Farm education needs reforms

Farm education needs reforms

Vice-chancellors of farm universities had suggested reorientation of farm education and restructuring of undergraduate education to meet the global challenges. The need for a revamp and upgrade of farm education in the country has assumed considerable urgency in view of dismal state of affairs in the farm sector.
There are 41 state farm universities and one Central farm university in the country, set up on the American pattern of Land Grant College Education, based on internal grade evaluation system. The annual state expenditure in some of these universities is quite enormous. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research also provides funds for financing various research projects.

The main objective of these universities is to impart agricultural education at the graduate and post-graduate levels and to provide practical training in respect of field problems in agriculture and allied subjects, as well as to integrate research, teaching and extension work for development purposes.
The progress of these institutions with some exceptions has been far from satisfactory. There have been no accountability in these universities. Many of them are riddled with intrigue and infighting, which have adversely affected farm education and academic standards. Casteism in particular has played havoc. There have been frequent agitations over removal of one or the other vice-chancellor. There have been a lot of wasteful expenditure and irregularities in certain universities.

Failure of evaluation
The decline in the farm education is attributed to the faulty system of internal evaluation. A study conducted by Rais Ahmed says that the practice of giving high marks in the internal assessment is rampant. The internal system was blindly adopted without considering its suitability to Indian conditions, where corruption in society has taken deep roots, and morality has sunk very low, and where students, once admitted, consider it their birthright to acquire degrees at any cost within the stipulated period. The consequences proved disastrous since many teachers had to sacrifice quality and standards of teaching to gain popularity while those with integrity became unpopular.

The Randhawa Committee had reported that the quality of education had suffered because the grading pattern and examination system are defective. The committee observed that there was a wide divergence in the standard of evaluation by different teachers.

For, in this situation, students neglected their studies and followed ‘short-cuts’ to get good grades easily. In the process, standards and norms are sacrificed, the academic atmosphere is vitiated. Consequently, doctoral degrees became cheap commodities which could be had for the asking. The unfortunate part is that the system led to routine repetitive work as an easy way to obtain degrees.
Also, these universities are easily amenable to local and political influence. Students are exploited and patronised by local leaders to suit their personal convenience. The post of vice-chancellor has become political in character. They are often chosen to suit political bosses rather than for their academic or managerial skill. They survive on political patronage.

These institutions have been autonomous for efficient working to enable them to successfully achieve their aims. But today, the university autonomy is being continuously eroded through political interference, as a result of which academic standards have deteriorated. Also, autonomy has been exploited to build up ‘empires’ with a coterie of ‘yes-men.’

And a farcical impression is created that these institutions are functioning democratically through various committees, and that policy decisions are taken with the participation of teachers. In reality, these bodies, often consisting of ‘yes-men’ subservient to the vice-chancellor, are far from independent. They do more harm than good by empowering the vice-chancellor with extraordinary authority in rendering legitimacy to the arbitrary actions. Very often, appointments are made on the whims of the vice-chancellor and not on merit.

In the changing scenario, a review of the land grant college system for education is badly needed to make it relevant to the present needs. The course curriculum needs revision and restructure with emphasis on practical training both at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels to make the teaching programmes relevant to the needs of the society.

There is also a need to strengthen the selection mechanism for the vice-chancellor’s post to get competent persons with the requisite scientific and managerial expedience for the job. And there should be proper procedures to ensure accountability for the public funds.
(The writer is a former principal scientist at IARI, New Delhi)

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