The Indian society has been fortunate to have produced visionary academic leaders and philosophers. Dr Radhakrishnan, Maulana Abul Kalm Azad, Khwaja Ghulam Saedain, and Daulat Singh Kothari to quote a few. They built strong foundations of education system in the country. The progress and advancement of the country has been possible only because of building a chain of institutions in all sectors of education. Similarly, Kashmir society has also not been far behind to produce Kh Gh Ahmad Ashai, Prof Aga Asharaf Ali, Prof Mohi-ud-Din Hajni, Prof Mehmooda Ali Shah and the likes.
Towards implementing New Education Policy (NEP) 2020, services of great academic stalwarts are required to be utilised. Fundamentally the policy document needs to be studied thoroughly and understood before initiating measures for its implementation in letter and spirit. The policy is not confined to Semester System, Choice Based Credit System or Vocational Orientation, but many things beyond that. Every chapter offers new concepts to explore unique and appropriate methodologies/strategies for implementation.
It is worthwhile to refer to an interesting historical academic event. Prof Rutherford was Vice Chancellor of New York University in 1902. A building was coming up in front of his chamber. He observed that a stone dresser was working hard from dawn to dusk. The Vice Chancellor sent a message to meet him in the evening and asked the stone dresser, "why are you working so Hard"? The stone dresser replied, "I am not working hard to construct a building, but to build an institution where thousands of boys and girls will come to learn".
This dialogue between the two highly impressed the professor. He enquired about education qualification of the stone dresser. To his surprise, he learnt that he had not attended any school. Prof Ford arranged evening classes for such adults in the University. Among others, the stone dresser also attended such classes and obtained diplomas and degrees. Just after 16 years of first interaction between the two, in 1918, Prof Rutherford demitted the office of Vice Chancellor and new incumbent occupied the office. He was the same stone dresser- K. Kerlinger.
This is the vision of institution building. Vibrant institutions groom quality citizens including academics, doctors, engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs and bureaucrats. They are pillars and contribute to the socio-economic stability and prosperity of a nation. Thus, institution building as also envisaged in NEP requires vibrant implementation to reflect good governance and quality citizenry.
To substantiate this argument, based on working experience, two important functionaries in J&K, during the recent past, are being referred to. Mr Kewal Kumar Sharma was Advisor to Hon'ble Lt. Governor of J& K who was inter alia looking after education department. It is learnt that he observed the functioning of education department very meticulously. He made himself available during seminars, conferences and official meetings and heard very patiently to different speakers. He used to sum up the proceedings at the end of an academic event relating to implementation of NEP 2020. This clearly shows his interest in improving the academic performance in higher education institutions in line with well-established benchmarks. He added beauty and value to the proceedings by his positive contribution that encouraged participants to express themselves in a free and fair way on any academic matter.
There appeared a ray of hope in the functioning of Mr Talat Parvez Ruheela (IAS), former Commissioner-Secretary to Government, Higher Education Department, leading to changes in educational scenario aimed at steering J&K towards sustained socio-economic growth. Even though last one and a half years were crucial when institution building was punctuated with clamp down after abrogation of article 370 and 35A followed by lockdown during Covid 19 pandemic, the endeavours made by Mr Talat for activating higher education institutions have been unprecedented. He frequently visited colleges across J&K, arranged workshops and online talks for Curriculum Re-engineering (LOCF), Skill Development (academic-industry Interface), upgrading infrastructure, leveraging technology and establishing linkages with centres of excellence like IIM Ahmadabad and NTPC Business School. His focus on implementation of NEP 2020 has been appreciable.
Mr Talat has been strong pleader of creating research ecosystem in college sector and motivated faculty to work on research projects funded by different organizations in the country. He encouraged colleges to perform in pursuance of hub- spoke model for research, innovation and incubation. His office was open to all for interaction on academic matters. Mr Talat was interested in engaging all stake holders including alumni, parents, industry and administration in institutional development. It is observed through print, electronic and social media that he was interested to groom academic leaders for effective governance of higher education institutions. He would address people by their names and used to utilise full day workshops and seminars as a plate form to interact with participants and by his appropriate interventions he would encourage them. All these productive activities he pursued in a mission mode.
Ms Sushma Chauhan, (IAS), now in office, is expected to take forward vision and mission of higher education as envisaged in NEP 2020. Being academic custodian, she is likely to make all efforts to activate different players towards implementing effectively this ambitious policy document.
At present, some colleges are in the process of fourth or third cycle of accreditation. Even some colleges are long overdue for first cycle of accreditation. There are some colleges waiting for autonomous status or grant of potential for excellence. Assessment and accreditation is a process to be carried with sincerity of purpose. It is not a onetime affair. That is why the institutions undergoing assessment are not gaining grades as expected. Even some institutions have obtained superb grades earlier; have been reduced to superior grades. Every phenomenon is to be defended and accordingly preparations for accreditation made. The Director Colleges being an academic leader has pivotal role to perform and activate institutions in this regard. NEP 2020 envisages complete overhaul and energising the system. The Colleges have to strive for attaining minimum benchmarks required for each level of accreditation. Accordingly it is incumbent upon the academic leaders and faculty to be self-motivated to energize and synergise their efforts for academic advancement of student community.
It is experienced that when academia go under eclipse bureaucracy creates a space to perform. Similarly, when executive remains dormant, judiciary activates the system and makes things to happen.
The authors are former College Principals