Tuesday, January 29, 2008

India’s National Knowledge Commission calls for independent body to regulate higher education

Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s National Knowledge Commission, headed by Sam Pitroda, has called for private participation, philanthropic contributions and industry linkages to improve higher education in India. Pitroda also called for increased public spending, monitored by an independent regulator that remains independent from the government and all stakeholders.

He told reporters on Saturday that the second annual report of the Commission was submitted to the prime minister on Friday. He said it conceptualised an Independent Regulatory Authority for Higher Education (IRAHE) that will streamline regulation of higher education, monitor standards and licence multiple accreditation agencies for rating universities and institutions.

Deepak Nair, one of the commission’s members, said the proposed regulator would ensure transparency. The Commission recommended creation of a series of web portals on the Internet to become aid popular movements supporting the right to information, decentralisation, transparency, accountability and people’s participation.

The commission said that the government would be a key partner in setting up the national portals, which should be managed by a consortium with adequate representation to all stakeholders to ensure that they remain a dynamic repository of information and have greater community ownership.

“A plethora of regulations without adequate autonomy or accountability for institutions has resulted in a system that is over-regulated and under-governed,” the commission said. It recommended reforms in universities through frequent curricula revisions, course credit system, reliance on internal assessment and encouragement to research.

It also called for the restructuring of the affiliated undergraduate colleges that “no longer provide a viable model for quality higher education”. It proposed the creation of more department-based unitary universities and greater autonomy for the existing institutions.

Minority reservation: Commission member Jayati Ghosh said it favoured increasing educational assets and facilitation to provide higher education opportunities to all deserving students, irrespective of their socio-economic background. Asked to comment on a recent demand for reserved university seats for minorities, she said the Indian constitution did not allow religion-based reservation and the commission had acted on that basis in making its recommendations. The report has called for reforms in legal, medical and management education. It has also called for the creation of a health information network and the promotion of open educational resources.

The role of innovation, intellectual property rights, legal framework for public-funded research and traditional health systems have attracted the commission’s attention in a series of reports it submitted to the government during 2007.

In response to a question, Pitroda admitted that those in the government were not open to the new ideas in education that his commission had suggested.

“There is resistance at various levels in the government to new ideas, experimentation, process re-engineering, external interventions, transparency and accountability due to rigid organisational structures with territorial mindsets,” he said.

He said India was too large, too complex and too diverse for “one size fits all” solutions,, and the commission had therefore stressed decentralisation and community participation at the local level.

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