University Grants Commission (UGC) chairman Professor Ved Prakash appears to be a man in a hurry. He has a vision, and a special corner in his heart for lesser privileged students from backward and remote areas of the country.
He wants all institutions and agencies dealing with higher education to put their heads together and exploit the renewed focus on digitalisation in the country to the fullest and generate quality content to rapidly increase the penetration of higher education. He also wants reorientation in the thought process of teachers so that they become more sensitive to the special needs of underprivileged students from backward and remote areas.
In an impassioned address to a gathering of vice-chancellors, directors of Educational Multimedia Research Centres (EMRCs), teachers and students at the National Institute of Technical Teachers Training and Research (NITTTR) in Chandigarh, Prof Ved Prakash, shared some of these thoughts with them. Life in Chandigarh presents a few:
Few good institutions
The UGC chairman says that though the country has one of the largest networks of higher education institutions in the world with 844 degree-awarding institutions and 40,000 degree colleges, there were very few which could compete with the best in the world. The Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in higher education though has risen to 24%, it was still low with only 33.3 million of the 119 million eligible students in the age group 18-23 years in the country enrolled in higher education. “It’s nowhere near the 77%B in Scandinavia and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.”
Prof Ved Prakash felt while emphasising the need to reach out with higher education to a much larger student community felt that it could be achieved by generating quality digital content and exploiting the renewed thrust on digitalisation in the country under the present Prime Minister. He wants higher education disseminated in the backward and far-flung areas with the help of ICT tools at an affordable price. “We are losing valuable time and I urge Educational Multimedia Research Centres (EMRCs) to expedite the generation of quality digital content so that we demonstrate the will to fulfil the social and economic aspirations of a much greater number of students.”
Needs of lesser privileged
Dwelling on the special needs of lesser privileged students from the far-flung and backward regions of the country, who sometimes find themselves at sea in a highly urbanised environment, he asked: “Do we see most teachers showing greater compassion and sensitivity towards students who do not have much exposure to an urbanised atmosphere, or do they consider such students good for nothing and leave no opportunity to ridicule them?” He called for a change in the mindset of teachers on this count.
‘Spend with care’
“I know that institutions of higher learning are short of funds, and they will always be. The central and state governments have to show the will to put higher education on top of their agenda to help ease the situation. While the central government has to some extent shown the seriousness and commitment to do so, the state governments are sadly found to be still lacking in displaying this commitment,” Professor Ved Prakash added.
The UGC Chairman felt that “the institutions of higher learning need to be more responsible in the way they plan their expenditure and generate more resources for themselves by expediting efforts at quality research and linking it to the industry”.
Case for shorter courses
“We can also consider reducing the duration of our courses like the United Kingdom has done with its engineering courses, reducing the period to three years. This will also make courses more affordable to students,” he added.
About Professor Ved Prakash
Professor Ved Prakash has held eminent positions in a number of premier national and international organisations dealing with education in general and higher education in particular. Prior to assuming charge as Chairman, University Grants Commission (UGC), he served as Vice-Chairman, UGC; Vice-Chancellor, National University of Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA), New Delhi; and Secretary, UGC. He also served as Adviser (Education), Planning Commission, Government of India; besides as Professor and Head, Department of Educational Measurement and Evaluation, National Council of Educational Research and Training, New Delhi. He also worked as a Consultant for the World Bank.