More seats, deprivation points, and a student rights charter suggest the panel of Kerala Higher Education

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In its preliminary report on higher education reforms, the Kerala Higher Education Reforms Commission recommended increasing the number of seats in state universities. Deprivation points, similar to those used at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), have also been proposed by the commission in order to assist the most marginalised applicants in all-India Kerala university admissions.

Along with creating a “stable” academic calendar and a “charter of rights” for both students and teachers, the committee has also criticised exams like the Common University Entrance Test (CUET) for infringing on university autonomy. Given that the number of students enrolled in institutions could double in the upcoming years, the committee stated in the interim report that it is crucial to raise the number of seats. “First and foremost, increasing access to higher education requires doing justice by providing a suitable number of seats in institutions of higher learning. According to our assessment, Kerala urgently needs to enhance the number of seats available for a limited number of current courses within the current university system,” the panel stated.

The committee also advised institutions to use “deprivation points” for enhanced equity in Kerala university admissions if they decide to undertake all-India admissions. According to a regional and gender-specific deprivation index, the “deprivation points” policy gives weight to people from underdeveloped Indian districts. JNU recently chose to restore the deprivation points scheme.

Kerala Colleges: Common academic calendar

The adoption of a “stable” academic schedule that will be utilised by all universities was another suggestion made by the commission. This has been a “long-standing demand” of the students, according to the committee. However, it noted that the implementation of such a calendar would need “significant decentralisation” of admission, curricula, exams, and faculty hiring. The panel stated that there are several administrative, legal, and technical obstacles that students and instructors must overcome in order to access services, and as a result, it advises the adoption of two “independent but related” charters for student and teacher rights. Additionally, it recommended the creation of a “complete system” to routinely audit all levels of courses and programmes. The panel stated that student assessments will naturally play a significant role in these audits.

In order to allow students without internet access to get admission and exam notifications, the commission also offers alternative alternatives. “Disadvantaged students experience great distress as a result of the existing online notification, admissions, and upfront payment of starting fees due to lack of internet access. We will also be recommending parallel, alternative arrangements to handle this issue, the panel stated.

No CUET-type exam

Concerning common entrance exams, the panel claimed that implementing such a system top-down, as in the case of the Central Universities Entrance Test (CUET), would undermine universities’ autonomy. “Overall, the committee feels that while greater uniformity in the selection processes may be beneficial, forcing a standard system of entrance exams on all institutions at all levels would amount to breaching universities’ authority to choose their own selection procedures. The panel, after careful consideration, also comes to the conclusion that it is better to leave the decision about a common admission test to the universities and colleges to make in the exercise of their autonomy, the commission stated.

The commission also said that if the universities wish to employ such a system then the undergraduate programmes should be excluded from this common entrance test.

Kerala scholarships, hostels

The commission suggests increasing the number of scholarships in order to attract underrepresented groups to higher education. It suggests establishing Kerala State Research Fellowships, which will provide all PhD research researchers without other fellowships with Rs 15,000 per month. Additionally, it suggested another programme to recognise outstanding research accomplishments by doctoral students, along with 100 Chief Minister’s Research Fellowships worth the same as the Junior Research Fellowship (UGC-NET JRF) offered by the University Grants Commission (UGC).

The Commission also urges a streamlining and improvement of awards for students with disabilities in higher education, “in line with other awards and the living index.” It also emphasises the need for steps to be done to enable the timely payment of stipends and scholarships. It recommends building more post-matriculation housing, particularly for women and in cities. In order to propose policy proposals and programmes, it is suggested that a Centre for Indigenous People’s Education be established, “ideally in a district with a substantial tribal population, like Wayanad.”

In line with NEP 2020

The commission also suggested that all universities in Kerala establish a common bank of credits, comparable to the Academic Bank of Credits in the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 of the union government. It suggests adding extra elective courses to each degree to provide students with more options rather than letting the college or department choose what electives to teach. In accordance with the NEP 2020, the commission also suggests gradually dismantling the affiliation structure over the following ten years.

Mayank Tewari

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