22 MAY 2018
Answer questions in NOT MORE than 200 words each. Content of the answer is more important than its length.
Links are provided for reference. You can also use the Internet fruitfully to further enhance and strengthen your answers.
Q1. Suggest ways to improve the quality of higher education in India.
- India is experiencing problems in higher education today is worse than merely the production of studious but creativity-challenged youth. There is abetment of a toxic productivity whereby our universities churn out youth with a poor grasp of the subject matter that they are expected to know and an even poorer understanding of the challenges that India today faces, for which they alone can provide the solutions. This is particularly troubling as public expenditure on education in India favours higher education far more than elsewhere in the world when schooling is severely neglected by comparison. So, neither funding nor neglect can be blamed for the lack of vitality in India’s institutions of higher education.
- The activities approved for toting up a teacher’s API are many, extending beyond teaching and research. This has led to a form of academic entrepreneurship that has very likely demoralised the less entrepreneurial, who are often the more academic and therefore more deserving of being in the university to start with. For this reason, the contents of the API must be revised to include only teaching and research, thus also saving scarce administrative resources.Teaching input can be partly measured by the number of courses taught, but research assessment should avoid the quantitative metric. Instead it should be judged by committees that have reputed and recognisably independent subject experts on it.
- Compulsory attendance, which goes against the spirit of learning, must be replaced by credit for classroom participation.
- Introduce student evaluation of courses to be made public. It needs emphasis that this is meant to be an ‘evaluation’ and not some ‘feedback’ to be contemplated upon by the lecturer at leisure. However, it is important to see the process in perspective. Course evaluation is meant to instil in students both a sense of confidence that their view is being solicited and a sense of responsibility in wielding authority early on. It can effectively check truancy among faculty but there should be vigilance against its misuse.
- The UGC should remove all experience-related considerations to career advancement. The present system leaves the able to stagnate during their best years and the undeserving to believe that time served grants entitlement to promotion. There must be a drastic reduction in the number of hours faculty have to teach. While this may not be much in the research institutes and the Central universities, in India’s colleges the teaching load is not merely taxing to the point of lowering productivity but leaves teachers no time to address the burgeoning literature in their disciplines.
- Once courses are evaluated by students, the classroom should revert to being the instructor’s castle. A pincer movement of corporate interest and political pressure combined with regulatory overdrive have cramped the autonomy of the teacher. The state of higher education in India today partly reflects this.
Q2. Discuss the need of better connectivity in South and South east Asia.
- Looking into South Asia, where most multi-country connectivity initiatives are usually deemed to be mere talk shops. Poor connectivity is the major reason why intra-regional trade is among the lowest in South Asia. South Asia, with its 1.8 billion population, is only capable of conducting around 5% intraregional trade as connectivity remains a constant barrier. Non-tariff barriers (NTBs) continue to plague the region and addressing infrastructure deficits can do away with 80% of the NTBs. In addition to enhancing trade, connectivity can significantly improve people-to-people interaction leading to better understanding, greater tolerance\ and closer diplomatic relations in the region.
- States in South and Southeast Asia are involved in multiple regional initiatives led by India and China but are unable to get the benefit due to their slow progress. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation remains moribund with little hope of it becoming functional in the near future. The Bay of Bengal too remains among the least integrated regions in spite of having immense potential of enhancing trade through utilisation of its ports and waterways. The India-led Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) involving Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Thailand, has made little progress. Serving as a funnel to the Malacca Straits, one of the world’s busiest waterways, the Bay of Bengal has now become one of the most important strategic hotspots for global trade and all countries in BIMSTEC are losing out due to this prolonged period of dormancy. In all this time, the organisation has only had meetings, negotiations and leaders’ summit and stalled free trade agreement negotiations. However, there has been some progress through the establishment of the BIMSTEC Energy Centre and a task force on Trans Power Exchange and Development Projects, which was established to develop a memorandum of understanding for the establishment of the BIMSTEC Grid Interconnection.
- China is leading its own regional ambition with its BRI. A portion of the Maritime Silk Route crosses the Bay of Bengal and involves Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. Both China and India are pursuing regional initiatives on their own which could lead to benefit for all involved states. Regional agendas could have been pursued efficiently if the initiatives were complementary rather than competing. If the BRI, BIMSTEC and BBIN were developed through coordination and consultation, led by the two Asian giants, the projects under the schemes could have been implemented more efficiently. With the minimum required cooperation in pursuing regional initiatives, India and China can significantly enhance trade, investment and connectivity in the region. This would not only would be a win-win for the two giants but also enormously benefit smaller countries.
- Slow moving regional projects end up hurting most the resource-constrained citizenry of the region who are deprived from the benefits emanating from well-thought-out and carefully strategised regional connectivity projects. Caught in the quagmire of continental, regional and sub-regional geopolitics, the smaller states are losing out and having to pay the price of missed economic opportunities as the two Asian giants.