New Delhi : HRD minister Smriti Irani's said a new education policy will emerge only after wide-ranging consultations with all stakeholders, especially students and parents. Excerpts:
Q: What is going to be the focus of HRD ministry?
A: I think that the Prime Minister's focus on skill development and his concern vis-a-vis the fact that we need to make our youth more employable is something that will reflect in the policies and work of the HRD ministry. The President's concern for the standards to be set up in our Central universities and institutes of higher learning is something which I endeavour to support and provide solution to. I also see a reduced inclination towards science and maths which is a personal worry for me. So my endeavour is to support an increased awareness or interest towards maths and science, particularly among girls, at primary, secondary and higher education levels.
Q: President's address promised IITs in all states. How are you going to implement it?
A: I am aware of the challenges of existing IITs/IIMs. In fact, on 28th and 29th of this month, I requested directors of IITs to come together to introspect current challenges and how we can provide through administrative reforms solutions to those challenges. I am also keen to develop contribution of the alumni of such institutions for better engagement with students to promote research. I will undertake a similar exercise with IIM directors. For any new initiative on policy, all stakeholders will be consulted. Policy will not be made in isolation.
Q: But there is a perception that IITs only produce engineers and research is ignored. What will you do to change this?
A: I have understood concerns regarding research and fellowship in our country. HRD website is in the process of being refurbished which will help students to understand under what scheme increased grants in research, scholarship and fellowship will be given. I am also extremely keen to increase allocation towards research, keen to engage with industry captains so that there is an interface and support from industry for research. Our endeavour at MHRD is also to support research by students but increase awareness about how papers are to be published in journals of repute and how students pursue patents with regard to research.
Q: Why this emphasis on setting up a Central university on Himalayan Studies?
A: I will say time has come for an institute of international repute where modern science, technology, environmental concerns, issues related to hydrology, anthropology, geology, ethnic cultures in Himalayan regions -- which are issues of interest and concern for many not only in India but all over the world -- will be subject of study. I also foresee the need for international cooperation for such an endeavour in convergence with the efforts of ministry of external affairs.
Q: BJP had questioned UPA's move to appoint vice-chancellors of 12 Central universities. In most cases panel has been finalized. What are you going to do now?
A: In whatever process that is undertaken by HRD, due process of law will be ensured. Also position of VC is not only a position of academic excellence but also one with which the prestige of the institute is tied up. My endeavour is to ensure that institution's prestige, dignity and honour is not damaged.
Q: What about other policy initiatives?
A: Merits and demerits of the Right to Education, Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan and Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan are issues of discussion and debate between centre and states. Given the challenges faced by the states with regard to these policy initiatives, how we can better the performance of policies or how these policies can be revisited will be decided only after consultation. One-size-fits-all is not possible in a country as diverse as India with so many challenges.
Q: Are you looking at changing the curriculum?
A: The last education policy was formulated in 1986. In 2014, this is a new India with new needs and new aspirations. Hence we will begin the process of consultation state-wise, region-wise, nationally, not only with government and bureaucracy but with all stakeholders. We will also invite international experts who can give us an insight from their experiences in the field of education, challenges they met with innovative ideas and what succeeded. After exhaustive deliberations, a new education policy will emerge, reflecting the aspirations of India now and opportunities in the next decade. It will be my endeavour to help India emerge as a knowledge-based economy. Education should be a cohesive policy.
Q: What will be the fate of a host of bills left behind by UPA II?
A: Whichever legislation benefits students, helps bring about systemic changes which are needed infrastructurally and administratively to better education in the country will be pursued. Policy initiatives, as a citizen I feel, should not be looked upon from the political prism. India is best served when education is looked at from the prism of betterment of students. Policy needs to evolve in such a way that it keeps up with the pace of change in our country. Policy is made for the people. A policy cannot bring forth challenges for people but policy is initiated to better lives of people. If this means policy needs to be deliberated upon or revamped in some fashion, MHRD is open to such suggestions- be it from states or stakeholders. The biggest stakeholders are students and families who work hard to send their children to schools.
Q: There is an apprehension that textbooks will be saffronised.
A: Too much is attributed to me, without me speaking about it. President's speech and PM's resolve reflect what MHRD seeks to do.
Q: Your manifesto promised restructuring of UGC. Will it happen?
A: There have been many a promise in the manifesto which I hold dear. Promises were made to better lives of people. These promises shall be kept.
Q: What about Delhi University's Four-Year-Undergraduate Programme?
A: I see the role of MHRD if there is a blatant violation of law. I respect autonomy of institutions. Any other comment at this stage from me will be inappropriate.