By Sanjeev Chopra
One of the most important conversations at this edition of the Valley of Words will be the Vice Chancelor’s Roundtable on the New Education Policy, as Dehradun is now an important hub for higher education – with a wide range of universities – from Deemed ones to those that are publicly funded by the state government (Doon University), GoI supported institutions like the FRI to private universities like UPES, DIT, GEU and GEHU, which offer a large number of programmes in the professional, STEM and liberal arts stream. Dehradun also has a very diverse student population not just from within India, but from across nations in Africa, Europe, Bangladesh, Bhutan and South East Asia as well.
Although the NEP is a comprehensive document which starts with fifteen years of school education spread over foundational (five), preparatory, (three), middle (three) and secondary (two and two), the focus of this session will be on the changes to the higher education policy – but, more importantly, the aspects related to both public and private spending on higher education.
Chaired by Chancellor Dr N Ravi Shanker, the former Chief Secretary of Uttarakhand with several years of experience as the Principal Secretary of Higher Education of the state, the roundtable will have present Dr Ram Sharma from UPES, Dr Sanjay Jasola from GEHU, Prof Dr Nripendra Singh of GEU, as well as Dr Surekha Dangwal from the Doon University. All the VCs are veterans of higher education and represent a wide range of institutional affiliations. The questions that are uppermost on everyone’s mind is whether the lofty ideals laid down in the NEP can be implemented in letter and spirit – because unless the faculty is willing to adapt and adopt the new changes, the outcome may just be ‘one more additional year’ in college, thereby calling for the commitment of more time and more resources – not just from the students, but also from the faculty as well the institutions. This also means that many students will have the option of splitting their college degree in two or more parts and gaining internship/apprenticeship experience in the intervening period.
While the discussions would be quite wide ranging, the moderator of the session Dr Amna Mirza from the Sarojini Naidu Gender Studies Centre at Jamia listed some key issues for the deliberation of the VCs. The first, and perhaps the key USP of the NEP, is the focus on Indian Knowledge Systems (IKS) in all fields and branches of education – from history and philosophy to medical sciences and gender studies. In Gender Studies for instance, the focus of the IKS is not on looking at the two genders as binaries, but in the spirt of Ardhnareeshwar: man and woman together, and the transgenders too have not been confined to the periphery, but are intrinsic to the epic. In medicine, it is not just the aspect of cure, but of prevention and holistic healing.
The second is about flexibility in the design of curriculum. For far too long, we have been very rigid and inflexible about subject combinations and fields of study. Now, it would be possible to combine the study of philosophy with physics – thereby leading to a better understanding of, both, the ontology and epistemology of learning. Political science and economics have often been studied together, but how about classics and mathematics, or biology and statistics? The new interdisciplinary will be a wonderous construct indeed.
Vice Chancellors may also like to consider the professional growth of academics. For those of us who studied liberal arts in the last century, the syllabi, question papers, recommended readings and ‘Guess Papers’ were kind of frozen. Not any longer. The new co-learning curricula enable teachers to design new courses, encourage research on aspects that were hitherto unexplored, and bring in more of the local and regional aspects – of history, polity, economy, livelihood patterns, geography and literature.
Educational hierarchies may also become flatter with all degree colleges becoming centres of research and excellence, and every district getting at least one multi-disciplinary university, thereby taking out higher education as the conclave of the elite to a congregation of the commons.
Then comes the role of the government – from being the exclusive provider of higher education to a regulator to a facilitator of higher education. How will the political parties evolve a consensus to ensure that the GDP spend on education grows from the current levels of 2% to 3% immediately, and then an incremental rise to about 5% as India that is Bharat make the transition to a knowledge economy.
Last but not the least is the question of equity. The faculty and facility available to the private institutions is many times superior to that available to students going to publicly funded colleges and universities. Whether or not a liberal scholarship scheme to ensure diversity and equity in private colleges which do not take assistance from the state is a question that needs to be addressed as well.
And, in any case, when such a bright group of people will sit together to discuss these points, many new ones will emerge as well, which is why it promises to be one of the most interesting offerings at the Seventh edition of VoW on 16th and 17th December at Dehradun.