New Social Welfare University: Need of the Hour
After the formation of Telangana state, the Social Welfare Residential Educational Institutions (SWREIs), popularly known as Gurukul Schools evolved into a parallel and robust system of education in Telangana State.
After the formation of Telangana state, the Social Welfare Residential Educational Institutions (SWREIs), popularly known as Gurukul Schools evolved into a parallel and robust system of education in Telangana State. Along with Social Welfare and Tribal Welfare Backward Classes and Minority Gurukul institutions are now spread across Telangana. These institutions earlier limited to school and intermediate, now have risen to the under-graduation, post-graduation, and professional levels. This is result of the Telangana government's special efforts to strengthen the Gurukul institutions. The number of these institutions in the Telangana region of the erstwhile undivided Andhra Pradesh was just 298. After the formation of Telangana State, the number of Gurukul institutions increased exponentially, to 1401 with a total of five and a half lakh students. Against the backdrop of the many successes of the students from SWREIs, their vast alumni, and other academicians have put forth a proposal to establish a Social Welfare Gurukul University. This proposal has also found support from civil society groups. The need for establishing a specialized social welfare university in Telangana is now a point of debate in higher education circles.
National Education Policy 2020
In terms of the Constitution of India and other applicable laws, rules, and regulations, there are no restrictions on the establishment of a special university. The Constitution of India indicates in Article 29 (2) and Article 46 that special facilities should be provided for the country's socially and educationally backward classes. The University Grants Commission (UGC) have set up special universities for various social groups. There are numerous tribal universities and universities exclusively for women already functioning in the country. The setting up of a different university to promote the educational development of Dalits and other weaker sections of society, would result in plenty of opportunities for grants and special financial assistance.
The new National Education Policy-2020 (NEP) contemplates several institutional and structural changes in school education and higher education systems. The policy aims to radically revamp the existing institutional structures, especially in institutions of higher education. The NEP-2020 looks at increasing the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in higher education to 50 per cent in 2035 from 26.3 per cent in 2018. As per the available statistical information, the GER of SC students in higher education is currently is at 22 per cent, and for STs, it is 15.9 per cent. Overcoming these differences seems to be the aim of the NEP-2020, which also emphasizes the need for special attention to the educational development of Socially Economically Disadvantaged Groups (SEDGs) and inclusive policies in higher education. The establishment of a special social welfare university in Telangana is well aligned with the objectives of NEP-2020.
The NEP-2020 aims doing away with the system of affiliated colleges that has been institutionalized since the beginning. Alternatively, the policy proposes the establishment of autonomous degree-granting colleges and universities. There are about 40,000 affiliated colleges in India, of which in Telangana alone, there are 133 government, 921 private, and 53 Gurukul affiliated degree colleges. As per the provisions of the NEP-2020, all these colleges must be transformed into autonomous degree-granting colleges or universities. However, the NEP-2020 allows the continuation of the Constituent College System of the Universities. Constituent Colleges are integral parts of universities. They can also be described as campuses of a university spread over different places. Being essential to universities, they are staffed and managed directly by the universities. As per the provisions of the NEP-2020, the existing 53 Gurukul degree colleges affiliated with various universities would not continue in the future. Each of them should either be transformed into an autonomous degree-granting college or collectively emerge as Constituent Colleges of a new university. The option of converting all the existing Gurukul under-graduate, post-graduate, and professional colleges into independent, autonomous degree-granting colleges would not be practical. The appropriate decision would be to establish a new Social Welfare University and incorporate the existing Gurukul colleges into its fold as Constituent Colleges. This would also provide a better organizational and governance structure. The new university can formulate its innovative curriculum, pedagogy, research avenues, etc.
Telangana: A Role model
The Telangana government has already set up 53 special degree colleges during the last seven-year period – 30 under the Social Welfare, 22 under the Tribal Welfare and one college is with the B.C. Welfare Department. These colleges are providing education for 25,000 students. Though these institutions run with the funds allocated to social welfare department, the student enrolment will be from all the communities, at present about 25 percent of seats were allocated to others including OCs. The students studying in these institutions are achieving better results compared to the conventional colleges. The Chief Minister Sri K. Chandrasekhar Rao's announcement of the 'Telangana Dalit Bandhu' scheme is also expected to boost the educational development of these communities. In this context, it is beneficial to consider setting up a separate and alternative system for the higher education of weaker sections, on the lines of the existing system of Gurukul institutions.
The existing disposition of Gurukul colleges as affiliated colleges to varied conventional universities of the state has been encountering several compatibility issues. These institutions have evolved with unique pedagogical practices, strict discipline, punctuality, and different governance methods. In addition, the courses currently offered in Gurukul colleges are diverse and are different from other degree colleges. They have already introduced new courses in under-graduate levels.
The existing affiliation system makes Gurukul colleges regularly run from pillar to post for approvals from four or five conventional universities. Further, it is also creating problems in developing an innovative curriculum suitable for contemporary times and introducing changes to course structures. On the whole, the existing affiliated colleges appear to be impeding the growth and innovation of Gurukul colleges. The logical way to resolve these issues is to establish a new and special state-level university for the Gurukul colleges.
The setting up of universities for the hitherto deprived sections in education and higher education is not a new practice. It is pertinent to appreciate the history of these kinds of institutions, for example, such institutions in the USA are known as Historically Black Universities (HBUs) had begun back in the 19th century. Fisk University, the Tennessee State University, came into existence in 1866. The highly regarded Howard University, founded in 1867 in Washington D.C., provided the first black judge, Thurgood Marshall, to the U.S. Supreme Court. Critically acclaimed black writer, actress, singer, Pulitzer Prize winner Toni Morrison, and Emmy Award winner Phylicia Rashad and many others are well-known alumni of this university.
The crusader of Civil Liberties and Nobel Peace Prize winner Martin Luther King Jr. studied at Hampton University is a reputed HBU founded in 1868. The famous educationist Booker T. Washington who studied at the same university, founded another HBU at Alabama in 1881 known as the Tuskegee University. This university, in turn, produced a famous black singer and songwriter, Lionel Richie. These HBUs in the USA continue to preserve their special features and prove to be among the best even in the contemporary period. The establishment of similar special higher education institutions for Aborigines in Australia and indigenous people in Canada is also relevant.
Countries with historical experiences of discrimination and inequality have instilled confidence in oppressed sections of the population through special measures in the education field in particular. These measures have successfully revealed the marvelous and resilient intellectual traits of deprived and marginalized sections and have converted them into national wealth. Now, India also needs to reflect in the same direction. Telangana, which has already laid the foundations of an impeccable parallel education system through the Gurukul institutions, should lead and become a role model for the country by establishing a new Telangana Social Welfare University.
(The authors are Former Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, Osmania University and Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Open University respectively)