April 13, 2010
D Purandeswari, a political leader of the Congress party from the state of Andhra Pradesh, is currently the Union Minister of State for Human Resource Development in the Government of India.
She was first elected to the 14th Lok Sabha from Bapatla parliamentary constituency in Andhra Pradesh in 2004. Subsequently, she contested and won the general elections of 2009 from Visakhapatnam parliamentary constituency. She is regarded as an active parliamentarian.
She is the daughter of the famous mega-star NTR – Dr N T Rama Rao, founder of the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and former Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh.
She visited Manipal University campus last week to deliver the Convocation address of the T A Pai Management Institute (TAPMI). She is one of the few ministers to have retained the portfolio she had in the previous UPA government at the Centre. Along with her senior Minister Mr Kapil Sibal, she has been pushing ahead reform in India's education sector.
Union MoS for HRD , Smt. D Purandeshwari in an exclusive interview with Divvy Kant Upadhyay of Daijiworld.com at Manipal:
Q. The Right to Education becoming a law has been hailed as a step in the right direction. Few voices have also risen to comment on the quality of education. Keeping in mind the present scenario, how long do you think it would take for this “Right” to see its fruits or benefits?
Ans - Presently our GER into Higher Education is 12.4 percent. From MHRD, Mr Sibal has committed to increase it to 30 percent by 2020. The International average is 23 percent – experts have felt that if economy has to be sustainable then we need to have a GER of atleast 20 percent. Because India is considered an emerging economic power of the world, so we need to achieve that kind of GER in Higher Education. The critical mass to transfer into Higher Education has to come from Schools – and unless we ensure that children come into our schools and successfully transit from there, we cannot have the 20 percent GER. Over and above this we also have a constitutional commitment to provide free and compulsory education to every child in our country between the ages of 6 to 14. We did have a flagship program – Sarva Shiksha Abhyan, that was a result of various international MoUs we have signed up – particularly at the Education Conference in 2004 where we re- affirmed what he had signed in 1990 , that we will achieve universalisation of primary education by 2010 – which has now been extended to 2015. There may be some grey areas. But that is one of the reasons we have made it mandatory by a constitutional commitment which should ensure children being sent to schools and the onus of this falling upon the parents.
Q- How is this “RIGHT” going to work ?
Ans- The responsibility is now on the parents – the parents could be pulled up for not sending their children to school. Schools - aided or unaided will now have to mandatorily provide 25 percent of seats for children from the neighbourhood belonging to the disadvantaged sections. The law has already come into force from April 1. So schools from next academic year will have to ensure that they provide the 25 % seats.
Q. Ma’am, the MHRD and especially Mr Sibal have outlined their plans to increase the GER, to have several new universities, thousands of colleges – but how is all of this going to work practically? Lets imagine funds and land are not an issue, but from where are the teachers going to come?
Ans- Yes, creating universities is not something we can do overnight. It’s not just brick and mortar that we use and call some building a University. As you rightly said, faculty is an issue in our country – we have 25 to 30 percent shortage of teaching faculty in our country today. But keeping that in mind, we are initiating steps today which probably will yield us results after 4-5 years. Specifically for teachers, the sixth pay commission did increase the salaries for them, but the other plans that we want to usher in are in the process of discussion and we need to firm up ourselves.
Research has become an essential part of being a teacher. We are now in an open dialogue with CSIR to work on this. CSIR was established under the Department of Science and Technology which doesn’t come under the purview of MHRD – thus for long there has been this disconnect between Universities and research happening at CSIR. Now we are in talks with CSIR to establish its centres in Universities so students and faculties could have a hands-on experience and could be encouraged into research and developmental activities. We hope a large number of students could be part of this “incubation cell” initiative and that helps bridge the gap that exists between CSIR and Universities. Various initiatives like this would yield us good results after 4-5 years.
Q. Does having research and education in different departments or ministries create turf – battles? Infact when many countries have a separate Ministry or Department of Education – why do we refer to it as Human Resource Development?
A. When Rajivji was the Prime Minister, he focused a lot on development of Human resources. So when we talk of Human Resource Development – we don’t mean education alone – but various other aspects. That’s how we had the Woman and Child ministry, the Ministry for youth and sports, the ministry of culture and ministry of education – all merged to form an umbrella-Ministry of Human Resource Development. Infact when PV Narsimha Raoji – was a cabinet minister incharge of HRD – there were Minister of States incharge of each section reporting to him.
Later on we realized how Education itself was a large and very important component – probably the government felt that education was to be kept separate and paid greater attention to and thus we now have separate ministries for culture, youth and sports, woman and child. But I believe Education is the most important factor in Human Resource Development thus we continue with the nomenclature.
Q. Continuing with the certain aspects of education coming under different ministries, there was quite a lot of mention of medical education and agriculture being kept out of the purview of the recently proposed National Council for Higher Education and Research (NCHER) Bill. Your views on that ?
Ans – When we initially did speak of NCHER – we spoke of subsuming AICTE and UGC. AICTE mainly handles technical education and UGC handles management and general education. MCI is the body that handles medical education. There was a little resistance earlier (from MCI), but now we are talking with them, through an open dialogue. They (MCI) have not yet completely and fully given us their consent – but probably there is a softening in their stance as we feel it. But then again Health and Agriculture are state subjects. They should and need to think about it in detail, but we would be happy if they could come into the NCHER.
Q. To increase the GER – we need a host of things – do we have enough funds? For a long time it has been often stated that the ideal expenditure on Education should be 6 % of the GDP. Your comments.
Ans – Presently we have reached about 3.6 percent of our GDP when it comes to expenditure on education. In the tenth plan period, our allocation for education was 9 percent of the gross budgetary support. But In the 11th plan period these days, Govt of India has increased it to 19% of its gross budgetary support. We have considerably increased the allocation for education. The Govt of India along with the State governments have to contribute together. Though we have increased our allocation, we have seen a decline in State governments pitching in their share. It is here that we would want State Governments to wake up to their responsibilities. If not increase, they should atleast not decrease the allocation from state budget for education.
Q- Is the MHRD planning to take up all the recommendations of the Prof Yashpal Committee?
Ans – No, whatever we feel is doable or genuinely required, we will take up. For eg. Take the case of NCHER. We wanted to actually review AICTE and UGC but Prof Yashpalji felt we should look into the functioning of the two organizations. He recommended that we should do away with the AICTE and UGC -we felt doing away with the two bodies may not be entirely correct, thus we thought we could subsume it into the overarching body - NCHER.
Q- We have school, vocational, higher and distance education – so many goals to achieve – do you think the Government can do this alone? Will public funding be enough?
Ans - No, definitely not. The challenge before us is the geography and the demographic numbers we have. I don’t think the government can do it alone. I think it is here that we are looking at public-private partnerships. But many people apprehend it as privatization- there are several apprehensions as people feel it would lead to higher fees consequently leading to lesser access. But we are also in talks with bodies like CII and we are exploring ways to promote public-private partnerships.
Q. How has your visit to Manipal been? How was the experience like?
Ans - I must say it has been a wonderful experience for me to be on the campus of the Manipal University. It was actually a pleasure to see how much focus is laid on student comfort and how student centric every facility of the university campus is. Especially for students coming from far and wide, every effort has been made to make them feel at home.
The academic facilities offered are wonderful – especially the medical education facilities. I was particularly impressed by the Medical Simulation centre. A student could have a close-to real experience without trying it out on human beings. By the time these students go on to assist doctors or to attend patients themselves, they would have had a good and complete view of how to go about things.
I was also very impressed by the Anatomy Museum. I believe there are close to 1000 specimens carefully and beautifully preserved. The passion that is displayed in adding onto these specimens is highly commendable. It was a wonderful learning experience. One of the most striking features that caught my attention was that the University lets young school children see the museum for free. That kind of ignites interest in children and opens up their mind to new horizons. Children usually don’t know what to choose for future. Such an effort gives them opportunity to explore.
I also had the opportunity to walk through the indoor sports complex that is yet to open. I found it amazing. Any child would want to use such a facility. I was also fortunate to have even seen a bit of the cultural program at UTSAV 2010.
Such holistic development of the child mentally and physically is possible only through provision of such good facilities and opportunities.