RISE & PMRF
Once the usual halla gulla of the media over the budget 2018 settled down, I turned passionate about two exciting initiatives proposed by the Finance Minister in the budget that are sure to have profound impact on our educational system.
The first one is: “To step up investments in research and related infrastructure in premier educational institutions, including health institutions, I propose to launch a major initiative named, ‘Revitalising Infrastructure and Systems in Education (RISE) by 2022’ with a total investment of Rs. 1 00 000 crore in next four years.”
Before proceeding to the second initiative, let us first examine the current status of our education system for a better appreciation of these budget initiatives. Though it is a cliché to say that higher education in India is at the cross-roads, there appears to be an element of truth in this hackneyed and overused phrase for reasons galore. Immediately after independence, our higher education landscape was represented by IITs, IIMs and IISc. However, in terms of scalability and accountability, there was no further addition to this setup until 1995.
As a result, a number of private professional colleges sprouted, particularly under the engineering discipline, across the country but with poor faculty and infrastructural support. Governance of these institutions is seldom separated from the ownership. As a result, interests of key stakeholders like students and faculty are often ignored.
There is hardly any respect for meritocracy, both in faculty and students. There is also a desperate shortage of faculty with postgraduate qualifications across the country. And ironically, even the government-run institutions are no exception to these shortcomings. Thus, technical education in the country developed a distorted image—institutes have grown but quality declined terribly.
Perhaps, alarmed by these developments, the previous governments had of course, established/ proposed to establish a dozen new IITs, IIMs and Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISER) for turning out quality graduates and postgraduates in science and technology.
This, at best might have reduced the gap in the availability of institutional support. But the real crux of our educational system is: poor learning outcomes emerging out of our half-a-century old tradition of rote learning. For, it cannot deliver India such workforce which is nimble, highly-skilled and ready for the digital age. Simply put, there would be no greater crime than equating good grades obtained through rote learning with good education. Hence, this needs to be replaced immediately with a kind of ‘mentor facilitated learning model’—a shift from ‘teacher’ as source of classroom-centric ‘knowledge’ to ‘mentor’ as facilitator for ‘learning’. Which means, faculty will have to play the role of a ‘mentor’ to facilitate peer-driven experiential learning through projects, field experiences, practicum, group discussions, etc. Simultaneously, there is a need to redesign the curriculum from time to time to keep the students turned out abreast with changing market demands.
Of course, all this is much easier said than done. For, the real challenge to our educational system is: availability of qualified PhD faculty. Here, it is in order to look at what Sanjoy Chakravorty and Davesh Kapur, authors of the book, The Other One Percent: Indians in America, said in an interview to The Hindu:
“our book brings out the extent of brain drain from India... There are 95,000 Indians with PhDs in the US. India produces around 25,000 PhDs every year. Assuming that 10% of that is of the quality that is produced here [in the US], we are talking about 2,500 annually. So, in some ways, India has gifted the US half a century worth of high-quality human capital.”
And the reason for such an emigration of our bright and young scholars to the US is pretty simple: lack of right atmospherics in our educational system that encourages scholars to pursue research careers. It is in this context that the Finance Minister’s proposal to launch ‘RISE’ raises the hopes of all those who are concerned about the capability of our institutions to turn out competent teachers/researchers and through them generate knowledge that could sustain our economic growth.
The other important initiative Mr Jaitley proposed to launch is: “Prime Minister’s Research Fellows (PMRF)’, which proposes to “identify 1000 best B.Tech students each year from premier institutions and provide them facilities to do PhD in IITs and IISc, with a handsome fellowship.” It is heartening to hear him say from the highest pedestal of our governance: “…identify 1000 BEST B. Tech students every year …”, for it is long overdue. This move will supply quality teachers / researchers to the system who could in turn mentor fresh graduates towards high-end learning. In such an eco-system alone innovation that is inextricably linked to education flourishes bringing hope to the economy.
Incidentally, here it is in order to recall what even the growth theories of economy state. The ‘exogenous theory’ of Solow, the Nobel Laurate in economics, posits that economic growth is determined largely by ‘extra-economic factors’, for the progress in science and technology relies little on monetary and fiscal policies. Even the currently in ‘endogenous’ growth theory of Romer too asserts that growth depends on advances made under economically useful knowledge, along with, of course, a panoply of attendant factors such as openness to trade, vibrant entrepreneurship and skilled human resources.
It thus becomes evident how important and timely the announcement of the Finance Minister to step up investments in research and related infrastructure in premier educational institutions through ‘RISE’ and ‘PMRF’ is. Let us hope that this move turns into reality soon!