In order to sustain our nation’s prosperity, it is important to make efficient use of abilities and talents of our citizens, bringing together individuals from diverse cultures
India is rich in diversity but poor in harvesting its fruits. Plurality in society is not just limited to inheritance, class or caste divisions, but it also exists in other fields like languages, cultures, religions, choice of livelihood, careers, knowledge, values, beliefs and practices et al. Currently, as many as 780 different languages are spoken and 86 different scripts are used in the country. In the same spirit, higher education institutions too should respond and accommodate such diversities, particularly now when several reform measures have been initiated viz, the grant of graded autonomy to universities, the grant of autonomous status to colleges, regulation of open distance learning for online degrees and the selection of institutions of eminence status, among others.
In continuance with these reform measures, a draft Act that seeks to replace the University Grants Commission (UGC) for setting up of a Higher Education Commission of India has also been proposed by the Ministry of Human Resource Development. But these reform measures will not lead to desired results unless the richness of this diversity is reflected by the higher education. Therefore, there needs to be a strong policy that ensures racial and ethnic diversity as one of the important factors among the many considered during admissions.
Campuses: The higher education sector has seen tremendous expansion since independence. With just 20 universities in 1950, today India can boast of 47 Central universities, 384 State universities, 123 deemed universities and 296 private universities. Many more are to come. One of the positives has been the Union Government’s effort to establish at least one central university in every State. However, some are public, others are private, some are large urban universities, some are deemed, and still others are small rural campuses. There are those exclusively for women.
Similarly, diversity exists in specialisations of various universities ie, some are restricted to performing arts, social sciences, sports, technology, veterinary sciences, health sciences, food technology while others are professional. This collective diversity among the institutions is one of the greatest strengths of India’s higher education system that can help make us one of the best places for education in the world.
Students: However, diversity today is conspicuous due to its absence in the student bodies, faculties and staff, particularly in State universities. In the late 70s, when I was a student at the Kurukshetra University, there were students from different parts of the country viz Bengal, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, North-East, Jammu & Kashmir and Kerala among others. Paradoxically, the number of students from other States saw a steep decline with time, probably with an increase in the number of higher education institutions.
State universities and colleges account for nearly 80 per cent of the total enrollments in higher education. Some students have even stopped moving from one district to another. A majority of students in universities are from local areas. The situation of Central universities is no good either. Over a period of time, universities have become ‘localversities’ as they have lost their ‘universal’ character. However, there is a provision of 15 per cent seats to be filled on an all-India basis to maintain probably some level of diversity. But State universities have managed to fill these seats by giving additional weightage to local students in the name of having passed their preceding examination from their own State university so as to give an edge to the students from other States.
The logic of these State universities is that their own State is also a part of India, and therefore, students must also to be considered in the category of ‘all-India basis’. Local students now have a double advantage ie, of weightage of five per cent and as well as of reservation (85 per cent seats are reserved for own State). The motive is to fulfill the theory of ‘sons of the soil.’ As a result, the very idea of creating this category of ‘all-India basis’ is getting defeated.
How to ensure diversity: In view of the above, it is proposed that the nomenclature of the category ‘all-India basis’ should be changed to ‘States other than home State’ so as to ensure admission from other States, which will in turn ensure diversity. In addition, percentage of seats in this category must be enhanced to 30 per cent because India aims to attain a Gross Enrollment Ratio of 30 per cent by 2020, which currently stands at 25.2 per cent. To attract talent in this category, the Union Government must institute scholarship for students.
Diversity should be at all levels of institution: It should also be mandatory for universities to appoint 30 per cent teaching faculties from other States than the home State. Diversity in teaching faculties in State universities has continuously declined to almost nil. The Government can, therefore, create a cadre of all India educational services. Similar arrangements can be made for secretarial or administrative posts. This will not only ensure diversity but ensure that bureaucrats are not able to undermine the status of teachers. Financial liability of these 30 per cent staff and students of all State universities should be borne by the Centre. It will be prudent to bear 30 per cent cost of State universities rather than creating Central universities because there cannot be any cost or an alternative to national integration. This is how our higher education institutions can be made more ‘open to diversity and socially inclusive’.
Need for diversity: Diversity enriches the learning experience, promotes tolerance and a healthy society. It will not only foster innovations and help enhance India’s competitive strength but will also help integrate the nation. Sustaining the nation’s prosperity in the 21st century requires us to make effective use of the talents and abilities of all our citizens in work settings that bring together individuals from diverse backgrounds and cultures.
It should be an institutional commitment to promote student body diversity and inclusion on the campus so as to help building democratic societies. The higher education system of the country should be such that the students coming out of this should be capable of making contribution to the growth of the nation.
(The writer is a professor of Biotechnology, Maharshi Dayanand University, Rohtak, Haryana)
Writer: SK Gakhar
Courtesy: The Pioneer