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EducationWorld January 08 | EducationWorld


Image repair initiative

The Eleventh Plan, approved by the National Development Council (comprising chief ministers of all the 29 states and five Union territories of India) on December 19, which envisages an aggregate ‘plan outlay’ (i.e capital investment) of Rs. 36,44,147 crore over the next five years (2007-12), has made stellar provision for education. Prime minister Dr. Manmohan Singh who chaired the NDC meeting made it clear that spreading education across the country’s backward regions and marginalised groups is an integral component of the 17-party UPA government’s strategy for inclusive development.

“The outlay on education goes up from 7.68 percent of the Central gross budgetary support allocation in the Tenth Plan to over 19 percent in the Eleventh Plan. In fact, education is the most favoured sector and the three-fold increase in its share and a five-fold increase in the actual outlay demonstrates the criticality of this sector in ensuring sustained inclusive growth in the future. Nothing will ensure an effective spread of opportunity to all sections of the population more than the availability of good quality education particularly in rural areas,” Singh told the NDC while presenting the Eleventh Plan for its approval.

Awareness of the massive skills deficit confronting the country is belatedly dawning on the Union HRD (human resource development) ministry as well. Speaking at a national conference on ‘Development of Technical Education’ convened in Delhi by the All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) on December 17-18, minister of state in the HRD ministry D. Purandeswari, exhorted AICTE to desist from the temptation to control technical education and instead proactively encourage partnerships with stakeholders for improving quality and eliminating regional imbalances in technical and vocational education. “During the Eleventh Plan period, improving the quality of technical education is a focus area, with special emphasis on postgraduate and doctoral level programmes as we need to target a ten-fold increase in the supply of trained manpower countrywide,” said Purandeswari.

“Funds won’t be a constraint with higher education getting eight-nine fold higher allocation in the Eleventh Plan period with Rs.8,500 crore budgeted for postgraduate education,” said R.P. Agarwal, secretary in the department of higher education of the HRD ministry. Stating that foreign higher education institutions are welcome into India, Agarwal also proposed convergence of the UGC promoted NAAC (National Assessment & Accreditation Council) with AICTE’s National Board of Accreditation (NBA) to smooth accreditation processes, as also frequent open house sessions for public grievances.

Meanwhile, AICTE under provisional chairman R.A. Yadav (who recently succeeded the mysteriously transferred Dr. Damodar Acharya) is desperately trying to repair its image. “This is a beginning in the direction of initiating exchange, dialogue and discussions with stakeholders for propelling technical education to excellence. After winning provisional membership from the Washington Accord, NBA is now benchmarking the Accord’s best practices and striving for permanent membership,” says R.A. Yadav, acting (provisional) chairman of AICTE.

AICTE which convened the December 17-18 national conference to debate ways and means to upgrade and contemporise technical education urgently needs an image boost and makeover. Of late it has attracted widespread criticism for having drafted the draconian provisions of the Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulations of Entry, Operation, Maintenance of Quality and Prevention of Commercialisation) Bill 2007, which effectively prohibits foreign universities from setting up shop in India. Moreover, the council has also attracted considerable criticism in the media and in academia for its refusal to grant recognition to the diploma of the highly regarded Hyderabad-based Indian School of Business (estb.2002), and to Amity University, Delhi.

Stung by a report submitted to the prime minister early last year by the National Knowledge Commission which has recommended supersession of UGC and AICTE by a more credible IRAHE (Independent Regulation Authority for Higher Education), the lumbering and reportedly compromised AICTE is scrambling to burnish its tarnished image.

But with the importance of technical and vocational education finally having impacted itself upon the political firmament in New Delhi, AICTE’s image improvement and repair initiative may be too late.

Autar Nehru (Delhi)


Mondialogo Engineering Awards

The Mondialogo Engineering Awards (MEA) project presentations — a joint initiative of the Germany-based automobiles manufacturing and engineering giant Dailmer AG and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) — were staged in India for the first time between December 7-11 last year (2007), culminating in a glittering prize distribution ceremony at Mumbai’s National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA) on December 10. Student teams from 31 countries including the US, UK and Germany and five Indian teams participated in this high profile four-day event.

Every year MEA invites engineering students from developing and developed countries to form international teams to present project proposals related to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. Under MEA rules, the student teams are obliged to present sustainable solutions for major socio-economic problems of developing countries. More than 809 student teams aggregating 3,200 participants from 89 countries registered for participation in MEA 2007, vying for the prize money of Euro 300,000 (Rs.1.6 crore) awarded to teams presenting the best project proposals. Of them, 31 teams comprising 120 engineering students were short-listed for the final round of presentations held in Mumbai.

To promote international cooperation, under the rules of MEA, every project team comprised groups of students from two technical universities or colleges, with one group from a developing country and the other from an industrialised nation. The teams were given six months to present project proposals that would be of direct practical benefit to people of a developing country.

At the festive prize distribution ceremony in Mumbai, an international jury awarded honours to the top ten teams which presented high-potential project proposals. Although implementation of the proposed solutions is not assessed by the MEA jury, 11 previously presented project proposals have been translated into on-the-ground projects in the areas of drinking water, development of biofuels and use of solar energy in rural areas of developing countries.

“I’m delighted to see that promising young trainee engineers are putting their ideas, specialist knowledge and above all a great level of social awareness into the challenges of the future and are actively tackling livelihood problems of the poorer regions of this world,” said Prof. Bharat Balasubramanian, director of group research and advanced engineering at Daimler AG, at the awards ceremony.

The jury adjudged ten project proposals as the best presentations and awarded the ten student teams E 20,000 (Rs.11.6 lakh) each. In addition to the ten award winners, another 20 international teams which were shortlisted for the final round of adjudication received E 5,000 by way of prize money.

Among the ten award winning teams was Dhanada Mishra from the Jagannath Institute for Technology and Management, Orissa who together with his US counterpart Patrick Walsh from the University of Illinois, USA presented a project proposal on the development and production of solar-charged, battery-operated LED lanterns to replace oil lamps for rural communities in India. Also among the top ten was a team comprising Darshan Mehta and Vaibhav Tidke from Mumbai University who together with their Singapore partner, Veerappan Swaminathan from the National University of Singapore, outlined a sustainable model for economic improvement of Indian farmers through usage of solar energy for processing agriculture produce.

Gaver Chatterjee (Mumbai)

Uttar Pradesh

New ragging crackdown

Before Sanjay Pal Singh’s photographs were splashed on the front page of all Lucknow dailies on September 18, he was a cheerful if somewhat shy first year student of the Sahara Arts and Management Academy (SAMA) in Lucknow, the administrative capital of the Hindi heartland state of Uttar Pradesh (pop. 180 million). On September 17, the 22-year-old found himself chained to a bed in the psychiatry ward of the city’s Chattarapati Shahuji Maharaj Medical University.

Singh, who had no history of mental ailment, is suffering from a psychosis attack after weeks of continuous harassment or ‘ragging’ by his seniors — an age-old rite of passage ritual in academia, now strictly prohibited by the Supreme Court of India. Singh had complained of harassment to the academy’s dean but nothing came of it as seniors asked him to strip one night. A petrified Singh fled the SAMA hostel to his local guardians, locked himself up in a room, and was reduced to a violent, babbling and shivering bundle of nerves, until sedatives and five men overpowered him into submission.

Singh is only one of the scores of students across the country who annually suffer the most humiliating forms of ragging often leading to suicide, as in the case of an engineering student of a government polytechnic in Pratapgarh who poisoned himself on October 15. A month before that, an 18-year-old student of Madan Mohan Malviya Engineering College, Gorakhpur also took his own life following similar humiliation.

It’s pertinent to note that these latest incidents of harassment of newly admitted students or ‘freshers’ in institutions of higher education have persisted, despite a Supreme Court order dated May 16 directing state governments to enact legislation making ragging a criminal offence punishable by six months imprisonment and/or fine of Rs.1,000. Moreover, the apex court had directed that ragging cases be given top priority by subordinate courts for hearing and adjudication.

The court’s directive came in the wake of a report submitted to it by a committee chaired by former Central Bureau of Investigation director R.K. Raghavan. Constituted in December 2006 by the Union ministry of human resource development (under the direction of the apex court) to study the root causes of the persistent ragging phenomenon, the committee submitted its report to the Supreme Court on May 7 last year.

The failure of university and college managements to stamp out the ragging scourge even after being empowered by the apex court, prompted the Uttar Pradesh state legislature assembly to pass the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Ragging Bill, 2007, on December 3, which decrees a total ban on ragging in educational institutions. The Bill, which draws heavily from similar legislation passed in Maharashtra in 1999, mandates a two-year prison term and fine of Rs.10,000 for offenders. It also provides that in cases of written complaints by students, parents or guardians and teachers, the head of the educational institution should probe the alleged offence(s) within a week, suspend alleged offenders and file a complaint in the local police station. If the institutional head fails to do so, complicity should be presumed. Another important provision of the Bill, which was passed by the legislative assembly with a unanimous voice vote on December 6, is that offenders will be barred from securing admission into any institution of higher study for five years.

The student community is however cautious about the Act. Raghvendra Singh, a first year law student at Lucknow University, says the Act places students on a par with criminals. “Since the burden of proof is now on the accused, there is every chance that the provisions of this legislation will be misused by students to settle scores for issues unrelated to ragging,” says Singh.

But for the welfare of the thousands of students in Uttar Pradesh who have to endure the most humiliating coming- of-age rituals, this is a risk worth taking.

Vidya Pandit (Lucknow)

West Bengal

Induced panic

For several days in mid-
December, commuters traversing downtown Kolkata’s venerable College Street — home to the University of Calcutta (U Cal, estb. 1857) — witnessed the extraordinary sight of long queues of patient people snaking their way into the campus. The daily queues comprised recently graduated students asking for review of their mark sheets.

U Cal is one of India’s largest universities in terms of the size of its student muster: 300,000 at last count. Of these, an estimated 160,000 wrote their final BA, B.Sc and B.Com exams in June last year. Of them an unusually high 20 percent i.e. 32,000 students filed review applications by December 17, U Cal’s stipulated last date for entertaining mark sheet review applications. As applications were being received over only four working days, the pressure on staff manning U Cal’s antiquated counters was enormous. Also, the entire review applications process is manual, generating huge mounds of paper. U Cal’s Communist Party of India (Marxist) dominated workers’ unions have steadfastly resisted management attempts to switch to electronic, computerised systems.

College teachers, many of whom are U Cal examiners, ascribe this outbreak of students’ jitteriness to the new 1 + 1 + 1 exam system (cf. 2 + 1 earlier) introduced for the first time for the 2006-07 undergraduate batch. Under the new system, students in all U Cal affiliated colleges now write an annual exam every year against the earlier (2+1) system under which they wrote two exams at the end of the second year and one at the end of the third. “They didn’t know what to expect by way of questions in the newfangled semester type exams. Now that results have been declared, many of them feel they have been under marked,” explains a teacher-examiner who requested anonymity.

According to other teacher-examiners, who also requested anonymity for fear of antagonising their highly politicised union leaders, undergraduate teaching in U Cal affiliated colleges is bedevilled by a huge coaching racket. Job-protected and automatically promoted lecturers and professors intentionally under-perform in their classes and arm-twist students to enroll for tuition classes run by them privately after college hours. Since university statutes expressly prohibit private coaching by college teachers, this clandestine industry is a lucrative business in the black market.

It’s hardly a secret that U Cal introduced the 1 + 1 + 1 system to break the backbone of the private coaching racket. With students writing one exam each year, the panic occasioned by having to write three exams in two years has been substantially diluted, as students prepare steadily for annual exams. There is widespread suspicion that the review rush has been encouraged by the large number of racketeering teachers who alleged widespread under-marking in the new scheme. They believe that students’ review applications will persuade U Cal to restore the old examination system even if partially, so that the private tuitions business doesn’t lose its momentum. Teachers’ unions whose leaders themselves are active in the coaching racket, plead ignorance of this illegal practice. With most union leaders also active CPM apparatchiks, this racket enjoys political protection.

Forced to take notice of this year’s unusually large rush for review of answer sheets, West Bengal’s minister for higher education Sudarshan Roy Chowdhury resorted to pusillanimous bureaucratese. “Calcutta University should find out why so many students are aggrieved with the marks awarded to them. The authorities should do the needful to win over the confidence of students,” he says.

But the Rt. Hon. Minister has forgotten that he himself is the highest “authority” and is doing very little that is “needful” to get to the bottom of the review rush. In other words, as Pontius Pilate did nearly 2,000 years ago, Roy Chowdhury has simply washed his hands of the coaching racket that has led to the unprecedented review rush at U Cal this year.

Sujoy Gupta (Kolkata)

Tamil Nadu

Unworkable balancing model

As complaints about the severe skills shortage being experienced by Indian industry get louder and more persistent, India’s languishing vocational education and training institutions, particularly the country’s 1,896 government-promoted Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs), which inject 396,000 quasi-skilled shopfloor workers into the national skills pool annually, are on the threshold of a massive modernisation makeover.

While presenting the Union budget for 2007-08 on February 28 last year, Union finance minister P. Chidambaram had announced a scheme to upgrade 1,396 ITIs into centres of excellence in specific trades and skills under the public-private partnership (PPP) model. This scheme is an addition to the Union government’s on-going programme to upgrade 500 ITIs over five years, which began in 2005 and is funded by the government and World Bank. Now to upgrade the other 1,396 ITIs under the PPP scheme, a tripartite agreement will be signed between the director general of the Union ministry of labour and employment, a secretary of the state government and an industry partner adopting each ITI.

Under the scheme, the state government, as owner of each ITI, will continue to regulate admissions and fees; the industry partner will be given academic and financial autonomy to manage the adopted institute; and the Central government will provide financial assistance by way of initial seed money to be topped up by the industry partner if required. Moreover capacity will be doubled with all ITIs encouraged to start a second shift.

The Centre will also disburse an interest free loan of up to Rs.2.5 crore to Institute Management Committees (IMCs), constituted in each ITI (comprising local industry players and chaired by an industry representative), for upgradation and revision of courses. And quite obviously this time New Delhi means business. On October 25, the Central cabinet approved implementation of the scheme in the first batch of 300 ITIs with an outlay of Rs.774 crore.

The proposed scheme is of particular significance to industry in Tamil Nadu (pop: 62.1 million) — arguably India’s most industrialised state — which is confronted with an acute shortage of employable labour. This, despite the fact that the state hosts 59 state government-run ITIs which train over 19,000 people annually; 605 private Industrial Training Centres (ITCs) which churn out 56,000 graduates every year and 118 polytechnics with an annual intake of over 30,000 students. Nevertheless, according to a recent study by the Chennai-based ICRA Management Consulting Services, Tamil Nadu is likely to experience a shortage of 10.5 million skilled workers by 2015.

Although educationists and heads of ITIs have enthusiastically embraced the Central and state governments’ upgradation and contemporisation scheme, they are doubtful if industry will respond favourably. “Right now, we offer 50-60 trade skills under the craftsman training schemes started in 1950 and administered by the Union ministry of labour and employment, which are totally outdated. To meet current industry requirements we have to revamp the syllabus and introduce multi-skills training for which we need modern machinery and infrastructure.

However, only small and medium local firms are involved in the scheme so far, with large corporates and ISO companies hesitant to do so because of fear of political pressure and government regulations. But small and medium local firms pay ITI graduates a meagre Rs.2,500-3,000 per month while appointing them as apprentices. They are unwilling to conform to minimum wage and other government stipulations,” says a spokesperson of the Government ITI for Women, Guindy.

Given the paltry allocation of Rs.2.5 crore to be disbursed in slow installments, larger corporates tend to be cynical about the rapid upgradation of government-run ITIs. “The ITIs are still stuck in the era of obsolete carpentry and tool-making training programmes, while modern industry requires candidates trained in CNC machines and advanced welding techniques, electronics, soldering and panel wiring. Moreover, larger corporates tend to be wary about involvement with the PPP scheme, fearing hostility from government officials of the labour department who currently have a free hand in running ITIs without interference,” says K. Gopalakrishnan, general secretary of the Tamil Nadu Small and Tiny Industries Association.

Quite clearly, the success of the PPP scheme depends upon the determination of the Central and state governments to implement it rigorously. Conceptually, it’s a sound proposition which could revive the much neglected ITIs in Tamil Nadu and beyond, and churn out near-industry ready workers urgently required by India Inc. But the devil is in the details of the scheme which invites private participation without diluting the powers of government bureaucrats. It’s a delicate balancing act which is unlikely to work at the ground zero level.

Hemalatha Raghupathi (Chennai)


Quick-fix uproar

Confronted with loud complaints from industry and industry representative organisations in Karnataka (which is currently experiencing an unprecedented shortage of even minimally skilled professionals and labour) to the effect that graduates churned out by the state’s 693 arts, commerce and science (ACS) colleges are unemployable, the educracy has responded with a quick-fix solution with predictable results. On December 29, over 500 lecturers, professors and administrative staff of 26 government-aided arts, commerce and science colleges with an aggregate student enrollment of 15,000, staged a protest march and sit-down in Bangalore against a proposal to stop the state government’s salary grants to their colleges because they were rated below ‘B’ grade (i.e ‘good’) by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC). An autonomous college/varsity rating agency (estb.1994) of the University Grants Commission, under empowering legislation NAAC is authorised to rate institutions of higher education countrywide based on infrastructure, curriculum, teaching methods and other parameters.

The seeds of the current agitation, which could disrupt the education of 15,000 students enrolled in the targeted 26 ACS colleges, were sown in October 2006. To stimulate aided (i.e. privately owned promoted colleges whose faculty and staff wage bill is met by the state government so that tuition fees are subject to government control), the state government had withheld salary grants of 49 government-aided colleges in the state on the ground that they had failed to obtain the ‘B’ grade rating of NAAC. But following a huge outcry from teachers, it agreed to give the erring 49 colleges one year’s time to improve their rating from ‘C’ (satisfactory) and ‘D’ (unsatisfactory) to ‘B’ (good).

However at the end of the one-year time period, only 21 of the 49 colleges were able to get the higher ‘B’ grade rating from NAAC. Consequently in November last year, the state government issued an order withholding the salary grants of the 26 government aided colleges which failed to obtain a higher NAAC rating (two colleges are under assessment).

“In principle, FUCTAK (Federation of University and College Teachers Association of Karnataka) is in favour of NAAC assessing colleges for benefit of the student community. But the purpose of assessment is improvement and empowerment, not punishment. NAAC itself admits that its grades are subject to review every year and there’s not much difference between grades ‘B’ and ‘C’. Moreover NAAC accords great weightage in its rating process to quality of infrastructure in colleges, provision of which is the duty of college managements, not teachers. In the circumstances it’s strange that teachers are being penalised,” says A. M. Narahari, president of FUCTAK.

According to Narahari, failure of the 26 aided colleges to impress NAAC assessment teams is also the consequence of NAAC having changed its grading system in April last year. Earlier the council graded institutions of higher education on a nine point scale of A+++ (excellent) to C (satisfactory). Now it applies a simplified four point grading system — A (very good), B (good), C (satisfactory) and D (unsatisfactory).

“Under this new rating system only colleges which average 85 percent on all parameters are awarded B rating and the rest either C or D. In effect a large number of aided colleges, which had earlier been graded B, have now been relegated to the C category. Moreover of the 100 state government ACS colleges which had applied for NAAC assessment last year, 50 were awarded C grade. But they haven’t suffered salary grant or any other cuts. It’s unjust for the state government to penalise teachers in aided colleges while those in government colleges go scot-free,” contends Narahari.

Dr. V.S. Prasad, the director of the Bangalore-based NAAC concedes that the council’s C grade rating implies satisfactory teaching and learning standards which shouldn’t invite penalisation. “NAAC ratings depend on a number of factors including infrastructure, academic performance, curriculum, teacher quality, promotion of research, etc. There is no direct correlation between teacher performance and high ratings. If the state government wants to encourage government aided colleges to better their ratings, they should do this through withdrawing other grants such as equipment, hostel facilities and library aid, rather than salary grants,” says Prasad.

At the time of going to press, FUCTAK has petitioned the state government to maintain the status quo and give the 26 government aided colleges employing 500 teachers and enrolling 15,000 students another year to improve their rating, given that NAAC had switched to a new grading system. And with the state going to elections in April, it’s unlikely that FUCTAK’s plea will be denied. Politicians, irrespective of their party affiliation, will not risk inviting the wrath of the 45,000-strong teachers community or the larger students’ fraternity.

Joshua Muyiwa (Bangalore)

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