The Kerala State Higher Education Council which was born on March 16, 2007, is today a ‘lame duck' entity. Unable to take any new initiatives or take substantive continuing action on any of its old initiatives, the council awaits a reconstitution.
It is understood that the council officials have repeatedly notified the government that the body's term has come to an end. At a recent press conference in Thiruvananthapuram the Education Minister P. K. Abdu Rabb said in reply to a question that the council would be “reconstituted soon.”
In keeping the council in a limbo what the present United Democratic Front government is also doing is to keep in limbo the much needed reforms in the higher education sector in Kerala.
The government is also yet to make clear whether the council would be an instrument, a hub, for such reforms as it was under M. A. Baby's education department. If indications emanating from the UDF are correct, the government may go in for a comprehensive overhaul of the very laws that govern the operations of the council.
For long, the UDF has charged Mr. Baby with politicising higher education and has also insinuated on many occasions that the committees set up by the council to study and report on various aspects of higher education had political agendas to fulfil. In 2010 when the LDF government decided to seek an all-party consensus for the implementation of the reports of these committees, only the Jacob Tharu committee which recommended reforms in the examination structure and practices of universities met with approval from the then Opposition.
“We asked the LDF government to immediately implement the Jacob Tharu report. Why did Mr. Baby not do so? Now, I don't think the UDF government is in any way bound to implement that report. I feel that new committees may be set up to study these issues and the UDF government may implement the recommendations of those committees. The KPCC president Ramesh Chennithala has made it very clear that the LDF government had politicised the education sector and that we cannot abide by initiatives arising from such politicisation,” said G. V. Hari the member secretary of the UDF expert committee on education.
While in the Opposition the UDF pilloried the report of the Anandakrishnan Committee which was set up to review the acts of Kerala's universities. The then opposition had termed this report as being wishy-washy and inconsequential. The UDF argument was that the acts and statutes of each university should have been looked at independently and then amended wherever necessary. The question is, would the UDF government — with its wafer-thin majority in the Assembly — feel bold enough to undertake such a review?
To be fair, the UDF expert committee has stressed the need for reviewing the laws that govern universities. The committee has also called for freeing colleges from the archaic affiliating system, for giving them more autonomy and for insisting on “self-accountability.” A committee document — reportedly submitted to the government — calls for creating a “climate for systemic changes” in universities. It is understood that the document also speaks of the need for reforming the way vice chancellors and other key officers of universities are selected.
But then, the stand of the UDF when in the opposition was that the Kerala State Higher Education Council had no mandate to even look into possible reforms of the acts and statutes of universities. So then which agency would the UDF now turn to for suggesting such reforms? Would the government set up committees outside the council or would the laws of the Council be reworded? Either way the government has not given any indication, yet.
What is more, would the UDF government try and arrive at an all-party consensus in the case of such reforms? If yes, what imperative would the LDF have to agree to any or some of the reform measures suggested by an UDF committee? What is to prevent the LDF from saying that the UDF has “politicised” the higher education sector and that it, in turn, would seek to undo what the UDF may now do?
Would not the recommendations of a UDF committee meet with same fate as that of those set up by the present council.
In other words, what guarantee is there that Kerala would see the emergence of a bi-partisan education policy; something it badly needs and surely deserves? More importantly, it is not clear what checks and balances the UDF plans to put in place to ensure that its own committees do not work to a political agenda.
At the all party meeting convened by Mr. Baby the Opposition wanted to know why the LDF did not consider having a unified act for all universities. It was the former education minister Nalakath Soopy who repeatedly asked why an unified act was not considered. Would the UDF now consider such an act? After all it is Mr. Soopy's party the Indian Union Muslim League which has with it the education portfolio now.
In such a politically charged atmosphere the UDF's education bosses may be tempted to look at the Thanu Padmanabhan committee report on reforming postgraduate education in a favourable light. This report was not accepted by the council as it was “not in sync” with its broad reform framework. For that very reason — sadly enough — these recommendations may appear politically correct to the UDF.
The expert committee set up by the KSHEC to suggest reforms in teacher education has also submitted its report. Among other things the committee suggested extending the duration of the B.Ed. course, institution of integrated programme, the introduction of a full-semester internship, and an enhanced role for the general education department in the teacher education sector.
This committee recommended three models of teacher education for Kerala; a one-and-a-half year model where there would be three semesters, a modified version of the two-year model suggested by the NCTE or a four-and-a-half years long B.Ed programme. The last, integrated, model will have nine semesters of which the first six will be done at a regular arts and science college and the last three, in a teacher education college.
What about these recommendations? Does the UDF see in them too, a political agenda? If not, why cannot these recommendations be looked at seriously and considered for implementation? Surely reforms in teacher education — which in turn would impact the shaping of millions of young minds — are no less important that rewriting university laws?
The bottomline regarding reforms in the higher education sector appears to be that the UDF wants to invent its own wheel; re-study everything that the present Council's committees studied. So far, the UDF's education committee has not directly been involved in any discussions on possible reforms in this sector. This committee's report on reforms in the higher education sector is due for publication any time now.
It remains to be seen whether this report would form the bedrock of possible UDF reforms in Kerala's higher education sector and whether the academics who worked to prepare this report would make it to any council or agency tasked with implementing these recommendations.