Guru Mantra: KB Powar

Guru Mantra
Professor  KB Powar
Higher Education Expert and Scholar

Professor Krishnapratap Bhagwantrao Powar, born on 20th December, 1937, obtained his B.Sc. (1958) and M.Sc. (Applied Geology) (1960) degrees from the Nagpur University and was awarded the J.P. Trivedi Gold Medal and the King Edward Memorial Scholarship. He later secured his Ph.D. degree in Geology, in 1967, from the Banaras Hindu University. He also received Fulbright and Institute of International Education awards for higher study and research in U.S. (1966-67).

Professor Powar has worked as a teacher, research worker and educational administrator in a professional career of 49 years. He was Professor of Geology, Poona University (1977-86) before being appointed as Vice Chancellor, Shivaji University. He was appointed Secretary General, Association of Indian Universities, New Delhi, in February 1993, and reappointed for a second term in February, 1998. He retired from the Association in December 2002 and thereafter worked as the Founder Director of the Amity Foundation for Higher Learning, New Delhi till November 2004. He is presently Advisor to the Vice Chancellor, D.Y. Patil University, Pune.

Professor Powar has published 67 papers, is the author of 6 books and has edited 18 volumes dealing with different aspects of higher education. The books authored by him include, ‘Accreditation in Higher Education: The Indian Perspective’ (1996), Performance Indicators in Distance Higher Education (2000). ‘Indian Higher Education: A Conglomerate of Concepts, Facts and Practices’ (2002), Internationalisation of Higher Education: Focus on India’ (2003) and Quality of Higher Education (2005).

Rahul- You have extensive experiences as a scholar and leader engaged with higher education. What you think are the three most important events in the last decade, which changed the course of higher education in India?
Dr.Powar- The process of change in the Indian higher education system began in the early 1990s and it would be more pragmatic to consider changes over the last two decades. In fact the changes that have taken place during the present decade were all initiated in the 1990s. To my mind the three most important events are:
First, the acceptance that for the Indian higher education system to develop at an accelerated pace, it was necessary for the private sector to contribute in a substantial measure. However with the failure of the government to ensure the passage, through Parliament, of the Private Universities Bill 1995 it became necessary to use the ‘deemed university route’ leading to the present uncertain situation (as regards the deemed universities).
Second, the realization that having a few highly rated institutions was not sufficient and it was necessary to improve quality all-round. This led to the establishment of accreditation agencies and initiation of quality movement in Indian higher education.
Third, the acceptance that it was necessary to internationalize the Indian higher education system through changes in the academic structures (including the adoption of the credit-based semester system with continued internal evaluation and letter grades), addition of an international component in the curricula, development of academic partnerships with foreign universities, and improving physical infrastructure.

Rahul- Mr. Kapil Sibal has proposed several policy changes in Indian higher education. Among these are bills related to foreign universities and centralization of regulatory bodies. What is your assessment of these two bills?
Dr.Powar- It is to be seen how far Mr Kapil Sibal is successful. Personally, I feel that the Foreign University Bill lacks clarity, and includes conditions that the foreign university may consider to be too demanding. The main concern in the Bill seems to be the establishment of international campuses/ sub-centres. The possibilities provided by other modes, such as academic partnerships and cross-border supply (distance education), have not been adequately addressed. The National Commission for Higher Education and Research Bill, 2010 carries forward the idea of an over-arching apex-body, for bringing about greater coordination and integration in the planning and development of the higher education system, already visualized in the National Education Policy, 1986. However, with the exclusion of the agriculture- and medical-education sectors (and possibly law-education sector also) from the ambit of the Commission, the original concept has been grossly distorted. Moreover, vesting of the powers of a Civil Court with the Commission is something that academics and educational managements will not easily accept. The idea of a National Registry of possible Vice Chancellors does not take into account the diversity in the requirements of different universities. Moreover, persons best-suited for the Vice Chancellor’s position may not like the idea of being included in a register of potential vice-chancellors has been lost sight of.

Rahul- Indian professional higher education in general and engineering education in specific is repeatedly questioned for its quality. For example, high rate of unemployability of graduates and more recently, India's bid for full membership to Washington Accord was turned down. What are top two recommendations you have for a) engineering institutions and b) policymakers for improving quality of engineering education in India?
Dr.Powar- The variability in the quality of engineering (and other professional) education has to be accepted. It would be necessary to strictly implement quality norms and promote only those institutions whose programmes are accredited by the National Board of Accreditation and other accreditation bodies. Greater care has to be exercised before the grant of approval to start new institutions.