Higher Education at High Altitudes

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Krishan Ballabh Agarwal

Krishan Ballabh Agarwal
Principal Secretary, Higher Education Department, Government of Jammu & Kashmir

“J&K is known for its natural beauty throughout India. In education also the state can excel,” says Krishan Ballabh Agarwal

In Person hat is the mandate of the Higher Education Department in J&K?
See the higher education department is basically concerned with education beyond 10 plus two level. It deals with the education at the graduation,post-graduation and research level through the degree colleges and through the systems of the universities. The mandate of the Higher Education Department is to ensure that all the deserving students have access to quality infrastructure for education. The education that is being imparted is modern and geared to make the students ready for taking jobs in popular industries.

It has often been found that students coming out of universities are lacking in skills that are required by our industry. What steps are you taking to ensure that our education system is capable of making our students job ready?
Higher education has two dimensions in it – one dimension is concerned with research and training, while the other is basically about vocational training, which is related to employment related aspects. If you are talking about vocational education,our focus shifts mainly to engineering and medical colleges. In J&K we have the National Institute of Technology in Srinagar. We have a State engineering institute in Jammu. We also have few other universities in the State. Some of our universities and colleges are providing a good degree of job related training. We have medical colleges in Jammu and in Srinagar.

However,we are currently offering very few medical seats in the state as compared to the demand. I completely agree with the idea of there being a closer coordination between the industry and the educational establishment. There ought to be a continuous evaluation of the courses that we are teaching. The courses that do not lead to any job related outcomes should be phased out within a reasonable span of time. This is my opinion.

There is obviously the need of having more and more engineering and medical colleges, but creating such institutions is not an easy task. What can be done to ensure that the new institutions adhere to certain quality benchmarks?
Today J&K is witnessing a unique phase of huge investment in infrastructure sector. Major railways projects are being undertaken. The construction of national highway, which entail large amount of construction work, is being undertaken in the state. There are power projects and bridge projects coming up. Under the Prime Minister’s Gramin Sadak Yojna, we are having a huge investment of more than `10,000 crore for construction of roads in the rural areas. Unfortunately, the state does not have engineers in sufficient numbers. There for there is need of establishing new engineering colleges. Just new colleges won’t do, we also need to recruit quality teachers.

What is your view of the role that private sector can play in higher education? Do you think that PPP projects should be encouraged for driving better education outcomes?
I would like to tell you that our Minister for Higher Education has recently announced on the floor of the assembly that we will be opening up our engineering education sector for both the public-private organisations and fully private organisations. Besides this we will also be taking new initiatives for opening new engineering colleges in the government sector. In my opinion, we should encourage private investment in key areas of education like engineering. The government must endeavor to establish new institutions,but the field must also be left open for the private institutions.

“The online system for admission and examination is the need of the hour“

What kind of initiatives can be taken by the State government to bring improvement to the quality of education being offered in our higher education institutions?
J&K is known for its natural beauty throughout India. In education also the state can excel. I am fully convinced that with the right kind of efforts, the state of education in J&K can be improved to a great extent. The state can be home to the best educational  institutions. This place can be famous not only for its tourism related aspects, but also for education. We need to do lot of introspection to learn about the issues that lie at the core of our educational establishment. Even currently the education that is being offered in the state institutions is to a large extent at par with what the students get in other parts of the country.

J&K is a hilly state, many citizens are residing in far flung areas. What kind of technologies are you using to ensure that the students in every part of the state are able to access quality education?
We want to impart education in the far-flung and remote areas. Such areas are often difficult to reach;even if teachers are posted here they are reluctant to go to their institutions. So we are taking the initiative of promoting e-learning. With the help of high-speed connectivity and suitable hardware and software solutions, teachers based in Srinagar or Jammu can reach out to students anywhere in the state. Recently we have established an e-portal for our library. Out here many free of cost books are available for our teachers and students. Some  institutions in the state are equipped with good quality digital labs to enable teachers to teach latest technology courses easily. Some of these labs need upgradation and we are doing that. Currently we are undertaking a major e-Governance initiative in the Higher Education Department. We would also like to have a paperless office in near future.

Online systems of admission and examination have become very popular in many parts of the country. Are we developing such systems in J&K?
The online system for admission and examination is the need of the hour. We have a large number of colleges in the private sector. There have been complaints that the number of teachers is less and the requisite infrastructure is not in place. But I think the real challenge lies in final assessment through some sort of an online examination system, whereby we can provide gradation to the private institutes, rather than witch-hunting them often in the name of some facilities being deficient

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