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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 24 New Delhi June 6, 2015

Vice-Chancellors and Education Ministers compete to keep India’s Standards among the Lowest

Saturday 6 June 2015, by T J S George


This is a real-life story that should worry us all because it shows how qualified Indians are defeated by our astonishingly inefficient system, in this case a university. This young man (YM) completed his Bachelor of Business Adminis-tration (BBA) course. On the strength of his provisional certificate, he got a job in Bahrain, but he was told to produce the original quickly. That didn’t worry him because he had already applied for the original certificate. However, the University didn’t reply for months. Suspecting fraud, his Bahrain employers cancelled his appointment.

The YM went home and applied afresh for his original degree certificate. This time he got it without delay. But it was a certificate that awarded him the B.Com degree instead of the BBA for which he had qualified. He sent a new application for correcting the certificate, told his relatives to follow it up and flew to Qatar where he had applied for a job. He was appointed on condition that he would produce the BBA certificate without delay.

The relatives succeeded in getting a BBA certificate from the University and despatched it to Qatar where the YM presented it to his employers. It was then discovered that the University had merely struck out the term Bachelor of Commerce and scribbled Bachelor of Business Administration in its place; the title of the printed certificate remained Bachelor of Commerce. The Qatar company naturally concluded that its new recruit was a trickster and dismissed him. Two plum jobs lost because of clerical crimes by a university.

It was not an isolated misdemeanour at the University of Calicut in Kerala this year. (This was the only university in the country where the Vice-Chancellor was openly boycotted by the students; when he rose to make a speech at any function held in the campus, students would walk out en masse and, when he finished, troop back into the hall.) Students who had passed B.Sc (Nursing) were awarded MBBS degrees by the University last month. The authorities blamed computer software for the mess. But everyone knew that it was a “reform” introduced by the Vice-Chancellor that caused the muddle; he had abolished a two-stage verification system that existed and put in place an arrangement where there would be no second verification after he had signed a certificate.

The Calicut University scandal surfaced within days of a more astonishing SSLC (class 10) scandal in Kerala that showed how irresponsible a government could get. The Education Minister announced the results—then quickly admitted that grave mistakes had taken place in formulating them. For the first time in the State’s history, the announced results were withdrawn and new results declared. Half-a-lakh students had their budding careers messed up in the process.

The Minister of course blamed computer software. But, as in the case of the Calicut University, the authorities were the ones who malfunctioned, not the machines. The Minister was after two records—in evaluation speed and in pass percentage. He announced the results 18 days after the exams. That meant teachers evaluating tens of thousands of answer papers in a rush—estimated at about five minutes per answer paper. The Minister also achieved 97.99 per cent passes. Among the tricks employed were out-of-syllabus questions and marks on the basis of “other abilities”.

Why did he promote such manipulations? Corruption, said published reports. One report explained that the government had allowed 700 new Plus Two batches in the new academic year and high SSLC pass rates were necessary to fill these seats. So where is the corruption? Admissions to schools, said the report, involved capitation fees. The government also opened up avenues for 1500 new teacher jobs, each carrying attractive commission prospects. The system ensures distribution of loot equitably among school managers, Ministers and party leaders.

This is happening in Kerala, the State with the country’s most enviable educational traditions. In Karnataka, another educationally advanced State, students and parents took to the streets last week over poor scores in the PUC results which they attributed to “shoddy evaluation” and “glaring errors”. And don’t forget the publicly practised art of copying in Bihar. Is it any wonder that not a single Indian university figures in the list of the world’s top 200? Expect no improvement in the near future. The overall education budget is down by nearly Rs 14,400 crores. And autonomy, the lifeblood of quality education, is steadily melting away. Development? Make in India? Not a chance if education standards fall this low.