July 16, 2019
Abir Ranjan Biswas speaks on The Central University (Amendment) Bill, 2019
Visva-Bharati University was the first Central University to be set up in the country. It was declared so by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru on the recommendation of the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, who in turn was requested by Kaviguru Rabindranath Tagore. Since then no other Central University has been set up in West Bengal.
I urge the Government to initiate steps in this regard. Madam, I urge the Government to also ensure that the Bills that are discussed in Parliament are sent for scrutiny to the parliamentary committees.
I would like to bring up certain facts and figures. During the 14th Lok Sabha, we had seen 60 per cent of the Bills being scrutinised and 71 per cent during the 15th Lok Sabha. During the 16th Lok Sabha, which began in 2014, we had seen this number plummet to a deplorable 26 per cent. I urge the Government to discuss and deliberate on Bills and not bulldoze through Parliament.
This Bill was discussed for only 145 minutes in the Lok Sabha and in this august House, after much effort by the Honourable Members, two hours have been allotted. None of the 17 Bills that have been introduced in this session have been sent to Standing Committees for reference.
This Bill has been introduced to set up two Central universities – one for everyone and a tribal university, both in Andhra Pradesh, as a follow up to the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act of 2014.
However, we must look at certain harsh realities before we move to the details. We host 33 per cent of the world’s known literate population. Over the next few years, the country could lose around 10 crore people, which is nearly the population of Bihar, from the learning system in higher education.
Now I am moving on to the clauses of the Bill. The Government intends to set up a Central university in Andhra Pradesh. But what will be the administrative setup, the programmes, the curriculum and the accreditation? The foundation of a Central university cannot be limited to only a few lines in a Bill. It has to ensure access, equity, quality, affordability and accountability.
The Government will also establish a tribal university in Andhra Pradesh. But has the Government held any consultations before taking this step? Tribal studies is an extensive subject and so pedagogy, curriculum, culture, practices and social customs have to be explored thoroughly before having a university dedicated to it.
In phase one of infrastructure construction, Rs 450 crore is earmarked for the Central university and Rs 420 crore for the tribal university, therefore a total of Rs 870 crore. But for setting up the infrastructure of two Central universities, is Rs 870 crore enough?
The Government has always been very miserly when it comes to spending on education. It should be noted that spending on education should ideally be 6 per cent of the GDP. But the share of education in the whole Union Budget was 4.6 per cent of the GDP in 2014-15, which has gone down to 3.5 per cent of the GDP for 2019-20.
I would also like to know what the Government is doing with respect to address vacancies in Central universities. A stark fact is that 12 of the 40 Central universities have more than 75 per cent vacancies for professors and two universities, most deplorably, have 100 per cent vacancies. One will always wonder about the quality of education that is being imparted there.
As per the All India Survey on Higher Education in 2017-18, the Gross Enrolment Ratio in higher education, for the 18-23 age group, is 25.8 per cent. Now we have fixed the target at 30 per cent for 2020. But even if we achieve the target, most astonishingly, 10 crore students would not get seats at the universities. The Government thus has to step up funding and build infrastructure to spread and build the education system.
The Government also has to speed up the process of accreditation of institutions and programmes. There are 42,000 higher education institutions in the country, of which only 8 per cent, or about 8,700 institutions have been accredited by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC). There are 15,000 programmes in engineering, management, pharmacy, architecture, etc. offered by the institutions. Here too about 20 per cent, or about 3,050 programmes have been accredited by the NAAC. The Government should conduct due diligence at the earliest and hasten the accreditation process to increase credibility of the education system.
Another very important aspect I would like to bring up is that the nearly Rs 94,000 crore collected under secondary and higher secondary cess since 2006-07 lies unallocated and unused, according to the 2017-18 report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India (CAG). this is most deplorable. This money needs to be ploughed into the education system to strengthen its foundation, increase its access and building a student-friendly and innovative environment of knowledge.
I would now like to conclude by making a suggestion to the Government. The UN-acclaimed Kanyashree Scheme in Bengal has now been extended to higher education as well. A one-time grant of Rs 25,000 is being provided to girls who continue education after they turn 18, that is, at the undergraduate level. At the postgraduate level, girls who are pursuing science education get a monthly stipend of Rs 2,500 and those pursuing arts education are given a monthly stipend of Rs 2,000. This could be taken up as a national model and implemented across the country to empower women and make them equal stakeholders in our society.
With this I conclude my speech. Thank you.