5 Sep ; “You cannot move into the 21st century without having the necessary skill-sets to take you there,” said Shri H.K. Dua, member Rajya Sabha and an eminent journalist, while delivering the valedictory address at the North Zone Vice-Chancellors’ Conference currently underway at Panjab University, Chandigarh. Shri Joginder Singh, Editor, Rojana Spokesman was the Guest of Honour.
Shri Dua, in a free-wheeling address, spoke of the genesis of education in India, formulation of various plans, policies et al and lamented the fact there were still people in the country who could not write their names. “Fundamentally, we forgot to strengthen our foundations with education,” he said. There is the need to widen the horizon of thought, a need for national awakening regarding the multifarious roles that a citizen is required to play if he is to be an equal participant in the nation’s growth. For that he needs the empowerment that education brings, particularly an education that is not compartmentalised into disciplines. “Universities have to be the crucible for new ideas, for a life in harmony with all existence,” he said.
Shri Dua also stressed the need to de-politicize appointments in the universities in order to protect their autonomy. “But for that the onus lies on the vice chancellors”, he said.
Deliberations on the second day of the Conference saw an interesting mix of viewpoints regarding teaching and research in higher education.
Prof. S.P. Gautam, Vice Chancellor, Mahatama Jyotiba Phule Rohilkhand University, Bareilly stressed the need to think in terms of “localities” as there can be no one-time formula for development. “Diversity of India and its inequalities have to be taken into account while putting higher education into perspective”, he said. Redesigning of courses as per social realities, continuous evaluation, expansion in terms of infrastructure rather than in terms of increase in number of seats alone, were some of the issues pointed out by him.
Shri. H.S. Chahal, Vice Chancellor, Deenbandhu Chotturam University of Science and Technology, Murthal spoke from the perspective of a civil engineer when he called upon greater industry-academia interaction. “There is the need to induct professionals into Board of Studies, Academic Councils and other decision making bodies such as selection committees as only then would we have an education system that is geared towards employability”, he said. Citing the lack of skilled workers from the region, he called for skill-based instruction rather than the entire focus remaining on ITIs and Polytechnics. Lamenting the manner in which internships are stage managed, Shri Chahal stressed the need to increase the duration of the study programs where an entire year could be given over to mandatory internships.
Prof. V.P.S. Arora, Vice Chancellor, Kumaon University, Nainital spoke of the need of strong brand identities for educational institutions in the present open-market economic scenario. “Involvement of all stakeholders is called for”, he said.
Prof. Ravi Prakash, Jaypee University of Information Technology, Solan, referred to universities as the “main forum for seeding and breeding of ideas” and the need to sustain the same. Highlighting the malpractices that had become endemic in research, he suggested the institution of parallel cadres: Research cadre and Academic cadre – wherein the differing capabilities of faculty could be better harnessed and utilized. For instance, teachers who had an aptitude for research would be allowed to focus on that alone while the teachers interested in teaching alone could be allowed to proceed in the related cadre without feeling pressurised to do research for promotion purposes alone.
Lt. Gen. D.D.S. Sandhu, Vice Chancellor, Kurukshetra University focused on the need to have a system of accountability in place for Vice Chancellors, while at the same time expressing his angst at the system of rotation, which, according to him, brought personal politics into play. He also called for a structured feedback mechanism and greater autonomy for the decision makers at the institutional level.
Prof. Rajneesh Arora, Vice Chancellor, PTU, highlighted the innovative practices put into place by his University for student mobilization and access to affordable education with geared towards employability. “Just as there is the need for differently priced cell phone in the market, so there is a demand for employees with different intellectual capabilities”, he said.
Prof. K.R. Dhiman, Vice Chancellor, Y.S. Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry, primarily focused his talk of education and research in the agriculture sector. “There is the need for agriculture institutes to focus on specific areas and strategise accordingly as per specialisation and geographical identities”, he said.
In a presentation liberally sprinkled with quotes from historical texts and contemporary literature, Prof. Vijay Kapoor, Vice Chancellor, IGNOU, stressed on the need for expansion, innovation and equity as the foundation for a healthy education system in the Knowledge Society of today. “He who dares to teach must never cease to learn”, should be the guiding principle for all those connected with education, he said. He specifically focused on teachers adapting to the paradigm shift necessitated by the use of ICT in our socio-political reality. “In fact harnessing ICT could be the answer to increasing the Gross Enrolment Rate”, he said. According to him the critical factors for the education sector are location, capital, access to learners, respect for regional disparities and association with global players. There is also the need to arrest the alarmingly high dropout rates and other infrastructural bottlenecks if sustainable development is to be achieved, particularly with reference to the 550 million below the age of 25 years, were the other points raised by Prof. Kapoor.
Prof. Vijay Gupta, Vice Chancellor, Lovely Professional University, focussed his talk on the regulation of the education sector and the agencies that had the right to do so. “There is an urgent need to seek stakeholder’s objections/suggestions to be followed by States’ deliberations whenever any education-related matter is to be decided or policy is to be framed”, he said.
Prof. A.K. Srivastava, National Dairy Research Institute threw light on the thrust areas required in research, particularly with reference to dairy products and cattle. Areas include cloning, and the extension of shelf life of dairy products without the use of artificial preservatives.
The Conference, structured around the theme, ‘Expanding Horizons of Higher Education: Challenges’, was organised under the aegis of the Association of Indian Universities (AIU).