Thursday, 28 August 2014

Applying education reforms in true spirit

Applying education reforms in true spirit

Srinivas K Saidapur, Aug 28, 2014, DHNS:
Declining educational standards in the recent decades, poor or obsolete infrastructure, crunches in funds and faculty, huge increase in the number of eligible youth seeking higher education are universally known truths.
Srinivas K Saidapur looks at how different states and institutions can be instrumental in the fruitful implementation of RUSA...

Declining educational standards in the recent decades, poor or obsolete infrastructure, crunches in funds and faculty, huge increase in the number of eligible youth seeking higher education are universally known truths.

It is heartening that the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) felt the need to initiate the steps that are needed to build global level of infrastructure and faculty so as to develop competency and skills needed to withstand global competition. At the same time, there is a need to give due regard to access, equity and excellence as well as enhance enrolments of all eligible youths to higher education. 

These ideas have been the major concerns of various reports of the commissions on higher education. With this background, the government of India through MHRD proposed a new scheme called “Rastriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan”  (National Higher Education Mission), popularly known as RUSA, in the recent past. It aims at supporting colleges and universities that are funded by UGC under its Act (Clause 12B and 2(f)) as well as those not falling under these criteria of eligibility for funding by the UGC. 

Purpose of the scheme

The RUSA scheme is meant to usher good governance at the state and institutional levels for bringing in academic, administrative and financial reforms in a big way so as to achieve autonomy, freedom, flexibility as well as accountability at the levels of both – the states and the institutions.

RUSA therefore denotes a well thought out scheme of central funding for higher state education. It has also suggested the constitution of various governing bodies and structures at various levels.
RUSA funding is performance based. It is a scheme for planned expansion of access, equity and excellence in higher education. The ratio of central and state funding varies depending upon the institution; 90:10 for northeastern states, 65:35 for other states and union territories; 50:50 for private aided institutions.

The funds are given for both infrastructure and quality improvement. Institutional perspective plans, commitments of the state and the recipient institutions are key elements to attract RUSA funding. The State Higher Education Councils (SHEC) have a major role in bringing about reforms not only in its structure and functioning but also for the entire state machinery.

As per RUSA norms, SHEC is “an autonomous body that will function at an arm’s length from the state government”. Apparently, this requires considerable will on the part of the State governments. Not all States have their SHECs in place. Even if they have one it is often not structured as per RUSA norms. This could be one major problem in implementing RUSA scheme in States.

Given commitments and reforms in the governance of states and SHECs with appropriate mechanisms in place, the institutions can then formulate their vision plans and submit the proposals to the SHEC. The various plans so received in a state are aggregated by the SHEC and also place a super layer of its own ideas and then send it to MHRD for its final consideration.

Accreditation of institutions by appropriate/ recognised agency such as National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) is a must to be eligible for RUSA funding. 

This is non-negotiable. Base funding is decided based on student population, backwardness of the state, performance on access, equity and governance indices while competitive funding depends on the sum total of score of the state/ institutions on all norms.

At present, scope of the programme spreads to about 300 varsities (of the 574) and 8500 colleges (of the 35,539). RUSA components include: 

New universities
Upgrade of autonomous colleges to universities
Conversion of colleges to cluster universities
New model colleges
Upgrade of degree colleges to model colleges
Infrastructure grants to universities
New colleges (professional)
Infrastructure grants to colleges
Research, innovation and quality improvement
Equity initiatives
Faculty recruitment support
Faculty improvements
Research universities
Vocationalisation of higher education
Leadership development of educational administrators
Institutional restructuring and reforms
Capacity building and preparation, data collection and planning
Management of information system

Objectives of RUSA revolve around faculty issues (filling vacancies, creating new posts, faculty improvement), establishing specialised inter-university centers, innovation incubators, linkages with industries/ varsities/ research institutions/ civil societies through PPP models and enhancing overall quality of higher education (teaching, research and innovation). 

The states must have not only a SHEC but also its perspective plans, commitment of contributions as per cent of their own GDPs (GSDP), commitment to adhere to timelines for fund release, agreement to create separate RUSA fund, filling faculty vacancies, accreditation reforms, affiliation and examination reforms, institutional governance reforms etc. Likewise, similar plans and commitments are needed from the institutions. 

In short, RUSA is a new innovative scheme meant to enhance quality of higher education and increased access to it in view of the projected rise in the population of youths in the years to come as per the fast changing demographic scenario. If we fail to foresee the demand for higher education (access), quality of education (excellence) and equal opportunity to socially and educationally backward communities, future of the country will be at stake. 

Therefore, the onus of making RUSA a successful venture lies on the leadership of the state education ministers, chief ministers, SHECs and their administrative staff. The states need to provide dynamic/ proactive leadership (providing awareness of RUSA scheme, setting up needed mechanisms and reforms in governance and a worthy SHEC) with well planned timelines, lest the entire scheme be fruitless.

(The author is former vice-chancellor, Karnatak University, Dharwad)

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