Prof Dinesh Singh, Vice Chancellor, University of Delhi in conversation with Dr Rajeshree Dutta Kumar, Yukti Pahwa and Sheena Joseph on the latest issues in field of higher education
What are the challenges and opportunities in the field of higher education?
The biggest challenge that we face is the need to ensure that India remains steady and keeps moving ahead in the education sector. The momentum should be augmented and if you look at it from this point of view, it is imperative for each and every university to be a part of this march towards quality and excellence. A university must think carefully about how it can anticipate the needs of the nation and contribute to it. Therefore, the university must also examine its own activities and compare it with what it is supposed to be doing. There has to be an alignment between what students learn and the actual requirements of the real world.
In 2010, the Project has successfully deployed ICT based learning system in Standard (Std) 8 in the State, besides the regular IT education from standard 5th to 10th. This system would be further expanded to Std 9 in 2011 and to Std 10 in the subsequent year.
Unitary focus on lecture methods will not be sufficient. For instance, mathematics graduates today either end up teaching in schools or in colleges, although there can be enormous opportunities for them in the industry, provided they are trained in it. This explains the reason why the Indian Space Research Organisation opened its own university. Higher education institutes need to supply students who are more industry oriented.
What is your expectation from the government with regard to the 12th Five Year Plan (FYP)?
The government has been very good to us, especially, during the past few years and they have been very considerate towards our university, even while assigning funds to us.
I have every reason to believe that the situation will continue to be the same. I do not have any extraordinary concerns on that front. The government has always been consulting the university, the Planning Commission, Ministry Human Resource Development and all concerned stakeholders for policy making. It has always been a two way process. We expect positive measures being taken for the university in the coming years.
What is your opinion about privatisation of higher education?
So long as the needs of the nation are fulfilled, changes are always welcome. If certain measures are detrimental to the needs of the nation and society, then there is a need to rethink these strategies.
I don’t think that privatisation will create a monopoly in education. Positive outcomes can also emerge out of private initiatives in education. Harvard is a private university but that doesn’t make it a profit making enterprise.
Additionally, it should also be understood that those who cannot afford should not be denied education either. There has to be a balance in that front. Education should not become a business and it cannot run solely on profit motives.
Talks are on for making a unified regulatory body on higher education and for the establishment of the National Council of Higher Education and Research. What is your opinion about the same?
Not having multiplicity of authorities is a positive element. Therefore at the conceptual level it is a good initiative. It allows you to cast out the old structures and recreate new ones and usher in changes at highest level. I think it will do good for the education sector.
What is your opinion about the semester system?
I remember, as student, I used to feel that having examinations at the end of the year was torturous. I preferred having assessment tests at shorter intervals so that the end-of-year study load would be reduced. Even today, students prefer to have semester system and the least you can do is to be considerate towards students’ opinion.
Some believe that the system woul hamper involvement of students in extra curricular activities such as sports but so is not the case, as is evident from the semester systems operating in universities across the world. This system is a well tried out and tested method in universities of US and UK, and it has been adequately demonstrated there that students can very actively participate in co-curricular activities along with their academic pursuit.
We have already established this system in the department of science and will be rolling-it out for social sciences and humanities shortly by July 2011.
What do you think about mainstreaming vocational and skills education?
It is a tragedy that we just pay lip service to the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. He would never expect one to learn without experimenting and doing things by themselves. Gandhiji wrote extensively on education, based on what he had learnt from his experiences and experiments. We burden our children today by pushing them into the maddening race of scores and subjects. Gandhiji has advocated that school students should spend a few hours of learning in a natural environment so that whatever was done with your hands is easily retained with children. We have forgotten this principal and what we need to do is to encourage action into the learning process.
There is a pressing need that we produce a knowledge force which can cater to needs of the industry. We want to encourage this business of internship for students. We also want people, from industry, to set up some interactive platform. ICT can help take this further.
What is your opinion about bringing about pedagogical changes?
The education pedagogy must positively change in order to ensure that students grasp and understand lessons, rather than blindly learning textbook content. Classrooms should have more interaction between the student and the teacher and monotonous lecture methods should end.
What is your vision for the future?
Our vision has always been to provide for the needs of the nation, and we have been successful to a large extent in this. Future will only see more and more initiatives in furthering this cause.