An Open Varsity on Anvil : K N PANIKKAR, Chairman: kerala state higher education council

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The Council has a higher education scholarship fund for  which we hope to collect INR 100 crores

Please throw some light on the opportunities and challenges of higher education in Kerala in particular and southern states of India in general?

Generally, there is considerable value attached to higher education in Southern States. As a result there has been considerable investment, both private and public, in higher education right from the colonial times. That in a way explains the large presence of South Indians in bureaucracy and administration. Lately there is a shift in investment towards professional education, particularly in medicine and engineering. The opportunities in these two fields are very high in South.

Kerala is ahead of the nation in terms of access to higher education. It is about 17% now. However the main challenge is the improvement in the quality of education. Higher education in Kerala has not been able to keep up with the advances in many a field.

What do you think is the role of ICT in strengthening the state of higher education in Kerala?

ICT is now a very crucial factor in higher education. In the new educational revolution taking place all over the world the most important input comes from ICT. Kerala is relatively undeveloped in this sphere and efforts are now on to integrate ICT into the traditional system. The new Open University which the State is going to set up soon is going to use ICT as its basic facility.

How has the Council been able to enhance the quality of education?

The Kerala State Higher Education Council is a new body, set up only about two years back. It is trying to delineate its space in Higher education. It is primarily an advisory body of the government, devoted to the improvement in the quality of education. In the process it mediates between the government and the universities. It does not interfere with the autonomy of the universities. In its structure and functioning it is a collective of the universities, the Council and the government. The Council is of the opinion that the enhancement of the quality of education requires massive modernization, both in infrastructure and content. The Council is working towards several schemes of quality improvement.

What are the new concepts and programmes in higher education that have been evolved by the Council?

The Council has undertaken an academic mapping of the state by which we have collected all relevant data about the state of higher education. The most important programme is the restructuring of the undergraduate programme by which an open system is sought to be put in place. It consists of choice based course credit system with semsterisation. Apart from that we have also set up cluster of colleges which would help decentralise academic administration and sharing of resources.
Are there any schemes that the council has evolved for providing equitable opportunities for higher education and scholarships?

The Council has a higher education scholarship fund for  which we hope to collect 100 crores of rupees. The purpose is to finance all needy students and to promote the study of social sciences, humanities and basic sciences to which students are not attracted now.

What kind of facilitating role the Council plays in order to provide inter-likages among state government, universities, colleges and other institutions of higher education?

The Council has sponsored a large number of projects in order to generate critical studies on the state of education. They are being undertaken by established scholars and we hope they will form a major in put for policy formulation and academic reforms.

Council plays the role of a coordinating agency and a facilitator for the dissemination of ideas. It also undertakes the task of building consciousness among the academic community about new schemes and programmes. In case of the introduction of the reformed undergraduate programme the Council conducted about 150 workshops.  It also facilitated workshops of Board of Studies for preparing syllabus for the new courses.

Please share your leadership vision with our readers. Where does the Council go from its present state?

The Council`s main interest in the near future would be to formulate an educational policy which would ensure social justice and enhance the quality of education of education.

 The Council is very conscious of the role the private agencies have played in the advancement of education in the state. It is necessary to further mobilise the private resources. But then it should not lead to commercialisation of education. A public controlled public private participation is necessary so that the poor and the marginalised are not deprived of quality education.

Secondly, most of the energy and finances are spent on professional education. All good students opt for it. A major challenge for the council is how to rectify this imbalance so that there is fair attraction for other subjects. The restructuring of the undergraduate system it is hoped, would attract the students to the humanities, social sciences and pure sciences. In nut shell the future engagements of the council would be to create a new academic culture in the State. 

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