscripted with a spirit to displace the Department of Higher Education in the MHRD and a possible constitutional status to craft some post-retirement jobs to the influential with or without contacts with higher education ( see the qualifications of Chairman, Members and structure).
It seems, the usual working conditions of MHRD got disturbed and the system suffered a great deal during the pendency of the Bills and the duties entrusted to some officers. The regulatory bodies are converted as points for private lobbying, corruption and decadence of university education.
The pending of NCHER and other three complimentary Bills before the Parliament, drafted to make higher education a private good to be traded in the market and regulated by the State through these institutions, are alleged to be ill-conceived. Under these circumstances and with indifference to higher education policy for two decades, the RUSA has been drafted now. It contains several sensible elements and it is hoped that they would ultimately converge and grow as an independent institution to complement or substitute some of the discredited higher education regulatory bodies for the benefit of the future generations.