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Skills varsity plan shelved after HRD ministry resists

LiveMint logoLiveMint 16-03-2017 Prashant K. Nanda

New Delhi: Skills minister Rajiv Pratap Rudy’s plan to open universities under his ministry that will equip students with vocational skills appears to have been shelved in the face of resistance from the human resource development (HRD) ministry.

On Thursday, Rudy for the first time told the Rajya Sabha that although the plan had support from several ministries, it faced opposition from the HRD ministry. He indicated that without a policy decision at higher levels, it will be tough to create a skills’ ecosystem.

Rudy said that in March 2015, his ministry had set up a working group to lay down the road map for implementing the proposal, and the next month the group presented a report and a draft bill to set up skill universities.

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“Several ministries supported the proposal while some like the Department of Higher Education, Ministry of Human Resource Development, had some reservations. The Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship is presently in the process of examining the comments received,” Rudy said in a written reply in the Rajya Sabha.

Replying to a subsequent question in the Rajya Sabha, Rudy said the department of industrial policy and promotion (DIPP) too had reservations, but did not disclose details.

The University Grants Commission (UGC)—which comes under the HRD ministry—regulates universities, and without its permission, no university can function or offer degrees. Any other ministry opening a university without the HRD ministry’s consent would be a transgression of jurisdiction.

An HRD ministry official said on condition of anonymity that the ministry had questioned the varsity plan. “The fundamental question is why separate skills universities are required in the first place. The UGC has already asked universities to start bachelor’s degree in vocational education courses other than participating in skill development schemes through certificate courses,” the official said, adding the HRD ministry has plans to open community colleges for the purpose.

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Another government official aware of the development said looking at the opposition from both HRD and DIPP, the proposal is now on the back burner. “It’s shelved as of now,” the official said, also requesting anonymity.

Rudy told the Rajya Sabha that his ministry is in favour of creating a skill development “ecosystem” by bringing everything related to it under “one vertical”. Though he did not elaborate on it, in November 2016, he had said that he was in favour of taking over the All India Council of Technical Education from the HRD ministry to build a skills ecosystem.

“Engineering has to become a part of this whole skill ecosystem. At some point of time, AICTE could be considered as part of the skilling ecosystem. It will have resistance, but it will take off,” Mint reported on 10 November quoting Rudy. He had then said that his idea is “radical” and may get “dismissed by academicians” but he believes the present AICTE system has not worked well. AICTE is India’s apex technical education regulator.

On Thursday, however, Rudy conceded that, for the development of a skill ecosystem, a bigger policy decision has to be taken as it will have “long-term impact”.

According to the HRD ministry official cited above, the ministry had opposed a similar idea when the labour ministry wanted to set up a national vocational university in late 2014.

However, the skills ministry believes that a central body is required for imparting and certifying skill courses and a university or several universities in states will be helpful. The skills ministry had proposed several universities in Bihar, Telengana and Andhra Pradesh, among others.

“A central body—university or a board—is a practical requirement of the skill development industry. Unless we have a central statutory body and skill courses are recognized by it, then we will continue to have recognition issues both in India and abroad,” said Ajay Mohapatra, managing director of JustRojgar, a private skill provider and partner of the skills ministry.

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