ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Higher Education

An Uncertain Policy Process

The Report of the Committee for Evolution of the New Economic Policy, as well as "Some Inputs for Draft National Education Policy" brought out by the Ministry of Human Resource Development are both unaware of the ground that they stand on and hence of the true significance of their own role in shaping the future of higher education. The documents seem to have only a blurred sense of the big picture.

One wonders what historians of a later age will make of the singular genre of “policy documents.” Such texts have already acquired a quaintness that undermines their obligatory earnestness. In an earlier, more credulous era, policy documents were inspirational texts designed to cultivate a reverential regard for the might and benevolence of the state. Today, when the state is rarely benevolent where it is still mighty, and far from mighty where it is still benevolent, the policy statement is no longer seen as the confident prognosis that it once was. Generations weaned on the sobering slide from “budget estimates” to “revised estimates” to “actuals” do not expect the policy document to foretell the future, not even the future of government policy. Only for two reasons are reports, white papers and the like still useful: they often publish data not easily accessible to the public; and they offer insights into the minds of those in or near power.

However, the Report of the Committee for Evolution of the New Education Policy, Subramanian committee report chaired by T S R Subramanian, is noteworthy for a different reason: it highlights the uncertainty inherent in the committee format. The “autonomy” that supposedly independent committees enjoy while producing reports meant to shape government policy is balanced by the room for manoeuvring that governments retain. History tells us that the fate of committee reports is variable: they may be faithfully followed, rudely rejected, implemented piecemeal, silently shelved—or suddenly reactivated after a decade of dormancy, like the Mandal Commission report. It now looks like the National Policy on Education (NPE) 2016 is going to expand this spectrum of possibilities. The then minister of human resource development (HRD), under whose leadership the Committee for Evolution of the New Education Policy was appointed, declined to release its report. Instead, the official website of the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) now has a 43-page document (curiously titled “Some Inputs for Draft National Education Policy 2016;” henceforth Draft NEP 2016) which uses much of the material from the Subramanian committee report but also includes its own material, so that it is essentially a different document, albeit with the same purpose.

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