Policy

A glimpse into the committed new HRD Minister’s vision for education

Marie D’Souza
A glimpse into the committed new HRD Minister’s vision for education

File Photo: Used for representational purpose only

Teacher, prolific Hindi writer, ex-CM of Uttarakhand and Ph.D., the new Human Resource Development Minister Dr. Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank wears many hats. Succeeding Prakash Javadekar, Pokhriyal hails from Pinani Village, Pauri Garhwal, Uttar Pradesh. Graduating from Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University Srinagar (Garhwal), Uttarakhand in Arts, and acquiring his Ph.D., he also received a Doctor of Letters degree. He started his career as a teacher in Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-affiliated Saraswati Shishu Mandir. Nishank came into the limelight when he defeated five-time Congress MLA and education minister from Karnaprayag, Shivanand Nautiyal, to win the seat for the BJP in undivided Uttar Pradesh in 1990. Pokhriyal served as the Chief Minister of Uttarakhand from 2009 to 2011. After his term ended in 2011, he was out of the political spotlight for nearly eight years despite winning every election during this time. In the recent Lok Sabha polls, he retained the seat from Haridwar and defeated Ambrish Kumar of the Indian National Congress by a huge margin of 2.59 lakh votes, and was chosen to lead the Human Resource Development Ministry.

Here is a glimpse into the committed new HRD Minister’s vision for education and the changes he is ushering in…

Budgetary benefits

Expressing his gratitude to Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman for giving priority to education sector, HRD Minister Pokhriyal said that the aspirations of all stakeholders in education sector would be met by this budget. He expressed his happiness over the increased allocation of Rs 9,843.64 crore to the education sector from last year. Total allocation for the education sector has been increased from Rs 85,010 crore in 2018-19 to 94,853.64 crore in 2019-20. He also lauded the creation of the National Research Foundation (NRF), which, he said, would play a key role in coordinating the research of all the ministries.

The central government has provided Rs. 781.42 crore to institutions under Technical Education Quality Improvement Programme (TEQIP) during last three years from 2016 to 2019. He also shared that an amount of Rs. 63.63 crore has been spent on high quality books and learning resources under TEQIP-III, which are being used in regular Teaching-Learning process at TEQIP-III institutes.

Pokhriyal also shared that the government has provided GATE training and Employability skill training to the final year students to improve their employability.
A total of 8,645 and 17,384 students have been provided training during 2017-18 & 2018-19 respectively through TEQIP-III. The newly admitted first year students are provided a 3-week bridge course in Mathematics, Physics, Communication skills and Computer, according to the HRD minister.

The minister also revealed that no other institutions are expected to be selected under TEQIP-III, as the programme is scheduled to conclude by September 30, 2020. There is no proposal to extend similar programmes to Commerce and Social Science Institutions.

School education

In the sector of school education, the Union minister has revealed that all private schools have been mandated to admit a minimum of 25 per cent of their students up to class 1 from weaker sections. Section 12 of the Right to Education Act mandates all private-aided, Special Category schools and private-unaided schools to admit in class I (or below) to the extent of at least 25 per cent of the strength of that class, children belonging to weaker sections and disadvantaged groups and provide free and compulsory education till its completion, he spelt out.

He also added that the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, which came into effect from April 1, 2019, makes it mandatory for government schools to provide elementary education to students. RTE also makes elementary education a fundamental right for all children in the age group of six to 14 years, he reiterated.
Pokhriyal also declared that the RTE Act under section 12 (2) also makes provision for reimbursement of expenditure to schools providing free and compulsory elementary education as specified in Section 12(1)(c). The school shall be reimbursed expenditure so incurred by it to the extent of per-child-expenditure incurred by the state, or the actual amount charged from the child, whichever is less, he added.

Teacher appointment

Overturning a Supreme Court decision on reservation in appointment of teachers in universities, the Lok Sabha has passed a Bill that proposes to make a university or college a unit instead of a department for the purpose of providing reservation. The Bill is applicable to all Central universities. The Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Teachers Cadre) Bill 2019, which will allow filling of about 8,000 existing vacancies in 41 Central universities and also provide 10 per cent reservation for economically weaker sections from the general category, was introduced to replace an ordinance issued in March this year.
In his reply to a debate on the Bill, HRD Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank has said that the bill will give a major push to reforms in the education sector, making it inclusive and fulfilling aspirations of people from different categories.

Describing the bill as the beginning of a new era in the country’s education sector, Pokhriyal said that the proposed legislation showed the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government’s commitment for the welfare of the last man in the queue. He also said that those opposing the bill had exposed their lack of commitment to welfare of backwards in society.

While moving the bill for passage, Pokhriyal said that it aimed to provide for reservation of posts in appointments by direct recruitment of person belonging to the SC, ST, Socially and Economically Backward Classes and EWS to teachers’ cadre in certain Central Education Institutions. He informed the House that there is also provision of 10 per cent reservation for EWS in this Bill.

Major ‘stride’

The Ministry for Human Resource Development (MHRD) and University Grants Commission (UGC) have unveiled their plan to promote “socially relevant” and “nationally important” doctoral research. The scheme, dubbed ‘Scheme for Trans-disciplinary Research for India’s Developing Economy’ (STRIDE), will focus on integrated research that combines the study of different disciplines. The government has said it hopes to create research that will have “practical use” outside of academia as well. Candidates selected for this scheme will be given grants up to Rs 5 crore for their research projects. The HRD Ministry has said that the scheme would support capacity building for research that can “contribute to national priorities”.

Union HRD Minister Dr. Ramesh Pokhriyal pointed out that the STRIDE scheme will strengthen research culture and innovation in colleges and universities and help students and faculty to contribute towards India’s developing economy with the help of collaborative research.

The Ministry is also likely to focus on research into Indian languages, with Pokhriyal revealing that the focus on Humanities and Human Sciences will boost quality research on Indian languages and knowledge systems.

STRIDE is divided into three distinct components. The first component aims at identifying young research scholars from across the country who will work towards solving problems that are local, regional, national and global in nature. This first component brings in the “practical” and “problem-solving” part of the scheme and is open to all disciplines with grants up to Rs 1 crore.

The second component aims to work towards research focused on India’s economic development and will involve students collaborating with government organizations, NGOs, universities and industries. Students can get a grant between Rs 50 lakh to Rs 1 crore.

The third and final component will focus on research in humanities and will involve students working with a “national network of eminent scientists from leading institutions”. The disciplines open to this component are philosophy, history, archaeology, anthropology, psychology, liberal arts, linguistics, Indian languages and culture, Indian knowledge systems, law, education, journalism, mass communication, commerce, management, environment, and sustainable development.
The government has set up an advisory committee under UGC Vice-Chairman Bhushan Patwardhan to oversee the scheme. Applications for STRIDE will be accepted from July 31.

Push for Indian members on QS jury

The HRD Ministry has questioned the methodology adopted by Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) to arrive at its world university rankings and has decided to recommend to the agency that it include at least 10 percent Indian members in its jury.

The London-based company, which is one of the most sought-after for judging educational institutes standards worldwide, released the 2020 edition of world university rankings last month where just three Indian universities made it to top 200.

The ministry would be making suggestions to QS on its methodology to reach the global ranking of the universities. It is felt that the QS jury is biased towards the western countries. Hence, it should have 10 percent of Indians on its panel.

The decision to make suggestions was evidently taken during a meeting of HRD Minister Dr. Ramesh Pokhriyal 'Nishank' with the heads of Indian Institutes of Technology, Bombay and Delhi and the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. The three universities have featured in top 200 of the world university rankings table.
For the QS World University Ranking, institutes are scored on six basic parameters - academic reputation, employer reputation, faculty-student ratio, citations per faculty, international faculty, and international students.

Officials said that reputation of an institution accounts for 50 per cent of the marks - an area where the Indian universities lose out the maximum number of marks - due to the absence of Indian representation at QS' panel.

Additional DU campus

The minister has also informed that the additional campus proposed by the Delhi University, stalled for three decades, may be ready by 2023. Replying to a question on the fate of long-standing proposal for a campus in West Delhi, Pokhriyal said the university has informed the ministry it will construct the campus on 16.79 acres in village Roshanpura of Najafgarh in southwest Delhi. The project will bring significant respite to hundreds of students from southwest Delhi, who at present are forced to undertake a long commute to either the north campus or the south campus, where colleges are scattered over a wide expanse of that part of the city. The project has been in limbo since 1989, due to a tussle between the Delhi Development Authority and Delhi University, ostensibly, over the construction of a road, which each party insists is the responsibility of the other. Hearing the dispute in 2018, the Delhi High Court upbraided the two parties for shelving the project for so long and expressed its concern over the rise in the cost of construction since 1989, the year when the land was allocated to the university.

HECI reforms

Draft legislation for setting up the Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) is to be presented later in the year. The HRD Ministry is seeking to replace the University Grants Commission (UGC) with the HECI by repealing the UGC Act, 1951. The ministry had placed the draft Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) Act, 2018, slated to replace the UGC, in public domain for feedback and more than one lakh suggestions were received. The draft has apparently already been prepared and now feedback is sought from various stakeholders and state governments, after approval of which it will be put up in the cabinet. The draft legislation for setting up the HECI will help to comprehensively reform the regulatory system of higher education to promote greater autonomy and focus on better academic outcomes.

According to the draft, the new commission will focus solely on academic matters and monetary grants would be under the purview of the ministry.

Some of the highlights of the HECI Act 2018, according to the HRD Ministry, are less government and more governance, separation of grant-related functions, end of inspection raj, powers to enforce compliance with academic quality standards and to order the closure of sub-standard and bogus institutions.

Regional language boost

The HRD Minister has shared that textbooks of university-level are being translated and published in 22 languages. In his response to a written question in the Lok Sabha, he revealed, “The university-level textbooks are being translated and published in all the 22 languages of Eighth Schedule of Constitution of India under various schemes of government of India.”

Listing steps to promote regional languages in higher education courses in the country, Pokhriyal said that the Commission for Scientific and Technical Terminology (CSTT) is providing publication grant towards the publications of university-level books in regional languages.

So far books have been published in 11 Indian languages including Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Oriya , Punjabi, Tamil and Telugu, he pointed out.

With some sweeping changes on the anvil, Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank appears committed to improving the education sector across multiple levels.

This article was originally published in the 3rd Anniversary (August 2019) issue of ScooNews magazine. Subscribe to ScooNews Magazine today to have more such stories delivered to your desk every month.

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