Catapulting Telangana into innovation hub

Last month, the government of Telangana appointed Vice-Chancellors (VCs) to 10 universities in the State, in consonance with the UGC guidelines. In spite of the delays in these appointments due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the government believes that this ends a period of uncertainty and gives us a renewed opportunity to transform the State into India’s higher education hub.

The government of Telangana sanctioned 1,061 faculty positions and made budgetary allocation way back in 2017 but the universities for reasons inexplicable didn’t take up recruitment, which severely dented quality in the Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). Therefore, the first job on hand for the VCs is recruitment of faculty

VCs’ Critical Role

On the other hand, the appointments of VCs gain even more significance in light of the Union government’s rollout of the National Education Policy (NEP), 2020. The NEP is a comprehensive document that aims to bring about a paradigm shift in education, especially in the areas of higher education. The policy meticulously discusses every metric but most of all emphasises on ‘flexibility’ as its guiding principle. While there could be an insistence on learning objectives and outcomes in the NEP, the path to achieving them is left to individual States and, to be more specific – it is left to each HEI.

Therefore, it is incumbent on the part of the new VCs and officials of the Higher Education Departments to understand the critical areas where the changes have been made and, accordingly, develop a vision for higher education in the State.

Leveraging Funds

Funding is an important lever required to transform education and the NEP proposes to increase the budget on education from the current 3% to 6% of the GDP. This means that the Union government’s share in education will rise from the current Rs 5.6 lakh crore to Rs 11 lakh crore.

A closer study of the NEP reveals that funding in future would be linked to States conforming to the aims and objectives envisaged in the NEP. States that are active in terms of meeting objectives and goals of the NEP will automatically stand a greater chance of getting more funds. Telangana can then leverage these funds in reorienting courses to meet indigenous needs, national and global challenges and in creating an ecosystem in the HEIs that promotes critical thinking.

To leverage these funds, it is also important that the State’s finance department builds a robust fund flow architecture using the principles of Just-in-Time (JIT) funding. This will ensure that funds reach individual colleges in a timely manner so that the needs of the institute such as payment of salaries, investments in learning, innovation and research can be met. It will also ensure that funds are spent in a timely manner and the problem of “unspent balances” is addressed.

Hubs and Mentor

Hyderabad is already considered as an emerging knowledge hub in Asia and has some globally competent research institutions in the public sector. A comprehensive programme needs to be planned where these research institutions act as hubs and mentor other government institutions.

Along with this, we need to strive to ink MoUs and pacts with internationally reputed universities for dual degree programmes, for faculty/student exchange and to introduce new forms of pedagogy. In the digital world, as has been evidenced in our collective experience during the pandemic, we can source the best of talent to conduct online lectures and workshops with the right set of incentives.

The publication of quality textbooks in all languages for all ages and courses is one of the lofty objectives of the NEP. Responsible entities such as the State Council for Higher Education could bring in value addition here by publishing supplementary material both in digital and print modes. Learning and course material must also be revamped by roping in experts from various fields.

Further, the NEP envisages a situation where degree colleges would slowly become degree-granting colleges. For this to be achieved, we need to create the necessary ecosystem in the HEIs that propels growth, development, accountability and ensure the quality of education and integrity.

Benchmarking & Accreditation

Apart from the 700 active degree colleges in the private sector, there are about 133 government degree colleges in Telangana. In 2014, when Telangana State was formed, there were just 29 colleges that had accreditation from the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC).

During the last seven years, 35 more colleges have got accreditation and about 15 colleges are in the pipeline for accreditation. Benchmarking and accreditation are important aspects that propel HEIs forward and this should continue in mission mode. As colleges strive for a higher rating, it is the students who stand to benefit the most.

Further, the NEP proposes that every district in the State must have one high standard multidisciplinary HEI or a university by the end of 2030. So 33 such institutions in the next 9 years. It talks about increasing the GER (Gross Enrollment Ratio) from 18% (2018) to 50% by 2030. It further aims that by 2040, all HEIs become multidisciplinary institutions. The new VCs must commence plans in due appreciation of this vision in the NEP.

The recent waves of Covid-19 have not only created an existential dilemma but also revealed the limitations of human knowledge. However, it has also foregrounded the power of innovation. Hyderabad’s contribution to the vaccine development journey is well documented and needs no repeating. The post-Covid world would have a greater emphasis on health and education and the State is well poised to capitalise on this opportunity.

Soon after coming to power in 2014, Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao followed a diligent strategy focused on electricity and irrigation sectors. In the power sector, the State has achieved self-sufficiency and in irrigation, it is on the verge of rewriting history. After a huge success in these two domains, the Chief Minister is now keen on prioritising two more sectors – health and education. We must leave no stone unturned to catapult Telangana into an innovation hub powered by the vision of the Chief Minister and the knowledge systems that exist within the State’s HEIs.

(The author is Vice-Chairman of Telangana State Planning Board and former Member of Parliament)

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