Education Policy: Here is why new panel must reiterate predecessor’s bold recommendation

It had spoken of the need for a new committee, one that would deliver a “fresh and comprehensive report”. (Reuters)

At the time it junked the TSR Subramanian Committee report that was meant to outline the new national education policy (NEP), the government had termed it a “mere compilation” of older reports. It had spoken of the need for a new committee, one that would deliver a “fresh and comprehensive report”. A eight-member committee was indeed announced on Monday—it will be headed by Isro chief K Kasturirangan—but when the HRD ministry, as per Business Standard, said that the new committee will consider inputs from the Subramanian committee report, the irony was difficult to shrug off. It is the government’s writ to endorse or reject reports it commissions, but the Subramanian report was junked despite having many progressive recommendations.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, the government, after delaying the report’s release for months, made public a truncated version that didn’t have some of the radical suggestions that the committee had made. The original report (a leaked version) recommended that political parties and affiliates be banned from universities. The officially-released version didn’t feature this recommendation. The campus-ban certainly would not have gone down well with the political class since parties, including the ruling one, get a significant number of recruits from universities. It should reveal how wary the government is of untrammelled education reforms.

The Subramanian committee had many other prescriptions that the Kasturirangan committee would do well to parse if it is to come up with a transformative NEP. The Subramanian committee, among other things, had recommended the setting up of an Education Commission to continually assess the education sector and advise the HRD ministry on the need to upgrade policy as required, compulsory licensing of teachers, amending the RTE Act to include mandatory learning outcomes, making EWS quota applicable in minority institutions.

A radical reform it had recommended is separate bureaucratic framework for HRD functions and an autonomous body to handle the selection of teachers for government schools and colleges, showing a way out of the corruption and politicisation that dog the process. The government, for its part, has been working on some key recommendations of the Subramanian panel—a graded regulatory framework that grants near-complete autonomy to high-quality institutions while tightening the control on institutes of low quality is expected shortly as is a higher education regulator that does way with the inefficiencies of the UGC-AICTE system.

Some of the Subramanian panel recommendations may not have been new, but nearly all of them broke with the dogmas of the past. So, if the Kasturirangan panel is able to imbibe such thinking in its recommendations, even if these end up as “mere” reiteration of what its predecessor had proposed, it would have come up with the education policy India needs. Thereon, the true measure of the government’s intention on reforming education would be the degree to which it is ready to swallow the politically unpalatable recommendations and implement them.