Monday, November 29, 2010

State of Higher Education in Kerala

Article on Kerala's distinctive higher education system is a good survey of the state with nearly 100% literacy in India. It is a historical and factual account of the status of Higher Education in Kerala. However, Eldho Mathews being a research officer at the Kerala State Higher Education Council (KSHEC) is either blind to or has missed out deliberately certain vital reasons for the not-so-promising Higher Education scenario in Kerala. Being a Marxist authored one, the lack of sincerity and openness in the formation and functions of the KSHEC and its members, it is quite understandable.

India is famous for its affiliation system in higher education and Kerala is not an exception. But, to improve research and escalate the quality in higher education, Kerala has not taken steps in establishing and maintaining institutes of national importance or promoting and supporting private initiatives. Kerala is one of the few states in India which is not having a single Autonomous College- which is almost equivalent to a University except for the award of degrees – where neighbouring states have gone far ahead in this and thereby have some excellent institutions with higher research outputs, updated curriculum, modern teaching-learning methods and world class infrastructure. None of the Universities in Kerala can boast of maintaining uninterrupted academic calendar. Ever since the formation of the state of Kerala, the extremely politicized teachers and students mainly with Marxian and Communist ideologies, are a burden to the progress of this state in any area of higher eduction. The infamous College Agitations in several forms in each year, Protest against self-financing colleges, Protest against establishing Pre-degree board, Protest against Computerization, MEDICOS strikes, Students' strike against increase in bus fare, violent strike against disciplinary actions on students, excessive canvasing and politicization of College and University Union Elections etc. are a mockery to any modern society.

The authors praise Kerala's distinctive multi-religious social setup. But the role of Christianity in making Kerala, a state with highest literacy rate is overlooked or ignored. Christianity as a whole is the single largest provider of education in Kerala much ahead of even the government. But over the years, there was a strong move from the Marxist and Communist ideologues to destabilize and even destroy its role. Having known the vital role of education in making any society move forward, Christian Organizations have taken active role in education from the beginning of the 19th century. A good number of the Christian Institutions are in high rankings among the institutions in Kerala.

Kerala has four types of institutions viz., purely government-run, government self-financing ones, government aided private educations and private institutions. The authors lament that the facilities in most of the affiliated colleges are well below international standards, often with outdated laboratories, rudimentary IT facilities and inadequate libraries. This is true in the case of most the institutions in the first three categories. There, the government role is minimized to support them with salary and a nominal amount for upgrade and maintaining which leave to the creativity and enthusiasm of the heads or managements of the institutions to find funds, which are always very difficult in Kerala. Most of the institutions of the fourth type are much ahead in infrastructure and quality of academic delivery mainly due to the financial stability.

For several decades, the Vice-Chancellors, members of the Syndicate and Senate, the Registrars and key functionaries of the Universities are chosen based on the political affiliations. This clearly affects the functioning of the universities. In many cases these officials were acting for the respective Political Party rather than for the dignity of the offices they hold. Recently, Calicut University appointed some people with high research outputs as teachers. But because they were not following the Marxist ideologies, most of them were dismissed the Syndicate. This is enough to indicate what the direction of Higher Education in Kerala is.

Several Keralites have gone outside of the state and have done excellently well in establishing and maintaining quality educational institutions which are unthinkable if they were in Kerala. Kerala never made use of the option of starting Deemed Universites whereas the neighbouring state Tamil Nadu has 26 Deemed Universites among which some are with world class research facilities. The deplorable situation of Cochin University of Science and Technology and its colleges are painful to any Keralite. Kerala State Higher Education Council often acts as instrument in hands of the the Marxist Party which is ruling the state to tame private colleges. The so-called movement of making cluster of colleges is another act of the government to make the college education chaotic. What good can we expect if a University has 198 colleges as affiliated colleges? Is it the role of the university to conduct examinations and announce result for the affiliated colleges?

National Knowledge Commission of India has mooted for thousands of Universities in India by 2020. Let the government of Kerala take initiatives in establishing new universities from the existing ones by abolishing the affiliation system totally. Instead of making cluster of colleges, let them make universities out five to ten existing colleges for each locality. In case, if a college meets certain minimum criteria, let it be made a university (There are several such collleges in Kerala). Let the government be pro-active in supporting them with more research and infrastructure funds. This would make Kerala a World Educational Hub in two decades.
(This is a response to an article titled Progressive State by Philip G. Altbach and Eldho Mathews in Times Higher Eduction published on 28 October 2010)