We have seen complete transformation of Education system: PM

The process of change has accelerated particularly in the past 10 years.

December 30, 2013 12:09 IST | India Infoline News Service

Following is the extract of the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh’s address at Diamond Jubilee Celebrations of UGC, in New Delhi.

“I am delighted to participate in the Diamond Jubilee celebrations of the University Grants Commission (UGC), an organization with which I have an old association. Today brings back very fond memories of the year 1991 when I had the opportunity to serve as the Chairman of the University Grants Commission.

It has been a very meaningful journey for the UGC ever since it was established in 1953. Its contribution to the cause of Higher Education has been widely acknowledged. I congratulate all those who have helped build the organization in the past 60 years.

These 60 years have also seen a complete transformation of the Higher Education system in our country. The process of change has accelerated particularly in the past 10 years, which have been marked by an unprecedented expansion of the Higher Education facilities in our country.

The rapid changes of the recent years have also implied greater challenges for the UGC. As the principal regulator of Higher Education, the UGC has done very well so far. However, the tasks that lie ahead require fresh thinking and innovative ways of doing things. I am sure the Commission will utilize the occasion of its Diamond Jubilee to reflect on how it should evolve in the future to be able to do full justice to its onerous responsibilities. I would suggest that it should also now play the role of a national ‘think-tank’ and organize a professional and purposeful discourse about issues that have a close bearing on the sound management of Higher Education system in our country.

In the last 10 years, our Government has put unprecedented emphasis on education at all levels- Primary, Secondary and Higher. I think it is in this period that the criticality of educational opportunities for the growth and development of our country and for the empowerment of our citizens has been fully recognized.

This period has also seen a very rapid expansion of the Higher Education system. Several new institutes have been set up, including 23 new Central Universities, 7 Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), 9 Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), 10 National Institutes of Technology (NITs), 5 Indian Institutes of Science Education & Research (IISERs), 4 Indian Institutes of Information Technology ( IIIT), and 2 Schools of Planning and Architecture (SPAs).

Several steps have also been taken to make the Higher Education system more inclusive. These include reservation of seats in Central Educational Institutions for the OBCs; establishment of new degree colleges in educationally backward districts, establishment of polytechnics in un-served and under-served areas and support to students from the disadvantaged sections of our society.

We have also made a sincere effort to leverage the potential of Information and Communications Technology to strengthen the Higher Education system. The National Mission on Education through Information and Communications Technology (NMEICT) was launched in the year 2009. So far about 400 universities and 20,000 colleges have been provided high speed broad-band connectivity under this mission. Under the National Program on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL), web and video courses are being developed for engineering and humanities streams.

All these efforts have shown visible results. For example, the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in Higher Education, which was 11% in 2005-06, almost got doubled to 19.4% in the year 2010-11. The GER for women in Higher Education increased from 9.4 to 17.9% during the same period.

Our Government is committed to carry forward the work of strengthening the Higher Education system with even greater energy and sense of purposefulness in the future. In the coming years we will not only continue our focus on the 3 Es of Expansion, Excellence & Equity, but also add a fourth E of Employability.

The recently launched Rashtriya Uchttar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA), recognizes the importance of the State Higher Education institutes which cater to a majority of the students receiving Higher Education in our country. It aims to create 278 new universities and 388 new colleges and to convert 266 colleges to Model Degree Colleges by the end of the 13th Five Year Plan, besides providing infrastructure grants to 286 State universities and 8500 State colleges.

With the recent approval of the National Skill Qualifications Framework (NSQF), our country now has an integrated and unified qualifications framework linking technical & vocational education on the one hand with general education on the other. This is a part of our efforts to encourage skill development in a big way so that a trained workforce is available to meet the needs of our growing economy and new opportunities for productive employment are created in large numbers. It will now be possible for people who have acquired training through non-formal channels to get their skills certified and therefore get better opportunities in the formal job market.

As a country, we can be reasonably proud of the achievements of the alumni of our premier institutes of Higher Education. They have done exceptionally well in a diverse range of areas all over the world. However, even our premier institutions do not figure among the best in the world and quality in general remains a huge concern in the Higher Education sector.

This brings me to the related issue of shortage of faculty in our institutes of Higher Education. This problem is likely to become even more acute with the expansion that is planned in the coming years. I would urge the University Grants Commission and other stakeholders in the Higher Education system to urgently consider the issues of quality and shortage of faculty and find innovative methods of resolving them.

Our university system needs to put much more emphasis on research and more specifically on enhancing the number and quality of the doctoral programs. It is important to note that inter-disciplinary perspectives are the cornerstone of present day research. We must therefore ensure that inter-disciplinary research takes firm roots in the culture of our universities. We must reverse today’s situation where individual departments largely operate as islands, and there should be greater focus on problems that engage the faculty in inter-disciplinary research. A substantive research initiative should also be designed to specifically address issues of critical national importance like climate change and disaster management.

There is also an urgent need for strengthening the university – industry interface to give a boost to Research and Development. This would be of immense benefit both to the university system and Indian Industry at large. Today, our universities depend largely on research grants for undertaking research. Greater support from Industry will not only lead to better research outcomes but also enable Industry to utilize these outcomes for meaningful practical application. It may be worthwhile on the part of our university academics to make a detailed study of how this interface works in other countries so that we can replicate the international best practices.

The ability of our universities to promote innovation excellence in teaching and research requires that they operate in an environment of academic freedom. This requirement of academic autonomy has to be balanced with the need for ensuring accountability. Let me take this opportunity to reaffirm that our Government stands committed to putting in place appropriate policies and institutional structures for ensuring the academic autonomy of the institutes of Higher Education in our country.

Although the demand for Higher Education has increased enormously over the years, the Central and State Governments’ financial support to institutions of higher education has declined in real terms. New models of financing higher education, based on well established norms, and improvements in the existing system of funding by the Central and State governments, therefore, are critical concerns. State universities in particular require focused attention and support to improve their quality of teaching and research. I am happy that the Rashtriya Uchhtar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA) is addressing this issue.

The integrity and authenticity of basic statistics about our institutions of Higher Education are critical for informed policy planning and strategic interventions. This points to the need for strengthening the university information management system on a priority basis.

I am happy that the UGC proposes to institute awards in the name of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru for individual excellence in the areas of Science, Humanities and Social Sciences, Technology, Fine Arts and Culture. I hope these awards will contribute towards promotion of high quality research.

These were some thoughts that I wished to share with you today. Let me end by wishing the University Grants Commission and the Higher Education system all the best for the future. The UGC has served our country with great distinction in the first 63 years but I venture to think that the best is yet to come and my very best wishes for the future.”

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