Green shoots for agri sector with NEP2020

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Green shoots for agri sector with NEP2020

Friday, 24 December 2021 | Brijender Singh Panwar

Green shoots for agri  sector with NEP2020

The Government must take steps to initiate and integrate agricultural education in middle and senior secondary schools across the country

The holistic, inclusive, flexible and multidisciplinary approach adopted by the Government towards the formulation and implementation of the National Education policy (NEP) 2020, has raised the expectations of all the stakeholders. The aim of the NEP is to bring the next generations of our students at par with international standards by making them globally competitive and stop the outflow of creamy layer of Indian students to universities in developed countries. The reforms suggested are expected to transform India into a "global knowledge power — the Vishwa Guru" as envisaged by the Prime minister,Narendra Modi.

The new policy talks about establishing a single regulator for higher education in the form of National Research Foundation which would ensure funding for outstanding peer-review research and to actively promote research in universities and colleges. The Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) should be governed by highly qualified independent boards having academic and administrative autonomy who would ensure the appointment of competent and experienced faculty and fill up institutional positions on merit.

Agriculture plays a crucial role in feeding the masses and providing employment to a large section of Indian population. But unfortunately, the NEP has no specific mention about agricultural education per se. It mentions "show the way to reform and re-engineer India's agriculture education system in conjunction with the systems for other branches of education, especially such that it can deliver high-quality higher education, with equity and inclusion".

Taking notice of this omission, a group of more than 60 eminent scientists, professionals, education and policy related experts from India and abroad, representing the newly formed "Indian Agriculture Advancement Group International (IAAG), organized an international webinar to discuss about the need for an orientation  and reforms in India's agricultural education system in order to make it relevant, efficient and effective in line with NEP.

 The convener of IAAG International, Ramesh Deshpande, submitted the report "Re-engineering India's Agricultural Education" prepared by the PM's group. The report stated that India has a robust Agricultural Education System comprising of 73 agricultural universities- State Agricultural Universities (SAUs) — 62, Deemed Universities — 5, Central Agricultural Universities — 2 and Central Universities with agricultural faculties- 4. Unfortunately, they are being badly managed with outdated curriculum and working with the mindset of the early 1990s when Green Revolution started waning away and agriculture growth became sluggish. At present, the SAUs are facing a range of challenges in terms of governance with little or no autonomy for the Vice Chancellors, frequent and unnecessary interventions by government officials and politicians, lack of meritocracy in education, limited Nation-State coordination, disconnect between research, extension and education, inadequate investment and imbalance in resource allocation, lack or slow implementation of reforms and above all outdated curriculum and infrastructure and no accountability of faculty performance in timebound promotions.

While appreciating the positive steps taken by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) for implementation of some recommendations of the NEP, the IAAG members feel much more needs to be done. Firstly, the role of ICAR should be explicitly defined and delineated under the NEP. There should be a strong ICAR/DARE system with the creation of an independent "National Agricultural Education Council" as an apex body to monitor, coordinate and have an oversight function at the national level. Secondly, effective steps need to be taken to evolve a mechanism and ways to initiate and integrate agricultural education in middle and senior secondary schools. Thirdly, SAUs need to aim for excellence through diversification and making the course curriculum more relevant and flexible and ensuring faculty to generate resources by competing for external grants thus reducing the dependence on public funds. Fourthly, create a "National Agricultural Research and Innovation Fund" with an initial allocation of Rs 1,000 crore under ICAR.

Fifthly,  the National Agriculture Research and Extension System (NARES) must integrate Science Social Responsibility with Corporate Social Responsibility leading to effective Public Private Partnership (PPP). It must enhance the complementarity of ICAR institutes and SAUs in different agri-ecosystems to be more 'vocal for local' and double the farmer's income while meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. It must create a "National Mission on Youth" to motivate and attract youth in agriculture to act as technology agents, extension service providers and successful entrepreneurs. Sixthly, steps should be taken to transform the Land Grant University System into the world class Multidisciplinary Education and Research Universities (MERU) with the flexibility for the entry-exit system and to embrace non-formal vocational education for needed professionalism and skill development in agriculture. This system is working effectively in the US from where we adopted the Land Grant University System. The universities in the US enjoy direct linkages with Community Colleges which offer two-year Associate Degrees with provision of flexible entry and exit and vertical mobility by way of transfer of credits to four-year colleges and universities. Students coming from underprivileged and low-income groups are taking advantage of this system to join the otherwise very costly mainstream education in the US. The same system can be introduced through community colleges in India which can offer one-year or two-year Diploma courses with the provision of transfer of credits to agricultural and horticultural universities.

Similar views emerged in the recently concluded meeting of the Dean's Committee constituted by the ICAR at CSR Himachal Pradesh Agriculture University, Palampur, attended by the Vice-Chancellors and Deans of Agricultural Universities of the region. Dr Tej Partap, Vice-Chancellor, GB Pant University of Agriculture and Technology, Uttrarakhand and Chairman of the Committee, admitted that at present admissions in farm universities are not as per the needs and are unable to serve the purpose as many students who are passing out are not joining the farm sector. There is a need to frame guidelines to introduce the component of entrepreneurship in the curriculum. Dr Partap said that "fundamental changes had been proposed in the National Education Policy but the ICAR had left it to farm universities to restructure the course and curriculum. Efforts should be made to increase the component of practicals in undergraduate programmes and Postgraduate courses would also be restructured in a similar manner. Farm universities should structure one-year certificate courses leading to two-year diploma courses,he suggested. Dr HK Chaudhary, Vice-Chancellor of the host university,  suggested widening the horizon of farm education by allowing freedom to choose subjects, multi-disciplinary approaches and introducingfarm education at school level. CSK University, Palampur, had moved fast to adopt and implement key recommendations of the NEP by increasing the intake of various UG and PG programmes, digitisation, smart classrooms and use of sophisticated new age technology", he added.

The agriculture sector in India is passing through a sensitive and critical phase. The country has faced one of the longest farmers' agitations because farming has become uneconomical due to fragmentation of farm holdings and imbalance between the input and output ratio of farm economics. Consequently, the rural youth have lost interest in the profession of farming. Hence, an effective strategy needs to be worked out to revive the farm sector at the earliest.

(The writer is a senior journalist and Chairman, Panwar Group of Institutions, Solan (HP). The views expressed are personal.)

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