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April 6, 2009

Time to Follow Yashpal

The Yashpal Committee on Higher Education has recommended that all multiple regulatory bodies in the higher education sector be replaced by a single body — Higher Education Commission (HEC). This is precisely what the National Knowledge Commission (NKC) has also suggested, but only to fall on the deaf ears of the government. In its report submitted to the Human Resource Development (HRD) Ministry, the Yashpal panel has also called for doing away with the deemed university system, divesting professional course regulators like the All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) and Medical Council of India (MCI) of all academic functions, and expanding the IIMs and IITs to full-fledged universities. Prof Yashpal, himself a scientist and educationist of international repute, has also harped on the need for curricula reforms and compulsory exposure and engagement with work in the form of summer jobs or internships for all disciplines in each university and evaluation of students on that basis. The Yashpal Committee has in fact defined the nature and functions of the proposed HEC thus: it will be an advisory body to the government on policy issues; prepare an annual report on the state of higher education; serve as a think tank for higher education; create appropriate norms and structures for accreditation of universities, create a curricular reform framework; and establish transparent norms for setting up and closing down of higher educational institutions. The Committee has criticized the neglect of State universities at the cost of a couple of Central universities and stand-alone institutions, terming State universities ‘‘the backbone of higher education in India’’. Calling for an end to the era of ‘‘shabby treatment’’ of State universities in terms of funding and infrastructure, the Yashpal panel has recommended that these institutions be accorded the same priority and benefits as Central universities and allowed an ‘‘optimum size’’, while at the same time ensuring that they are free from political and commercial interference. The panel has advised that universities be made responsible for their educational content and professional bodies be divested of their academic functions so as to ensure autonomy and singularity of universities.

These are recommendations that a sensible government would act on without a second thought ever. Prof Yashpal means business and is showing the trajectory to a knowledge society that the country aspires to be. There is no reason why the medley of regulatory bodies, often working at cross-purposes, be not given a decent burial to pave the way for a new body as proposed — HEC. There is no reason why the universities be not made responsible for what they teach and how they go about delivering the larger aims and objectives of their curricula, beyond a mere classroom exercise of monotonic teaching and learning. There is absolutely no reason why, in this age of fast-changing, competitive and precarious job market, university students in every discipline be not asked to undertake summer jobs or internships towards the objective of appreciating the knowledge they have acquired and translating it to practicalities. In other words, Prof Yashpal has sought to put in place a radically paradigmatic higher education framework in sync with time. He has played a wonderful advisory role. It is now for the government to respond and follow him. THE SENTINEL

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