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BW Businessworld

‘We Need To Liberalise...'

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Resource Development

Kapil Sibal, 60, has a lot on his plate. a law graduate from Harvard and science and technology minister in the previous UPA regime, he has been entrusted the task of removing the ills plaguing the country’s education sector. There are problems of access as well as of quality. In higher education, there are unreasonably high entry barriers for private sector players and multiple regulatory agencies for authorisation. Sibal has already outlined the 100-day agenda of his ministry. He also plans to make Class X board examinations optional to reduce stress on students and replace the various school boards across the country with a single board. He has formulated a ‘brain gain’ policy to attract talent from across the world in existing and new institutions, launching a new scheme of interest subsidy on educational loans for economically weak students and a law to regulate the entry and operation of foreign education providers. The minister spoke to BW’s Shalini S. Sharma on the critical issues facing the sector. Excerpts:

Will there be big ticket reforms in education?
What Manmohan Singh did in 1991 to the economy should be done in the field of education in 2009. He opened up the system, brought it out of government control, through the liberalisation process attracted investment, allowed private players to come into the system which brought about a revolutionary change in the way our economy functions. In essence, that’s what we intend to do (in education).

What about the Foreign Education Providers’ Bill?
Foreign investment in education and FDI is a natural corollary of liberalising the whole process. But we first need to liberalise it from within — restructure our present-day institutions in a manner that gives the government only the power to regulate and not a decision-making (role) for setting up institutions. The system should allow institutions to be set up — whether they are universities, colleges or schools — either privately or through public-private partnerships, charitable trusts or government institutions, whether they are state-run or set up by the government, either through executive act or through statute. But all this should be free and open, transparent and accountable, and must be under a uniform regulatory framework. It must not be in government hands, but should be away from its control.

Are you planning to make any changes in the Foreign Universities Bill before introducing it in Parliament?
That is something we have to apply our minds to. My first concern is primary and secondary education. We should free the school education system, have regulatory procedures, allow a variety of participants to enter the school system through various kinds of partnerships — public-private, only private, charitable trusts, societies, etc. and have a uniform system of standards. Allowing state governments to have their own variety is also essential for cultural diversity.

This freedom already exists, but the stipulations on a charitable trust to set up an institute leads to opaqueness in the system.
Those are exactly the things we are looking at — why should it be limited only to charitable institutions? Anybody who passes certain entry barriers should be allowed to set up an institute.


School education
Liberalise the system by allowing a variety of participants

Private institutes
Enhance regulation, but lessen government control

Deemed varsities
Ensure students’ interests are protected while taking action against errant institutes

Higher education
Increase enrolment ratio from 10 per cent to 15 per cent by 2015

One need not necessarily set up a trust to run an institute.
No. But there is a Supreme Court judgement to that effect, and we need to get over that.

Since education is on the concurrent list, states do anything they want. For instance set up private universities without even informing the UGC. This leads to ambiguities.
Because it (education) is on the concurrent list, we can actually have a law and set standards. We have not done it, but this is something which should be done.

What action is going to be taken against deemed universities found to be flouting rules?
Before the report (on the inquiry against deemed universities instituted in the past five years) comes to me, I can’t say what action is going to be taken.

You are reported to have said “the future of students (studying in deemed universities found to be flouting norms) will remain secure”. That means the future of these universities will also remain secure and there can be no action against them.
That’s not necessarily true. That’s your assumption. First, it is not fair for me to comment on it before I get the report, but I want to make this clear and put it on record for the sake of students that whatever punitive action, if at all, will be taken, will not harm the interests of the student community and parents. We will make sure that whatever studies they have undertaken do not go waste and that they get a university degree. How we will do that is not very difficult.

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That again implies that the institutes themselves will not be harmed.
I am not saying that. Theoretically we have the power to withdraw the deemed university status of an institute, affiliate the students to some other university and give them a degree from that university.

What about private universities?
That’s another issue we have to deal with. Because education is on the concurrent list we can actually have standards and regulations.

(Businessworld Issue Dated 30 June-06 July 2009)