Structural reform in 100 days

Published : Jul 17, 2009 00:00 IST

RIGHT from the day he took over as Minister for Human Resource Development, Kapil Sibal has asserted that many departments under his Ministry are in need of fundamental restructuring. The review of the functioning of deemed universities that followed made it clear that the Minister was keen to initiate moves for reform without much delay. In an interview to Frontline, Kapil Sibal outlined his broad perspectives on the proposed reforms as also the thrust of the review of deemed universities. Excerpts:

You have made it clear there would be major, fundamental reforms in the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), particularly in the realm of education. How do you propose to go about it?

There are three principles that guide this sector. This is enunciated in the Presidents address to Parliament. These are expansion, inclusion and excellence. To bring about a fine balance between the three requires very sensitive handling. You cannot go overboard on excellence and destroy inclusion. You cannot go overboard on inclusion and destroy excellence. And you cannot expand without the necessary financial resources, without the necessary faculties both at the higher education level and at the school level. The real challenge is to bring all these together in a delicate balance without negatively impacting any of these principles. Many of our programmes like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan [SSA] are effective and we claim that it has served its purpose, but there is a huge dropout rate; 40 to 50 per cent up to class VIII. We have to break that rate. That is our primary objective and we need an enormously effective implementation machinery to achieve this.

You have indicated that the reforms would include opening up the education sector to private players in a big way. Would this fit in with the vision that has guided this sector since Independence?

In a developed country, the State has all the resources. Yet there is mushrooming of private institutions. In the less developed world, the state does not have even the required resources. So there cant be a national strategy like, say, socialise all schooling and have one uniform schooling system. We need to access all the societal resources we have; private-public partnership, private investments and strengthening of the government education system. We also need to enhance transparency and accountability.

It is easy to say these things but difficult to implement. Several questions need to be addressed. On what terms would the private players be brought in? Would private sector involvement work in rural areas? Will it work in the urban areas, which has huge populations of the underprivileged? What would be the financial model in different areas? What is in it for the private sector?

The Ministry is seriously looking into all these issues and will come up with a concrete plan, but all this is being done with the primary objective of passing the Right to Education Bill, which is a national priority. That would make government schooling free, but the big challenge is to ensure that there is no compromise on quality.

Right from 1986, the Planning Commission and other bodies have talked about the need to have 6 per cent of GDP (gross domestic product) in education. But the government has shown no intention of putting in that kind of resources. Should not the government do this first and look at the private sector later?

If you look at the Central and State budgets and the Eleventh Plan report, you will see that the resources spent on education are 5.7 to 5.8 per cent of GDP. We are moving closer towards 6 per cent of GDP in education. In the history of the country, no other government has done more for education than the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. Even with 6 per cent there will be a huge gap. But we cant wait to reach this goal and then think about filling the gaps. So, let us strengthen the public schooling system and work out a model that helps to deliver to the underprivileged within the private system. Besides, we have to try different models of private-public partnership, which involves civil society, charitable trusts, NGOs, and so on.

You might allow the private sector to come in, but experience has shown that it also creates a wide disparity in terms of fees structure and quality of education. How do you propose to regulate this?

My thoughts are that in both school and higher education sectors we should have an independent professional agency which regulates education. After all, we have the SEBI [Securities and Exchange Board of India], which is an independent panel of experts which regulates the financial markets. Once people have confidence in an agency, it can set standards and you can have procedures which regulate quality of education and fees structure and other matters that need to be regulated.

How much have you moved in formulating or concretising proposals in this direction?

The process is on. Along with many other things, we are also addressing the issue of education to minorities. One of the concrete moves in this direction would be the Madrasa Board Bill, which will give a broadbased education without affecting the religious teaching and ensure that the degree one obtains will be equivalent to [that of ] the CBSE [Central Board of Secondary Education], so that children can move on and get employment.

You have also indicated that there will be foreign involvement in higher education. But past policy has been sceptical about this.

The notion that when a foreign university comes to India it will milk you is misplaced. The quality of [the] degree is for us to decide, not the foreign university, because there will be a separate procedure for that. And the charges, too, will be decided by us. Whatever is in the national interest will be done. But you should not exclude them.

Why you think the past policy has been sceptical about this?

I dont want to go into the past. If we go on looking into the past we cannot look into the future. The past, obviously, has not served the needs of education to the extent expected, from the system that prevailed in the past. Therefore, I think all options need to be open.

What is your opinion about the recommendation by the Yash Pal Committee on the Higher Education Commission (HEC)?

I consider the recommendations of the Yash Pal Committee as well as the recommendations of the National Knowledge Commission [NKC] as central to my reform in general.

You have ordered a review of deemed universities. What is the scope of the review?

It is not my intent to start punitive action against everybody or to close down institutions. The review is based on the premise that ultimately the system must deliver. So, if the present deemed university system doesnt deliver, it has to be made to deliver. If I have structural reform, then all deemed universities must fall in line within that structural reform. Then we will make sure quality is what these universities promised to the parents, that they deliver on their promise.

One of the questions that have come up in this context is the dilution of standards for approving deemed universities. Why was this done in the first place?

I dont know. Again, I dont go back to history on issues like this. If standards have been diluted, then it is something to be regressed. So we must bring them back on the rail. We must have an institutional structure to it. And those who dont do it must be closed down. Those who commit themselves to do it must be given time. So we have a carrot-and-stick policy. And even when we decide that we will withdraw the deemed university status, I want to make this clear on record, I will not allow the children to suffer.

The UGC was given the right to devise the standards, now you have asked the same UGC Chairman to review it. Isnt there a conflict of interest here?

There is no conflict. I cannot control or tell the UGC what to do or what not to do. But I have my own mechanisms. The UGC can carry out, as part of its statutory duty, its inquiry, which it is obliged to do under the law. But the Ministry is carrying out its own inspection. I know what to do. So there is no contradiction because they are entitled to do what they have to do and I, in the Ministry, will do what I have to do.

Will the government derecognise any of these deemed universities?

We can withdraw the recognition and then ensure that the students are not harmed by affiliating them to other universities.

There are instances where the deemed university recognition is under the State legislature. And many of these universities have been found wanting in meeting and maintaining standards. How will you address an issue like this?

We will have to handle the State as well because education is in the Concurrent List. So, we can set standards. We have the jurisdiction to do that. But we will consult, develop consensus and try and convince State governments about the importance of having uniformity of standards in this area. Ultimately, if there is lack of uniformity of standards, children from many States will suffer.

You have talked about an autonomous mutual body that should look at evaluating, accrediting educational institutions. How soon can one expect such a body?

As soon as it is possible, within the present governmental structure, to implement it.

Is there a time frame?

Most of the work shall be done within a hundred days, in terms of structure. Within a hundred days the architecture should be in place from the executives side. Whether the full legislation is passed or not is another matter.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment