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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 33, August 12, 2023

Higher Education Policy for Karnataka: Some Issues for Consideration | P S Jayaramu

Saturday 12 August 2023


by P. S. Jayaramu

(5th August, 2023)

The Karnataka government has decided to appoint a Commission to prepare a new education policy for the state to replace the NEP 2020 which was hurriedly implemented by the erstwhile BJP government with an eye on pleasing its masters in Delhi. To be fair to the Congress government, the Party had stated in its 2023 election manifesto that it would abrogate the NEP if it came to power.

My concern in this article is only about higher education as I was part of that ecosystem for four decades, having served as Professor, Dean and member of the Academic Council and Syndicate of Bangalore University. Additionally, i was also associated for over a decade with the National Assessment and Accreditation Council ( NAAC) in the assessment and accreditation of higher educational institutions,( HEIs) getting deep insights into the manner in which the HEIs frame their curriculum. The issues I raise here and the suggestions I offer are related to the higher education policies (HEP) Karnataka government intends to come up with.

While the NEP was prepared by a Commission headed by the former ISRO Chief Dr. Kasturirangan, as education is in the Concurrent List of the Constitution, the central government was duty-bound to consult the state governments and accommodate their concerns before taking the decision to implement the NEP. But, the Modi government did nothing of that sort. The result is: we are witness to a situation after three years where most of the the BJP-ruled States have implemented the NEP, while many of the opposition-ruled states dragged their feet, either totally rejecting it or partially implementing it with some changes in a delayed manner.

As regards the Karnataka situation, the Higher Education Minister observed in the beginning itself that the government would consult the stakeholders. In that regard he convened a meeting of the Vice Chancellors of universities to elicit their opinions but for reasons best known to themselves, the VCs refrained from saying anything. The minister subsequently asked them to submit their views in writing. Ideally, the Vice Chancellors should have consulted the stakeholders in their respective HEIs and submitted their collective opinion. But, they failed to do so, probably for fear of being branded one way or the other. Recently, at a seminar in Bengaluru, the higher education minister announced the government’s decision to go for its own education policy. The minister and the former Chairman of the UGC, Dr. Sukhdev Thorat, spoke about the elitist and excluvist character of certain features of the NEP in the field of higher education and underlined the need for corrrcting them.

Against the above background, let me examine some of the aspects of NEP, which can, perhaps, be dispensed with in Karnataka, when the government comes up with its higher education policy. Firstly, the feature of awarding certificates at the end of the first year and diploma at the end of the second year to those students who decide to discontinue their studies may be given up, as in reality, a very high percentage of students opt for the degree course. Those who are desirous of doing short duration programmes go to polytechnics and do not seek admission in colleges. Generally, the premium is on acquiring a degree.

Secondly, the NEP itself has stated that the Colleges/ Universities can opt for three or four years degree programmes, with one or two years PG programme as the case may be. No great academic harm would be done to the students if the State decides to continue with the existing three years’ UG and two years’ PG programmes provided the course contents at the UG and PG levels would be backed up by emphasis on balancing domain knowledge with the requisite skills to make the students job-ready. This is where the Boards of Studies in various disciplines across faculties should mandatory give representation to industry experts to draw on their expertise in curriculum preparation. The Boards of Studies alone should frame the curriculum. The practice of associating the Karnataka State Higher Education Council in curriculum formulation should be stopped.

Thirdly, the exit and re-entry option of the NEP may be given up as most students ( and their parents too) accord priority to acquire UG and even PG degrees. Exit and re-entry idea is a typically western practice where students, (and not parents) themselves finance their education.

Fourthly, NEP’s decision to scrap the M.Phil programme is appropriate as the eligibility for entry into teaching positions allover India is a mandatory pass in national or state-level eligibility test.( NET/ SLET) Karnataka should, therefore, be able to abide by the NEP provision.

Fifthly, as regards the NEP formula for doing away with the annual affiliation of Colleges falling under the jurisdiction of public universities, it is a complex issue. Many universities in the State are of the view that the affiliation system is a source of revenue they would not like to lose, at a time when the government’s funding is declining. My own suggestion is that colleges which obtain ‘A’ grade and above from NAAC accreditation, be asked to seek reaffiliation once in 5-6 years period while other HEIs should be made to seek reaffiliation annually by an affiliation committee appointed by the concerned university comprising ONLY of subject experts. Nominated Syndicate an Academic Council members, other than academicians, should not be associated with affiliation committees.

Sixthly, the Academic Bank of Credit idea of the NEP, which is extremely student-friendly, giving them a chance go take courses in different colleges/ universities, including private HEIs, needs to be continued. It is gratifying to note that the Cheif Minister hinted at its continuance in his budget speech itself.

Seventhly, the policy should lay down strict guidelines for increasing the GDP spending on higher education to a minimum of five per cent, along with appeals to the corporate houses to increase CSR funding.

Eightly, the state’s education policy should be prepared within the overarching framework of enhancing access and equity in higher education to the socio-economically deprived sections of society. The necessary rules in this regard will have to be framed periodically, extending them to private and autonomous institutions too.

Finally and most importantly, Karnataka’s higher education policy should lay down the norm that at no point in time, more than 10-12 percent of permanent faculty positions would be allowed to be vacant in any HEI. The practice of hiring guest faculty should either be stopped or be followed at the minimum level. Equally importantly, the policy should lay stress on periodic capacity-building programmes for teachers (including Professors) to ensure quality in teaching and research.

(Author: P. S. Jayaramu is former Dean, Faculty of Arts, Bangalore University and former Senior Fellow, ICSSR, New Delhi)

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