The GER needs to be enhanced substantially to be able to catch up with the developed countries – Professor K. Mohandas – Vice Chancellor, Kerala University of Health Sciences
Professor K. Mohandas, Vice Chancellor, Kerala University of Health Sciences in an exclusive interview with India Education Review shares his views on current system of Indian Higher Education system and the trends he has observed over the years in the education sector in India.
Q. What do you think about the current Education system in India?
Prof. Mohandas- Since Independence, there has been a leap-frogging in Higher Educational (H.E.) facilities – an exponential, even explosive, growth in the number of students, colleges and universities. This was both essential and expected as it was absolutely crucial that higher education in independent India moved from an elitist to an egalitarian system. However in this quantum jump, quality became a casualty. Even after the expansion of the Higher Educational facilities and despite concerted efforts in recent times, GER still hovers around 12. So we are faced with the problems of less than desirable accessibility and quality.
Q. You have been associated with the Indian Higher Education system for a long time. What changes have you observed?
Prof. Mohandas- In the past 16 years, during which I have been associated with H.E. as head, first, of the Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology (an institution of national importance established by an act of parliament) and now, the Kerala University of Health Sciences, there has certainly been a heightened awareness, among the academia and the powers that be, that the twin issues of quality and access must be addressed with much greater urgency and commitment; that the prevailing attitude of ‘business as usual’ is indeed suicidal; that we must move out of the world bank-IMF driven mindset that H.E. is not a priority area for Governments; that the GER needs to be enhanced substantially to be able to catch up with the developed countries; that the world has moved to a knowledge economy. Several efforts and initiatives have since been made and there was a marginal increase in GER. However, neither the rate of progress nor the quality improvement programmes have been satisfactory, partly due to a certain disconnect between the central and state governments. The example of the fate of the ‘model colleges’ that IER published recently is one of the prime examples of this problem. Issues of autonomy and accountability also contribute to this state of affairs. There are several good recommendations in the reports of the Knowledge Commission and the Yashpal Committee. What is needed is a concerted and committed effort on the part of the Central and State Governments to work in tandem to translate the recommendations to a time bound, result oriented action plan.
Q. Your university is a domain focused university, how do you see the importance of the emergence of such university for the Indian education system?
Prof. Mohandas- I am afraid that the jury is still out on this. I suspect (and this is a purely personal view) that uni-disciplinary and affiliating universities are not the answer to our educational vows in the longer run. Perhaps unitary and residential multi disciplinary universities of the order of 1500 to 2000 in the next two decades could be the answer for bringing about equity, quality and access.
Q. How your university is incorporating Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in teaching and learning processes?
Prof. Mohandas- We plan to use ICT extensively in both academic and administrative areas. The former should help us to overcome the severe infrastructure crunch, both human and physical, that plagues professional healthcare education, and the latter, to bring about efficiency and transparency in administration. Since this university is new, ITC implementation is in the planning stage.
Q. What are the challenges before your university?
Prof. Mohandas- Our main challenge is to bring about the sustainable improvement in the standards of education, training and evaluation in all the disciplines in health care professional education as Modern Medicine, Ayurveda, Homeopathy, Siddha, Dentistry, Nursing, Pharmaceutical Science and Paramedical courses.
We also need to improve the quality and quantum of research output, encourage interdisciplinary research with a view to integrating best practices in other disciplines as well as for advancing the frontiers of knowledge in human health and ill-health.
We should also strive for true autonomy in administrative, financial and academic areas with a view of making the University a seat of knowledge and enquiry.
Q. What are the ways to ensure that higher education remains both affordable and accessible to all?
Prof. Mohandas- This is a million dollar question. I have no ready answers. I believe that education and health must remain the priority areas for governments. Therefore, they will have to continue to invest heavily in these areas. Public-Private Partnership with optimal financial support system for the less advantaged students, so as to make it ‘need-blind’, is essential to maintain equity and access without compromising on quality. Priority must also be given for setting up H.E. Institutions in districts where the enrollment ratio is currently unacceptably low, as proposed by the MHRD.
Q. What are the measures required to promote and enhance world-class research in India?
Prof. Mohandas- Several measures need to be adopted. Incentives and disincentives for the faculty, coupled with training in research methodology, funding options and project preparation for competitive bidding are necessary. We also need to encourage colleges to improve research infrastructure, if necessary, as a mandatory requirement for accreditation/affiliation/financial support. We should establish and maintain laboratories with world class facilities for cutting-edge research in the areas of interest. We must take steps to attract and retain research oriented persons in the faculty, if necessary, with differential pay and other incentives. We need to nurture a research mindset among the students, starting with undergraduate education itself. We have to initiate doctoral and post-doctoral programmes with adequate scholarships.
Q. What are your views on the semester system?
Prof. Mohandas- Since health care education is still not semester based, I do not wish to comment on it.
Q. What are the future plans of your University?
Prof. Mohandas- We are focusing to establish robust systems of governance and administration to enable the establishment of a student friendly, student centric and academic oriented university. We are also planning to construct the university campus and buildings designed on ‘green’ principles. Establishing schools of research and constituent colleges is also on our agenda.