WHOSE RUSA IS THIS?(WHAT AILS HPU-CBCS?)
Hitherto, at any stage of history, any existing policy on higher education has blamed the preceding policies for all the ills that our tertiary education systems suffered at the time of its own implementation. It often dissects the inherent ills of the preceding policies. And, building on those tribulations the proposed policy shows great promise to transform the whole tertiary education system in the interest of education seekers and country as a whole. Yet, the underlying fact is that a policy has always been formulated to meet the class interests of the ruling classes of that era. Then, is RUSA different form the education policies of the past? For that it is important that we visit RUSA.
WHAT IS RUSA?
RUSA, Rashtriya Ucchtar Shiksha Abhiyaan, is a proclaimed choice-based credit system (CBCS). The latter means that a student can choose subject of his/her choice from a stream of courses as will be stated a bit later. Hence, it should be obvious that this policy is students-centric and the option to go for the courses of their choice provides them an unprecedented opportunity to polish their innate capabilities. It is also obvious that such opportunity also makes them their master of their own choice to shape their careers.
The official document of RUSA builds on the success of preceding education programmes. It claims “…that the success of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan (SSA) and Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) has laid a strong foundation for primary and secondary education in India. However, the sphere of higher education has still not seen any concerted efforts for improvement in access or quality”. However, it is another story that the predecessor of RUSA, Sarv Shiksha Abhiyann (SSA), is an utter failure in our State as revealed recently that after its implementation the students have been found to have utterly low learning abilities. As well as failure of its implementation in some districts led to refund of the allocated funds. These two aspects are very relevant here and these will be reflected in the soon-to-be era of RUSA. Further, the RUSA document claims that it aims to affect changes in the sphere of higher education to take advantage of the ‘dividend of age structure’ of the population, i.e., 60% of our population in the age group of 15 to 59 years. A claim has been made in the RUSA document: “Herein lies the significance of higher education. An educated and productive workforce is what we must strive to achieve through a concerted effort to improve quality and relevance of higher education.”
RUSA AND ACCLAIMED GOAL POSTS
So, in one go the document claims to target many issues of access, quality, and relevance of higher education. For that it builds on the large young target population of India. All that RUSA is about can be summarized as: (i) Implementation of the much needed governance and regulatory reforms in the sector, (ii) greater emphasis on the improvement of quality of teaching-learning processes in order to produce employable and competitive graduates, post-graduates and PhDs, (iii) with respect to the planning and funding approach, some key changes are envisaged as funding will be more impact and result-oriented, (iv) integration of the equity-related schemes, (v) instead of unplanned expansion, there will be a focus on consolidation and development of the existing system adding capacities, (vi) there will be a greater focus on research and innovation, and (vii) strongly proposed is to realize the dream of Planning Commission of ‘strategic funding of the higher education sector’ and the same has been termed as the most significant paradigm shift in the RUSA document.
RUSA AND LINKAGES TO PAST COMMISSIONS ON HIGHER EDUCATION
The document also dwells on the National Policy on Higher Education (1986) translated on the vision of the Radhakrishnan Commission and the Kothari Commission ‘into an actionable policy by setting five main goals for higher education’. These five goals are summarized as ‘greater access, equity, quality and excellence, human resource capabilities, relevance, and value-based education’. Obviously, we need fair excess to higher education for those who deserve and desire higher education and those are none other than the economically and socially disadvantaged groups. It is also an accepted fact in RUSA that the standards and knowledge required to develop and enhance human resources have to be enhanced. Also, these have to be kept in tune with the demand of the changing economic, social and cultural needs of the country. All these also mean that hitherto policies have failed, as foretold in the opening sentence, to achieve these aspects of higher education. It is obvious commentary on the sad state of Indian education sector. As also fore-stated in the opening line that setting these five goals is also acknowledging the fact as all the hitherto policies have been failure on all these goal posts. The failure is not due to the people of India who aspired to achieve higher education with these goal posts. But the hard fact is that all policies hitherto were framed to meet the immediate demands of a particular era in tune with the interests of class interests at a particular point of time. At the same time, this is also an admitted fact that such admission of failure often sets tone and agenda to formulate new policy under the garb of these goals, but obviously to promote class rule.
RUSA AND NEED FOR REFORMS
It is imperative for the implementation of a new policy that new reforms are needed as the starting point. So also the reform process is required for the implementation of RUSA. It is also imperative that to meet the reforms in the tertiary education sector such as the question of adequate funding, administrative reforms with real autonomy to Universities, research and innovation thrust, etc., are overdue. Or some of these aspects, such as autonomy, have been diluted over the time or the others were not required to suit the interest of the ruling classes. Tertiary education system needs serious reforms but not in the direction to push class reforms at a particular stage of historical development to suit class interests as RUSA proposes. The emphasis and character of the structural changes required are not the same as envisaged under RUSA. Further, many will not contest the aims of RUSA; however, a deeper look will make things transparent with the positives and negatives sides of its implementation and implications in the near future.
Instead what RUSA will do to achieve the set goal posts is an open question? That is so especially the way has been pushed.
LIMITING HIGHER EDUCATION AND CREATING INEQUALITY
Despite the proclaimed goal to achieve higher GER in colleges it is forgone conclusion that RUSA will deprive many aspirants to enter the premises of Colleges and Universities. Enrolment Ratio (GER) is 18.8% at the national level while it is far better at around 24% in HP. Low access to higher education has created wide disparities between various social groups. GER is far low for socially disadvantageous categories. It is also strongly reflected in gender disparity with 20.9% for males 16.5% for females. This is further compounded by the urban-rural divide with urban students having advantage. More vivid will be the disparities in the standards of quality provided by different higher education institutions. To put it in a simple form, students will enter colleges at more reputed colleges at easily accessible places than in those located in the remote areas.
To increase GER a drastic change is required for the development of higher education network and infrastructure. That means more colleges, more Universities or other higher education institutions. For this RUSA rightly targets State Universities as they have the access and the largest catchment capacity to enrol students. RUSA draft claims ‘to improve access, equity and quality in higher education through planned development of higher education at the state level. Such planning is supposed to create new academic institutions, and expand the existing institutions, that are self-reliant in terms of quality education, professionally managed, and characterized by greater inclination towards research and provide students with education that is relevant to them as well the nation as a whole.’ RUSA aims to improve GER by creation of an additional capacity of 2 million students and also yet it prefers to consolidate rather than expand the number of institutions.
There is no denying the fact that this needs to be materialized. However, the scheme and state of things as these stands today will fuel more inequality in the system than ever before as RUSA is of self-immolative nature as follows. The number of seats proposed in each discipline in an institution is limited and only a few students will be admitted. Given the rural-urban divide on the access to educational facilities and success of students in the final examination at the 10+2 level, there is bound to be deprivation of students from the rural background, and those belonging to the economically deprived sections and SC, ST categories. The way RUSA has been pushed will limit access, create more inequality, limit or decrease GER. As on today in many colleges in the State, mostly rural based, the admission number has not crossed the hundred marks at the entrance level. This analysis defeats the objective of RUSA quoted as ‘Arresting and reversing the trend of group inequalities in access to quality higher Education’. Without creation of the new institutions and strengthening infrastructure in the existing ones, especially, filling up faculty positions in all the disciplines, RUSA is has become a self-defeating mission.
DILUTING EXCELLENCE IN HIGHER EDUCATION
Shift from the input-centric and credential-focused approach to the learner-centric approach is the thrust of the learning process under RUSA. That as the day only means more classes and more subjects to be studied by the students without adequate and appropriate infrastructure and more classes to be taught by the teacher. An analysis of the scheme of courses of studies makes it evidently clear that these goals will not be achieved. Faculties have been told to frame replica courses in minor and major so that one needs less number of faculty, class rooms and laboratories or teaching aids. That also means overall soft curricula as a product of infrastructure limiting strategy as well as a causality of the situation arising out of the pushing RUSA pre-maturely.
Quality and excellence is going to be compromised heavily as a specialized subject will be studied less and less than say a three-year Honours Programme of Delhi University at present. Hence, a product with Honours will in fact end learning less of the specialized subject than the desire to gain excellence and quality. An Honour graduate will be poor entrant and asset for the post graduate and research programme. Further, there is no infrastructure in place in any institution to provide the hobbies or general awareness courses. Students are forced to opt for courses where teachers exist, not otherwise. Further, at present a total lack of extra-curricular activities will make Jack a dull boy. The facts stated above defeats the aim of RUSA “Improvement in overall quality of teaching-learning in an average higher education institution in the country”.
FUNDING OF HIGHER EDUCATION
Funding aspect of the higher education again attracted RUSA to have a look on the critical nature of funding of the State Universities. Again, that is a welcome step. State Universities cater to a large number of students; their funding is only a fraction of that is provided to the Central Universities or Institutes of National Importance. Over the years States, including HP, have not allocated enough funds for the higher education with almost stagnant plan expenditure. Poor quality of infrastructure and vacant faculty positions has grossly compromised the quality of education. In HP University, the meagre grants from State Government, affiliation fees, revenue from fees, etc., are not enough to provide healthy academic environment. HP University of late failed to get even reasonable and committed dues from the State Government and went on to increase fees without providing the adequate infrastructure support base, not even for the aspect for which fee was increased. At present, University is not even able to pay its salaries or retirement benefits to its employees. However, good intentions seldom work.
RUSA aims to increase funds for the higher education ‘significantly and use those strategically’. This investment has to come from both public and private sources and both from the central and state exchequer. For most of the fund-starved States it is a welcome step. Then, will money flow to these Universities to meet RUSA goal posts of higher access, equity and high level infrastructure, etc. No, it just means that money will only flow to these Universities if they carry drastic reforms. Simply put privatization of many aspects of the State institutions is an open secret under RUSA. Further, it purposes to connect funding streams to specific outcomes that will be made through reforms in governance arrangements at all levels, fostering institutional autonomy and academic autonomy and overall accountability through competitiveness. It will ‘encourage institutional differentiation and distinctiveness’ thus creating more inequity rather than bridging any gap. In fact these high sounding and academic quality improvement exercises are recipes for the enhancement of fee structure and outsourcing and privatization of the University education. Autonomy will be to exercise these two measures rather than for the academic freedom and to implement progressive pro-education and pro-academic reforms. Anyways, the higher education is going to be hugely expensive and unaffordable creating more disparities than the proclaimed equity.
Also proclaimed is a move towards internationalization of higher education. Creation of alliances, networks, clusters, and consortia of academic institutions amongst themselves and with the research institutions and industry will be facilitated, to create a self-governing system. In fact evolving such industrial-academic consortia and self-governing system also means creation of funds by the Universities. And, as fore-stated this is what RUSA proclaims as the ‘strategic generation’ and increase of the funds. In other words, gates are open for leasing out University or college assets to the industries under the guise of academia-industry consortia. Again, it is important to state here that this conclusion is not very original idea of the author of this piece. Such scheming has been elaborately laid in the National Knowledge Commission, whose child is RUSA. This is the neo-liberal face of this new education reform drive by the State. Centre-State funding ratio of 90: 10 or 75: 25 or 65: 35 will only materialize if these reforms are affected.
AUTONOMY AND GOVERNANCE
RUSA aims to provide greater autonomy to Universities. It proposes to have a focus on the equity-based development, improvement in teaching-learning quality and research. Without these reforms, restoration of autonomy, etc., the existing governance will never be able to achieve what RUSA promises on paper. That means we need a lot of reforms to amend what our University is like. Its autonomy is eroded and hitherto all the State governments for the implementation of their successive political agenda have reduced it to a status of B-grade government Department whose lifeline is in the Armsdale, the State government head quarters. Such state of affairs is also responsible for many of the problems faced by the University despite the fact it is one of a few Universities in India with many firsts to its credit including Semester-system, M.Phil, and Distance Education. This defeats the declared objective of RUSA ‘Undertaking governance and regulatory reforms that focus on institutional autonomy within a framework of accountability and build adaptive capacity of the system.’ The point to be discussed here is what makes the Governments to rush RUSA before any exercise in autonomy and administrative reforms is made. These reforms should have come much before the formulation of the academic components being framed in a great hurry these days.
REGULATORY BODY AND MECHANISM
Related to the preceding sentence is another important aspect of RUSA. Under RUSA there are certain prerequisites for getting funding. An institution has to meet certain criteria and accountability and autonomy of the institutions are required. Also the creation of State Higher Education Council, accreditation agencies, perspective plans and commitment of share of funds is also required. So are the academic and institutional governance reforms. Filling up of faculty positions and that too qualified faculty is mandatory. State Higher Education Council is the body for the development of higher education in the State and it has to be accorded statutory status within five years. At present there is no initiation to this end in the State.
HP UNIVERSITY CHOICE-BASED CREDIT SYSTEM
In the backdrop of what has been stated in the preceding parts under different heads, it is again stated here that RUS has been pushed in undue hurry and both the State Government and Himachal Pradesh University are responsible for this undue haste. It is obvious that there was bound to be strong reactions from the students and public. That forced the University to make many more cosmetic changes in the pushed-in RUSA. That also forced both the State Government and Himachal Pradesh University on the back foot and a few days back a joint press conference was organized to redress public grievances and to fault the students community by stating that the implementation preparedness was high on their agenda since February 2013. If that is so, then why the above-listed shortcomings are still there? Further, many details are also described.
Limiting Excess, Equity and Diluting Excellence
No initiation has been made in the constitution of State Higher Education Council or accreditation bodies, etc. It is stated to be the learner–centric with freedom and liberty to choose subject of choice. Students do not have many options to choose as faculty to teach the options of their choices are not on the role of many colleges and not even in the University. There is also no listing of the general awareness programmes. The HPU course scheme is totally compartmentalized. Further, minor and major syllabi are the same in most of the departments that make mockery of the whole system. It is semester-based yet geographic conditions in the Border districts have been not taken into considerations how to conduct these examinations on semester basis. Semesterization is not workable under the markedly different geographic and climatic conditions. The semesterization is death knell for the Extra-curricular framework as ninth week is titled as the ‘Semester Break’ for these activities. With just one week assigned for the co-curricular activities, the overall development of the students is questionable. Another University that opted for this system has devised outside class hours for these activities.
The GER is bound to fall as admissions are merit based and at the same time till day the University is silent on the modes of admission such as distance education, private candidate, etc. Needless to state that such a situation, as also foretold, will alienate more and more students from the rural background and also those who belong to poor, socially disadvantageous sections of society and more girls from all sections of society. So, the goal posts of access and equity are defeated in the first instance.
Some other critical points those emerge from the haste-proven implementation of RUSA. Vertical growth of students is targeted. Vertical growth means that a student can earn a certificate, or diploma, or a three year degree by a simple learning, study of more courses and earning more credit, leading to honours degree if that exceeds 120 credits. Or more credit, read papers for old usage, student clears more vertically growth is assured. Also ‘horizontal growth’ is assured, as for example, seven different courses are studied by a student in a single semester. So spectrum of learning is wide. Both the preceding points are positive aspects of learning and education, but these require more infrastructure requirements as will be seen later, apart from students overindulgence in studies. One aspect that will have far reaching consequence is weakening of the English as medium of instructions and that lowers our strength at the international level. At the same time as fore-stated under the heading ‘Diluting Excellence’, specialization or expertise will be weakened.
Infrastructural Limitations and Foreseeable Privatization of Higher Education
Under the HP University scheme or even elsewhere a huge infrastructural overhaul of the tertiary education set-up is required. For successful implementation of RUSA more well-equipped and wide infrastructure is needed in the form of laboratories, class rooms, even if assumed that not required at this stage, at least in the fourth year or seventh semester the infrastructural requirement will increase by 25% in the regular streams and for the streams such as skill development courses, more infrastructure in the form of faculty and class rooms, workshops, laboratories is needed. The development of Departments in the University is uneven. Infrastructure in most of the Departments is not even of the national level. The rush for a Department with good national/international standing and appropriate infrastructure will lead to rush at the cost of other disciplines. Thus, in the limited seats scenario, it will limit the access of the inspired students to targeted courses thus depriving students of real choice-based system. Further, more infrastructure in such departments is needed immediately. Faculty position is almost half the sanctioned strength in the University so the requirement of the students to learn the course of their choice is a far cry. Same is case with most of the colleges. Some better developed and centrally placed colleges for the specific subject streams are going to be overcrowded than others creating problems of deprivation to learners. While in other colleges neither infrastructure nor adequate and qualified faculty is in place. Further the latter category of the colleges also on offer all the streams offered by the other better-equipped colleges. Now, it is gain made clear here that why the HP University directed its Departments to prepare same minor major syllabi? Obviously the answer is to limit the requirement of faculty and class rooms/laboratories. Further, if it is truly choice-based scheme many more courses need to be started. That does not even look a remote possibility. Specialized laboratory of the compulsory subject course, general interest courses, etc., are required those are nowhere at present.
As stated earlier RUSA is baby of the neo-liberal Framework, National Knowledge Commission. State is in no position to achieve that. It may be that private-public partnership for certain aspects creeps in to push further the privatization of University education. Hence, privatization of education for specific tasks is foreseen in the name of infrastructure development.
While RUSA says that CBCS is a learner centric, it does not look so under HPU-RUSA. Students and teachers both are fully engaged from 10.0 AM to 5.0 PM with one hour lunch break as in the bureaucratic set-up. However, the system is teacher-centric and not pro-student as the evaluation process is internal anti-student and anti-academic as 50% credit comes from the internal assessment which is huge and that is subjective most of the times. Even paper checking, with University setting paper only, will be internal making the whole process teacher-centred. The academic credibility will be a big causality.
Now again, Why Undue Hurry to Push RUSA
The system requires huge structural changes in the education set-up. Even so, it has been pushed in a big hurry. There is no reason why this hurry was there to implement it from the current session. The emphasis is again laid here on the required structural changes to implement the system. The whole system needed overhauling to implement RUSA. For its successful implementation there should have been education of the education planners at the first instance. That should have been followed by extensive and intensive reforms process as mandated under RUSA including academic framework and constitution of the State Council, etc. And then the most important aspect was to educate teachers in the University about RUSA followed in that order of College Principals and faculty.
After acceptance of the RUSA as policy, there should have been syllabi formulation with an insight on distinctiveness of the major and minor subject syllabi formulation. It is intriguing that most of the preceding points have neither materialized nor any attempt was made till date to initiate these. Regarding the hurry shown in the syllabi framing it is amazing that admissions have started under RUSA and Board of Studies meetings in most of the Departments have not been held. So no question arises about the meeting of Academic Council, the supreme academic body, to approve syllabi formulated till then. Another related aspect is equally worrisome and amusing at the same time. In most of the departments the working groups for syllabi framing just equally divided the existing annual syllabi into two, one part each for each semester. So no innovation and no application of expertise applied, due to the lack of time, and just formalities performed.
Necessity of Public Debate
The unusual hurry shown by the State Government and the University has resulted in a situation where there is only confusion in the public mind as parents and students none is educated about the implementation of RUSA. There are only a few other Universities who have or are going to implement RUSA at present. Then, why the unusual hurry shown? There is/was no debate initiated with the public, teachers and students or society at large. No attempt was made to reach the stakeholders. Admissions are over but no student was aware how the courses were chosen as there was lack of appropriate information. The usual peer-group discourse is absent in the campuses of colleges. Teachers are trying to learn while they interact with students.
Even though it has been implemented there is a general scepticism about its survival as it is not viable in the present framework and a pro-student and pro-academic framework will arise if active opposition is sustained over some period of time.