‘Increasing GER without Employability Unwise’

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It has been proven conclusively that the government’s administrative machinery does not have any clue about managing institutions of higher learning, says Akshai Aggarwal, Vice Chancellor, Gujarat Technological University. Excerpts from an interaction with ENN

Akshai AggarwalWhat are the challenge areas which you think that need to be urgently addressed so as to revamp Indian higher education in general and your state?

For SFIs (state funded institutions), the major issues include diversion of money paid by students out of the education system, non-payment of proper salaries to the faculty members and inadequate number of faculty members. For government- owned colleges and grant-inaid colleges, bureaucratic management has led to a total loss of morale, with no focus on organisational objectives. After decades of efforts post independence, it has been proven conclusively that the government’s administrative machinery does not have any clue about managing institutions of higher learning. The only way out is to give complete autonomy to the universities and to hand over the existing governmental colleges to universities as constituent units. The state universities may be declared legally as non-governmental institutions so that courts do not apply the governmental service rules to the faculty members, technical staff and non-teaching support staff. The boards/syndicates of universities may be made accountable like Board of Directors in registered companies. For deemed and other types of private universities, which depend upon the fees of students only, there is no way that they can conduct worldclass research and establish world-class learning systems without government support.

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What are the new initiatives you have taken as the Vice Chancellor? Can any of them can be implemented on pan-India level?

Each of the following can be implemented at any university in India, provided the bureaucratic system which has chained the state and central universities can be removed:
Practice-orientation in engineering programmes and immersion studies in non-engineering programmes. For this, we have connected every group of colleges with nearby industrial estates. GTU has formed 25 such groups across the state. Special centralised evaluation and mentoring of Master’s thesis after literature survey and midway through the work on research. Annual centralised evaluation and mentoring of the research work by doctoral students.
Re-development of syllabi for designbased and project-based learning system; design orientation to be embedded into the new syllabi and open-ended problems to be included in the practical work. A strong 6-semester spine of design engineering to be included in the syllabi; seamless integration of design and project in the final year.

There have been suggestions that India needs to address the issue of increasing the gross enrollment ratio from 18 per cent to over 30 per cent. How do you see it?

Increasing GER, without addressing the issue of unemployability of university graduates is an unwise policy. First let us reduce the unemployment and underemployment of graduates. As we start getting results from these policies, then as a second step we may go for further increase of GER.

There is a concerted push from the government towards ‘Digital India’. Are educational institutes geared up to take it on?

Most of the SFIs have not invested in making classrooms digital. In most of the government colleges, even digital projectors and accessories are not used by a majority of faculty members. Very few of the colleges are using Learning Management Systems.

Are the states geared up to make our education system world class?

No. India’s administrative system is not willing to release the higher education system from the crippling chains that it has been bound with from the very beginning of the modern university system in the Indian subcontinent. n

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