P V Indiresan

Bill on education lacks vision

P.V.INDIRESAN | Updated on March 12, 2018 Published on January 13, 2012

The proposed law on malpractices in higher education sidesteps the issue of making our universities world-class. Its norms are not in sync with systems in other centres of excellence.

On April 19, 2010, Mr Kapil Sibal, Union Minister for Human Resource Development, proposed a new Bill called ‘The Prohibition of Unfair Practices in Technical Educational Institutions, Medical Educational Institutions and Universities, Bill, 2010.' He got it approved by the Cabinet a month later on May 19. The Bill has not yet been passed, probably due to strong opposition from the parties concerned. Their primary concern lies in its statement that “current national policy supported by several judicial pronouncements is against commercialisation of higher education”.

We will consider three of the objectives of the Bill:

prohibition of accepting admission fee and other fees and charges other than such fee or charges for such admission as declared by the institution in the prospectus for admission ;

prohibition of admission without specified admission test for selection of the students where such test is required to be conducted as per appropriate statutory authority;

prohibition of demanding or charging or accepting, directly or indirectly, capitation fee or demand by donation, by way of consideration for admission to any seat or seats in course or programme of study, by the institutions;

Further, every person who at the time the offence was committed was in charge of, and was responsible to, the society or trust for the conduct of the business of the society or the trust, as well as the society or trust, shall be deemed to be guilty of the offence and be liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly.

On the other hand, “no suit or other legal proceedings shall be instituted against the Government or officer or authority or person exercising powers or discharging functions under this Act for anything which is in good faith”.

NO LOFTY INTENTIONS

Thus, the aim of the Bill is essentially negative and not positive. Nowhere does it aim to make our professional institutions world class. When Mr. Sibal took over as minister, he repeatedly expressed his dismay over why no institution in Independent India had produced a Nobel Prize.

Such noble objectives and concerns are absent in the proposed Bill. For a start, let us consider what changes in national policy may make higher education internationally competitive, even capable of producing Nobel Prize winners and the like. In that case, we should look at how great institutions thrive abroad. For instance, Harvard University has an Endowment Fund of about Rs 100,000 crore and there are many other similar institutions in the US.

They did not acquire such large endowments without accepting donations and incidentally, using them as what we would call “capitation fees”. Fundamentally, is there anything wrong in letting institutions accepting donations – with donors naturally getting some returns? That is one issue.

That is, can institutions accept donations and, as a quid pro quo, offer to include their names on their buildings, name professorships and even let them have some admissions in return? There may not be any objection these days to the former two. (When I was Director at IIT Madras even that was prohibited!) The third, relaxing admission criteria is more controversial.

ADMISSION CRITERIA

Nowadays, a student may be admitted under relaxed criteria on the basis of caste (or soon probably even religion) and nothing is expected in return from the candidate for the concession shown. Many of them take it as their natural due, and do not even care to support students from their own community.

Suppose, instead, a person offers a substantial donation that will provide scholarships to needy students, or endows a chair at a high salary, or supports a laboratory, or pays for the construction of a building.

Should or should not the institution accept such donations and even offer admission to the donor's ward if found as fit as a student of the reserved category? That is the first issue.

The second issue pertains to the procedure for admissions. The proposed Bill lays enormous emphasis on entrance tests. I know of a case of the daughter of a student of mine who got an invitation from Harvard University, to the effect that the university was happy to note that she had obtained very high SAT scores and would like her to consider Harvard as a possible option for future study. The university made it clear that the letter was not an offer of admission but only an expression of interest in pursuing further the possibility of the student getting selected.

Please note that Harvard did not offer admission but hinted about only its possibility. Thus, the SAT score was used as a shortlisting criterion and not as the criterion for selection. In fact, the candidate is asked to submit the names of three teachers to whom the university could refer for further evaluation of the personality and other attributes of the applicant.

In this respect, our university institutions are, to put it mildly, arrogant. They never ask the teachers who know their students well what they think of them. In the Western system, those referee reports are crucial. They are used to discover what social and extracurricular activities the applicant is good at.

The overseas university may then ask the candidate to appear for a personal interview. Then, based on SAT scores, performance in the school examinations, referee reports and the evaluation by interview, the candidate is selected.

It may be noted that no suggestion was made in the invitation letter about the fees the candidate would be expected to pay. Such a comprehensive process for admissions is expressly prohibited in the Bill.

(To be continued.)

This is 320th in the Vision 2020 series. The previous article appeared on December 31.

(The author is a former Director, IIT, Madras. Responses to >[email protected] and >[email protected])

Published on January 13, 2012
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