Redeeming Higher Education is a collection of 15 essays written during the period 1972 to 1985. Four essays were published in the seventies and the rest were written in the eighties. These are grouped into four sections: 1. The Baby-sitting Syndrome; 2. Towards Restructuring; 3.On Teachers and Teaching; and 4. In conclusion. In his introduction Amrik Singh provides a connecting link between the various readings. Singh describes education in India mainly as ‘compensatory’. Here at the undergraduate level one studies what should have been taught at the higher secondary level. This is true for other levels of education as well. It is responsible for the bloated student population at the undergraduate level. To improve higher education, it is imperative that school education is improved. For this the author rightly lays stress on vocationalization at the + 2 stage. The standard of education at all levels and especially in colleges a
nd universities is deteriorating over the years. One factor responsible for it is the large-scale expansion of education at the tertiary level without any provision for infrastructural facilities.
Secondly, a large number of persons who are not properly qualified and interested have joined the teaching profession. Students too are not genuinely motivated and want to spend a few years in college just to postpone the decision to enter the world of work or to choose a life partner for some time. It does not cost much to get college education.
To make the tertiary education effective, it is suggested that undergraduate education can be imparted by colleges and postgraduate education is mainly entrusted to Universities. The optional strength of the university may vary between 10,000 to 15,000 students.
For restructuring education, Amrik Singh stresses the importance of economic development along with develop-ments in education. For this he pleads for two strategies; employment and a youth policy. Further, there is a mis-match between the industrial and agricultural sector and more attention has to be given to the agricultural sector. Regarding the reorganization of educational institutions the author suggests: 1. Making 500 colleges autonomous; 2. To bring all colleges to a minimum acceptable level within a period of say ten years. 3. Delinking colleges from Universities and grouping them either under a State Board of College Education or 50 to 60 colleges can be grouped together for purposes of management and guidance.
At the close of the ‘sixties, student unrest had become widespread. It has been attributed to rank failure to get jobs after the students have qualified and lack of direction both in economic and social fields. To contain it, it is suggested that teachers should be fair and impartial towards students. To control the violent situation, the teachers and educational administrators may be given marginal powers and special campus police may be carved out of the police force. The management authorities of public and private institutions have to extend support to educational administrators, who choose to enforce discipline. There is also a need to create public opinion which frowns on academic delinquency.
It goes without saying that education can take place only in an atmosphere of peace and tranquility. Any kind of disorder involving any segment of educational endeavour, students, teachers, non-teaching employees creates a situation which militates against serious and sober study needs, to be dealt with firmly. The campus should be free from political pressure. For improving the academic standards, the author suggests: 1. Better performance and output by those engaged in teaching; 2. Professional development of those already within the profession; and 3. Improved teaching, learning and testing.
Regarding the relationship between States and the University Grants Commission (UGC), it is imperative to establish a link between the UGC, State Governments and State universities and colleges. It is suggested that all grants to the State universities and colleges by the UGC, should be made contingent on the State Governments preparing a clearly formulated plan of post-graduate education in their jurisdiction. This has to be done in consultation with the UGC. Amrik Singh is of the view that it is through the skilful and judicious use of financial powers alone that the Centre will be able to make its influence felt on the States.
The problem of coordination between the Centre and the States and among the various agencies responsible for different aspects of education is of paramount importance. In 1976, with the 42 Amendment of the Constitution, education became a concurrent subject. What is needed is follow-up legislation whereby the Centre should assume certain powers which it was entitled to assume. In its absence the responsibility of the Centre to oversee and coordinate educational affairs in various States suffer.
Apex Body Needed
At present, a number of organizations are looking after different aspects of higher education. For example, the Medical Council of India, the Bar Council of India, the All India Council of Technical Education and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research are responsible for medical, legal, engineering and agricultural education. The existing mechanism of coordination under Central Advisory Board of Education is not effective. It is suggested that an apex body with the Union Minister of Education presiding over it be set up and it meets periodically to take stock of the situation to achieve coordination and to provide directions.
The real task of higher education is to make more than 2,00,000 university and college teachers work harder and better. About half of them have got accustomed to a mental attitude of accepting full-time wages for part-time work. Most of the institutions work for about 100 days in a year, as against 180 days suggested by the UGC. The Science Faculty is better in this respect. The real problem is in the Faculties of Arts, Commerce and Law, where the teachers work for three to four hours a day for about 100 days in a year. The thrust of the teachers organizations has been more towards securing better terms for their members than feeling responsible for academic work. The author cites the example of the handling of the teachers’ strikes in the Madurai and Delhi Universities by the authorities. In the bargain, teachers got more than what they demanded. The area of parity between the Government and the University sectors is in matters like housing and medical facilities etc.
Amrik Singh is in favour of change in work ethos in educational institutions. The main problem with institutes of higher bearing is not autonomy but of accountability of teachers to themselves and to the society. The social dimension is an important aspect like what the teachers do leave a marked impact on the students and it stays throughout their life. It is also instrumental in the formation of attitudes and habits. The teachers have to be more concerned about making education more effective and productive.
The author is concerned about the all-round corrosion of the system of higher education and the prevalence of corruption. The principal sources of corruption are in matters pertaining to 1. Appointment and promotion; 2. Conduct of examinations and 3. Students admissions to prestigious institutions. Though there is a scarcity of jobs at higher levels, people have a higher ambition than what they deserve.
Of late, many institutions and especially privately managed professional colleges are charging capitation fee from the students. Their criterion of admission is the paying capacity of the students and not merit. A higher rate of fee in professional colleges is suggested. Such colleges cater to the better section of the society, but provision for financial assistance to economically weaker sections of the society has to be made. For colleges of general education, the existing fee structure can continue.
The education system in India is marked by duality at all levels. There is a need to narrow down this gap by improving the quality of education imparted to the majority of the students. The expansion of higher education has taken place at the cost of elementary education. To achieve the aim of universalization of education by the end of Seventh Five-Year Plan, it is imperative that the order of priority may be as follows: elementary education and functional literacy; secondary and higher secondary education and tertiary education. The pressure from higher education can be eased by making secondary education more self-sufficient and effective.
In such a collection, there is bound to be some repetition. To be fair to the author, he has tried to update the information through footnotes. A look at the book gives the impression that the author is not very happy about the state of affairs pertaining to higher education. It may be pointed out that for a person who wants to bring about changes some sort of dissatisfaction is essential. The book is backed by Amrik Singh’s life-long association with education in various capacities. The author deserves compliments for his sustained labour. The book is sure to receive a wide audience. It can be read with profit both by academicians and general readers. It is hoped that educational authorities will examine the suggestions given in the book minutely and try to implement them wherever feasible.