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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 25, New Delhi, June 6, 2020

Draft National Education Policy 2019 needs fine-tuning | Gull Mohammad Wani

Saturday 6 June 2020


by Prof Gull Mohammad Wani

The draft National Education Policy 2019 (henceforth DNEP) with Dr Kasturirangan as its chairman was placed in public domain for wider discussion by different stakeholders. The Covid-19 has meanwhile thrown new challenges to all spheres of life including education at all levels. The two core issues that have gained visibility in these disturbing times are: one, that everybody is looking towards state for resolution of problems giving rise to the idea of ’maximal state with minimal market’. The second, that pandemic may not go for a long time hence the state needs to give additional push to online courses/classes. Be that as it may Kapil Sibal,s thoughtless reaction as HRDC minister in UPA1 ministry that "I will do to higher education what Mamohan Singh did to economy" led to an era in Indian higher education system which saw state commitment to public education getting diluted. The minister was shifted from HRDC but the chaos and lopsided thinking on education in general and higher education in particular continues. In this write-up analysis shall be limited to the core component of public education in the special context of DNEP and also how Covid-19 has created a new template for thinking.

The current education policy was drafted in 1986 and revised in 1992 and hence there is need for revisiting the entire landscape of education so as to catch up with requirements of twenty first century. This is necessitated also by arrival of new actors viz private and foreign players on the scene. Earlier TSR Subramanian committee submitted its report 2018 which has found an echo in DHEP as well. Some leading academics have already commented upon DHEP report and in many colleges and universities in different parts of the country brainstorming sessions were held. Some prominent academics serving and superannuated wrote columns in leading papers/magazines on different components of the new policy. Sociologist Satish Deshpande claims that "it is a shock for academics who are used to reports not based on ground realities". The policy has twenty years vision and the same is explained in the report as "bringing in proper alignment between aspirational goals of twenty first century education consistent with India’s, traditions and values". My belief is that nation-building project in post-colonial India was explained and delivered to citizens through the instrumentality of public education which led to establishment of great institutions by the state. This public commitment found a policy shift after the 1990 economic reforms in India. The DNHE policy claims that benefits of education cannot be viewed in economic terms as far as goals of democracy, equitable society and cultural vibrancy are concerned. The idea that DHEP considers all financial support and spend on education as investment and not as expenditure opens a space for wider debate on status of public education in India in the context of DHEP. In this context we need to keep five essential issues in focus in order to understand the commitment of Indian state to public education.

First, the DNHE policy envisions significant increase in public investment in education. This per report would go up from the current 10 percent of overall public expenditure in education to 20 percent over a period of 10 years. In the estimation of committee public expenditure is not restricted to funds by central and state governments from their revenue but also includes funds deployed by public sector corporations as a part of their CSR efforts, in line with the companies Act , 2013.The policy makers need to understand that public education has as its basic mediator the people and not the government. It makes sense when K kasturirangan committee states in very simple words that "financial autonomy does not mean cut in funding but rather the freedom to decide how best to spend funds to maximize educational attainments". This policy stance is not a puzzle in a globalizing world. The fact is that Germany and Sweden are both capitalist countries but the higher education falls outside the influence of market forces. This also holds true for Canada as well.

Second, the committee’s recommendation for increasing competition for grants, ranking, self-financing and educational loans is ambiguous as far as public commitment to education is concerned. The data and general direction of practice of policy also is suggestive of decline in state funding of education in India. The union budget for (2015-16) has reduced funds for HE to the tune of Rs 3900 crore. Government spending on education has declined from 4.7 percent in (2013-14) to 3.65 percent in (2016-17).Surprisingly there is underfunding of primary and child development projects also ignoring its significance in an unequal society. The allocation for the integrated child development services (ICDS) scheme fell by 6.5 percent in 2015-16 and further in 2016-17.The centre has also reduced its share in the SSA from 65 percent to 60 percent (PIB 2015). The state governments laboring under financial stress have added to the chaos. In 2017 the Uttar Pradesh government reduced budgetary funds by 42 percent for secondary schools and by 90 percent for colleges. Prof Sudhanshu Bhushan of National Institute of Educational planning and Administration(NEPA) states : "previous draft of NEP bore the imprint of a veteran burucrat (TSR Subramanian) and second that of a space scientist (kasturirangan) makes interesting to see how the final political draft gets prepared. It might contain a synthesis in a manner that in the garb of autonomy the real practices will be intensified in favor of the market" (Economic &Political weekly) june15, 2019).

Third, it shall remain a matter of great curiosity for academics and more particularly parents as to how public funding of education as contemplated in draft policy is segregated from student-centric resource generation. Public universities have embarked on the process of internal resource generation which has acquired numerous forms viz, creation of special seats for non-resident Indians, starting of vocational courses, fee hike - enhancing admission, examination, sports and youth welfare related charges ,affiliation and inspection fee on colleges etc .By way of example the Guru Nanak Dev university, Amritsar raises 186.86 crore from internal sources(mainly fees) and 50 crore from government grant with an overall income of 235.86 crore for (2016-17,Tribune 2016). While internal resource generation to an extent is desirable but public education should not become unbearable for parents and students. The civil society actors, academics and policy making community need to intensely scrutinize/audit the internal governance structures in universities and more so the state universities. There is need for internal governance in universities and in their governing bodies so as to inject innovation and professional expertise in decision-making. The line of demarcation between a public and private university must remain visible.

Fourth, within the matrix of public education we need to find out the discrepancy in funding between state and the central universities to capture the direction and imprint of centralization on policy of higher education. In 2015-16 roughly 56 percent of UGC plan grants and 88 percent non-plan grants went to central universities. The state universities received 19 percent and 4.3 percent respectively. The faculty teaching in peripheral universities would definitely like to know as to whether state universities are less public compared to central universities as far as student intake and financial requirements are concerned and do policy planners think that state universities are marginal in the task of nation-building in contemporary India. Further, there is no magic that state grants are the sole route to make universities or other higher education institutions more productive. Throwing money in the lap of public institutions is not necessarily going to provide them road to excellence. By way of an example there are two universities -South Asian university and Nalanda which are funded by Ministry of External Affairs. In 2017-18 SAU with just 522 students and 56 faculty members received Rs 260 crore and Nalanda during 2015-16 got 200 crore.As against this the state university of Jadavpur with 10,000 students and 600 faculty members got just 226 crore public funds. The little known fact is that private universities such as OP Jindal, Ashoka, Shiv Nadar have been able to attract both foreign students and faculty but government funded institutes/universities have miserably failed to attract the foreign teachers to their campuses. This issue needs to be debated comprehensively in order to generate positive feedback on the new policy.

Finally, the draft education policy was produced in pre-Covid -19 circumstances and needs to be fine-tuned after the pandemic has hit the world. It so happened after 9/11 that institutes/centers of peace studies emerged not only in USA but in other countries as well. In India in many universities centers of peace studies were established to enhance understanding and importance of peace in world. After Covid-19 all institutions shall be under state and societal pressure to study pandemics in historical perspective and also inform different stakeholders about the importance of studying them. The UGC has already written to universities to study the pandemics that have struck world at different periods of history and draw proper lessons for the present. Further, the K. kasturirangan report also needs to think afresh about online classes and degrees that have assumed critical significance due to the pandemic. The HRD ministry makes headlines these days and the minister is routinely tweeting video messages to students and teachers appealing to them to stay connected through online education and also seeking suggestions from parents. The pandemics as a matter of fact must factor in our thinking and imagination at different levels. The very process of curriculum development must be informed by how Covid 19 is going to shape the new world order. The world faces the prospect of a profound shift: a return to nature which means self-sufficient economy which obviously doesn’t mean insularity or isolation. Some experts are already thinking about what they call as "natural economy". For on-line classes and degrees the different stakeholders need to think seriously about preparedness at different levels to catch up with objectives of virtual education. We need to ensure ’six-tier’ readiness in the system before thinking of obtaining any concrete benefits from on-line education. There ought to be readiness at the level of university/college, faculty readiness, library readiness, technology readiness and last but not the least the readiness of the student. As teachers we need to avoid head-in-sand approach and look at India beyond its cities and urban clusters. An estimated 12 million students in schools in USA have no internet connection at home. According to NITI Auyug 55000 villages in India are without mobile network coverage.

The fact of the matter is that mandate of public education in India is to push boundaries of knowledge and also to have thinking citizens .The Radhakrishan report on higher education(1948-49) had amply stated that state aid must not be confused with state control. These may be lofty goals by contemporary Indian standards but public education shall remain to be navigated by the citizens and their tax money. Some of above-cited concerns must adequately factor in any further discussion on draft educational policy.

Prof Gull Mohammad Wani is teaching political science at Kashmir University

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