Majority Research In Regional Language Is The Hurdle: Dr. Pankaj Mittal Secretary-General, Association of Indian Universities

In an exclusive interaction with BW, Dr. Pankaj Mittal Secretary-General at Association of Indian Universities (AIU) talks about the challenges faced by Indian institutes to fair better in international rankings. She also gives insights on the Draft National Education Policy and proposed initiatives of AIU. Excerpts:

What are your views on the higher education sector of the country? What sort of reforms are required?

Higher education is one of the most important sectors in our country as it is producing manpower for the entire workforce of the country. For any country, all is well if its higher education system is good, as it allows it to harness the demographic dividend by producing better human resources. Of late, the issue, which is confronting the higher education system of our country is its ‘quality’ and ‘relevance’ especially in terms of employability and  ‘future-readiness’ i.e. its ability to produce graduates who are skilled enough to take up jobs which will be on the platter 10 years from now.  We need to realize that the job market of future, which may be as early as in 2030, will be entirely different from the type of jobs that are offered today. This will require entirely different skillsets which will be at variance with the skills imparted today. Our higher education institutes have to urgently upgrade their curriculum as well as pedagogy to create future-ready citizens. Further to this, when we want to impart future-ready skills to our students, the first step is to train and equip our teachers to teach those skills. Simply changing the curriculum will not help unless there are good teachers who can impart those skills to our students and then the teaching pedagogy has to change.

As you mentioned, many of our institutions especially under category III lack quality education. What should be done to improve the same?

For improving the quality we need to invest in infrastructure and faculty. This has to be done more emphatically in category III institutions as they take care of the masses. More than 90 percent of our students study in these institutions. There is no point in taking care of only the elite few, the overall quality of the higher education must improve. In India, we do not give much emphasis on learning through flipped classroom model. In our country, the students mostly listen to the knowledge given by the teacher in the class and there is hardly any scope for discussion, analysis and mulling as all the time is used in teaching only. In foreign countries, a flipped classroom model is used whereby teachers provide study material to students in the form of video lectures, readings, and web links to study at home and only discussions are held in classes which totally changes the learning landscape. The India MOOCs platform SWAYAM which offers curriculum-based courses from school till masters level is a laudable step in this direction. UGC has also allowed earning up to 20% credits through the MOOCs courses offered on the SWAYAM platform. 

What are your expectations for the National Education Policy (NEP)?

NEP is a very forward-looking and futuristic policy. The implementation may pose challenges as at many places it requires an ideal situation to effectively achieve its goal. But then again, creating a good ecosystem of our responsibility. The universities, academicians, leaders, teachers, administrators, and students in universities and colleges have to create this ideal situation.

Are you satisfied with the allocated budget by the government for higher education? What else can be done?

Not at all. The recommendations since the Kothari Commission for allocating 6 percent of GDP to education is far from being realized. The government has to invest heavily on education. Recently, many innovative methods are now being used like loans under HEFA and public-private partnerships. The budget for research, also, needs a fillip, the proposed National Research Foundation has the potential to correct the course.

What are your views on the proposed new body Higher Education Commission of India (HECI)?

Draft National Policy on Education, 2019 and HECI are totally at variance on the issue of HECI. The proposed HECI bill envisages a regulatory body by amalgamating UGC, AICTE and most probably NCTE with no funding power. Whereas, DNEP states that UGC in its new avatar will only be a grant-giving body with no regulatory powers. This dichotomy has to be put to rest at the earliest. By and large, HECI is a good concept but my take on this will be that instead of dismantling the existing institutions if we give more powers and strengthen the existing institutions it will be a better, cost-effective and practical step. If the UGC Act is suitably amended and the issues of overlaps between UGC, AICTE, and NCTE are removed then we can achieve the same purpose in a much easier, and cost-effective manner.

According to you, how can Indian universities fair better in international rankings?

We recently held a seminar where we invited the highest NAAC ranked institutions and the Vice President of QS to know what is stopping our universities from getting into international rankings. One of the major things that came up was that many of our institutions don't apply for the rankings. Secondly, for all these rankings a major parameter is reputation which is of two types - one is academics reputation survey from the academicians and the other is reputation survey from the employers for which each university can submit 400 names to QS in each category. Most of the institutions, who were present on that day, didn't even know about it. Thus, our institutions have to be a bit more proactive in the ranking business. The third issue is with regards to research wherein only journals listed in ‘Scopus’ is counted which may debar many of our journals, especially in the regional languages or those confined to the Indian Knowledge System.

As the Secretary-General of AIU, what are your future goals?

We are proposing the following new initiatives to benefit our stakeholders.

  • AIU Admission Portal, to provide details about the academic programs offered by different universities at one place to help the students to pick the right program in the right university.
  • AIU Job Portal, to provide information on job vacancies available in various universities at one place to facilitate the candidates in applying for teaching and non-teaching positions in universities.
  • AIU Collaboration Portal, to showcase the best course/department/facility along with its faculty and research outcomes to help the foreign and Indian universities to choose the right university for collaborations. 
  • AIU Equivalence Portal, to make the process of giving equivalence of foreign degrees with Indian degrees online to facilitate students who come to India after acquiring foreign qualifications.

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