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“HEERA” Can this be our Kosher Diamond?

HEERA is next in line. What must be the role of HEERA? Will it solve the existing issues?

“Fear Is the Key” is a 1972 film directed by Michael Tuchner and based on the 1961 novel of the same name by Alistair MacLean. Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk, have advocated research into precautionary measures to ensure future super intelligent machines remain under human control. They refer to a hypothetical scenario in which artificial intelligence (AI) becomes the dominant form of intelligence on Earth, with computers or robots effectively taking control of the planet away from the human race. Both these are scenarios of extreme forms of regulations and control, that bind humanity together by a chosen few and illustrate that from time immemorial, to time in distant future, humans or their creations have always tried to dominate and will dominate their own ilk and others, in every aspect of life. Regulatory frameworks excogitate out of this presumption.


Education like all other indispensables, so important for mental, intellectual and spiritual growth of human beings from the time they call on this world, is also regulated at various levels in this country be it Primary, Secondary or Higher. Exploring higher education, a defining moment in our lives, we see University Grants Commission (UGC), All India Council for Technical education (AICTE), Pharmacy council (PCI), Council of Architecture (COA) and various others, contending with each other to regulate, and ending up overseeing their areas of consequence and clout within the higher education space. It is another matter that UGC, set up as a grants commission transformed, nay metamorphosed into a regulator somewhere in the learning odyssey, conveniently setting aside its stated agenda. Though education is universal, these subsets vie for their own independent world and end in conflict from within and one with the other. Will one unifying Higher Education Empowerment Regulatory Agency (HEERA) proposed by the Government replacing some, or all of these be the panacea for all ills of the current system, or will add further to the discomfort, is a matter of empathy and discern when education is taken as a whole.

 

Institutions often crib of insufficient autonomy. Is there sufficient autonomy for organisations, is an oft repeated cliché that we hear, whenever quality is discussed or the failures are analysed by autopsies and post-mortems. In a democracy almost all organisations function from powers derived out of “Acts” that govern them. So in a way, the autonomy is built into the execution of those powers. Is complete power possible to be built into an act? Is it good to do so? What are these powers for? Administrators the world over, have grappled with these from time to time. The problem is compounded when the organisations in the context of autonomy are also regulators of education.


Education unlike other disciplines, is complex in its understanding, its interpretation and its operation since it affects the very living of human beings and the value systems they profess later in life. Intellectuals were never easy to regulate and their profession more so. As the adage goes, everyone in education manage themselves and others as well. Managing egos and managing inter-personal relations, cloud judgement, many times leading to outrageous interpretations. A loose ended regulatory outfit could be easy on autonomy but would need a rational and logical mind to make a correct interpretation and a tightly wound regulation would be tough on autonomy but would probably be judged the same every time. Both are equally bad. Strangulation or facilitation by a regulator is in essence a choice of words, understanding of the environment, the freedom provided for contextualisation of real-time events and an interpretation that follows out of a healthy debate. A leader and his local agenda, or lack of any, obviously becomes the fulcrum around which the regulation would be criticised or praised.


Regulators were never meant to be friends of anyone. Whatever are the provisions in the “Act” that one can use for invoking maximum autonomy, leaders have always made a difference. “For many phenomena, 80% of consequences stem from 20% of the causes, like Joseph Juran the Romanian born American management consultant said. Hence causes are needed to be built into regulatory frameworks, for them to be interpreted consistently and correctly later in time.      


In a briefing presented by Gen Colin Powell at the Outreach to America Program, SEARS Corporate Headquarters, Chicago, Illinois this is what he said: "You don't know what you can get away with until you try." You know the expression "it's easier to get forgiveness than permission?" Well, it's true. Good leaders don't wait for official blessing to try things out. They're prudent, not reckless. But they also realize a fact of life in most organizations you ask enough people for permission, you'll inevitably come up against someone who believes his job is to say "no." So the moral is, don't ask. He further adds that, he found less effective middle managers endorsing the sentiment, "If I haven't explicitly been told 'yes,' I can't do it," whereas the good ones believed "If I haven't explicitly been told 'no,' I can." There's a world of difference between these two points of view. All regulations would do a great deal of good if this is somehow built in the “Act’s verbose.


Again as Juran said, “Goal setting has traditionally been based on past performance. This practice has tended to perpetuate the sins of the past.” Any new regulation that is sought to be enacted, needs to be looked at in this perspective. 


A cursory examination of various “Acts” that govern higher education, technical education, pharmacy, architectural or medical and dental education and even law education will reveal several common provisions that are sometimes overlapping and even ambiguous. Interpretation of these have always followed the parochial interests of the people who are governed by them, invariably leading to turf wars. The animus of this is twofold. One is the affiliation system of the Universities, for every college that runs these disciplines is also affiliated to one or the other University. Even autonomous colleges are affiliated to a University for the award of Degrees or Diplomas. Apart from stifling and burking academics, they also are bound by a common thread of standardisation and evenness that does not distinguish between Technology, Arts, Commerce, Science and Medicine or any other. The other is the overlying and enigmatic provisions within the “Acts” that govern Regulators.  


When we are assiduously promoting specialised Universities be it in Energy or in Logistics or creating discrete Universities based on disciplines such as Health, Technology, Science, Languages, Music, Drama, and so on, can one unifying “Act” be designed as a true facilitator or enabler, not only of Universities but also their progenies, the colleges that are affiliated to them, is the million dollar question. The flip side of treating everyone at par can kill innovation amongst various disciplines and limit the amplitudes of development.   


HEERA would do well to remove these ambiguities without clubbing various disciplines like technology, Science, Pharmacy, Architecture or any other under one roof and one law. Education and particularly Technical education has been the bedrock of Indian civilization and her evolution all the way from the Vedic texts that defined its character and one that has withstood the invasions over time, even as it has travelled far and wide. Jurisdiction enshrined in Universities, limiting their expanse and that of their enrolling students, also must go, so that best of all can be accumulated as credits for the award of certifications.


Online and Blended education is seeing a massive rise both in acceptability and investments and needs soft push with approachable and friendly laws that will separate the genuine from fly by night operators. A large percentage of population below 30 years of age will increasingly veer to it in future, for a country as large as ours cannot possible invest in brick and mortar for ever.


Beyond a shadow of doubt, HEERA must provide level playing field to all entrepreneurs in education by aggregating the Deemed, Deemed to be and the Private Universities through enabling laws as against the State owned Universities that are starved of funds by providing innovative funding models like bonds, investments, private equity and even soft borrowings. 


Regulations, whether in centralised or decentralised mode, would always raise eyebrows since quality assurance calls for freedom to innovate. Let’s look at two countries where higher education is at the pinnacle and possible takeaways for us. Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), is the lead regulator for higher education in England. Their powers are based on accountability for the public funding that they distribute. Their work covers assessing the quality of education that they fund, charity regulation and a limited role in assisting the Government to operate its regulatory function for alternative providers. Funding and quality assessment and assurance are closely related in all regulatory functions. Similarly, the US Education Department steps in only when student interests are at stake. The Institutions have a great freedom to do everything else. Our education modelled on British systems, would do well to pick up these trends to promote excellence in higher education. 


With all this as it may be, the dial has been moving, when we were too involved with a lot of other chores to even notice that over time, the status of education has lost much of its sheen. The teachers, many of them, barring a few outstanding ones, do not command the same virtues, or vision, neither dint nor conviction to deliver, into India’s mainstream, a steady flow of outstanding talent and light. The need to provide access to a gargantuan numbers of youngsters, has only aggravated this tight spot further. 


HEERA must provide facultative and permissive environment for reinventing the Faculty paradigm in our Universities and Institutions. Students must return to classes inside the hallowed portals. All kinds of research that improves quality of life, exchange of ideas between intellectuals must be promoted. Incubation, Productization, and Entrepreneurship should be the corner stone around which a new India should emerge. This needs adequate funds and vigorous endorsement by the State.       


It is imperative that India’s education system is driven centrally and not through multiple self-centres, which is what education will become, if individual Universities have to start designing the spaces that in turn shall define the form and substance of affiliated colleges, thereby creating not pegs for holes but loose cannons. HEERA must endorse autonomy on an all-encompassing scale even if it means disruption in the education space. If market forces define, who stays and who goes, so be it. After all, delivery of education will also follow what market dictates. What defines even self-centricity is the radius! 


HEERA must like a gardener, plant a thousand flowers, arrange their beds and spaces, in a pleasant bouquet of colours. It must create a coordinated symphony between Education and the National Skill Qualification Framework (NSQF), drawing a unique audience of industries and entrepreneurs to light up the performances and fill the audience halls. 


HEERA like a true diamond, deserves to plough the land with its chariot and use a thousand horses in tandem, that must be created in the e-space; one that defines, manages, analyses, improves and controls in a fashion akin to six sigma. If the opportunity is lost, a thousand ploughs and a thousand farms will bloom and perpetuate as is happening today, without a unique, all-encompassing vision. Such clones developed in diverse farms, shall lack resilience, if transplanted beyond their self-centred radii. For it is now, the radius of the centre that matters!! So, can HEERA be our kosher diamond?

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house


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higher education policy reforms aicte HEERA

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