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Colleges miffed as govt pushes them to promote its schemes | India News


MUMBAI: Can publicising the language of a state or enrolling unorganised workers for a government pension scheme be a round-the-year activity for an IIT or an autonomous college? Leading educational institutions receiving grants from the Centre are weighed down by a peculiar problem: the HRD ministry has spelt out a rigorous schedule of “non-academic” activities which have to be carried out almost throughout the year, ranging from promotion of flagship missions such as Swachh Bharat to cultural activities such as language lessons and classical performances.
At a recent workshop in Delhi, social media coordinators from premier institutions such as IITs, IIMs and IISERs, among others, were not only asked to make extensive use of their Twitter handles to promote their own work but also endorse the ministry’s activities by retweeting their tweets regularly. An official from one of the IITs said they were asked to tweet several times a day to gain traction on social media. “While this is still doable, we are expected to hold a host of activities throughout and it is difficult to find students who can take time out of their busy schedule. Many directives come at the eleventh hour, making it tough for us to organize events and even if we manage, we are unable to show solid participation in the photographs,” said the IIT official.
A former IIT director said that the premier institutes find it difficult to organise cultural events. “Our students will have to be trained for those cultural events, but we do not have trainers for classical singing and dancing. Not many are willing to do these activities. The idea of holding such events could be gradually brought into the IIT system and it cannot happen overnight,” said the director.
Under the government’s campaign of Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat (EBSB), the ministry wants students to at least learn alphabets, 100 sentences, five songs and 20 proverbs in the language of a partner state. Maharashtra was paired with Odisha for this campaign, and students were expected to learn Odia through online mobile applications. They are also expected to take various pledges, including for the Swachhata campaign, national unity and single-use plastic in Odia. Students from Rajasthan are paired with Assam, Haryana with Telangana, and Himachal Pradesh with Kerala, and so on.
“Another plan under the EBSB was to hold a cultural exchange programme between paired colleges from Maharashtra and Odisha. A teacher and 50 students from each college were to visit Odisha for a week. But no one had a clue how to go about it. Mails to the programme officers in Delhi went unanswered. Much to our relief, the exchange plan was shelved but other programmes will still continue,” said a nodal officer from one of the Mumbai colleges.
In another bizarre activity, students from colleges funded under the Rashtriya Uchchatar Shikshan Abhiyan (RUSA) were asked to promote the Central government’s pension scheme in the unorganised sector. A RUSA official from Maharashtra said students can approach their domestic help, drivers, gardeners or watchmen to promote the scheme. While most activities are being asked of RUSA-funded colleges, many others are common for all higher education institutions.
A principal said colleges are expected to appoint a nodal officer for all such campaigns, submit a regular report and upload photos and videos on designated websites. “In January, the MHRD sent a circular asking all colleges to observe Swachhata Pakhwada. We were asked to hold close to 20 activities in a span of two weeks. The mail came just two days before January 16, when the campaign was supposed to kickstart. From plogging (the concept of picking litter while jogging) to plantation of trees, to developing innovative technologies for waste recycling, awareness campaigns, etc, everything was listed out for specific days and colleges were expected to give daily reports. It was practically impossible, but we still managed to do it for a few days,” said the principal.
“While the concept for holding these government campaigns is good, they cannot have prolonged activities. Events that can be completed in a day are stretched to a week or a month. The compulsion of submitting daily reports and uploading photos will soon make a mockery of the entire process. People will soon fabricate information to show compliance,” said a principal.
A senior MHRD official, though, said, “IITs and other higher education institutions are part of the government and these are national programmes meant for nation-building. These are constitutional values and national policies, which every government must insist on and every citizen must follow. There is no question of it being non-academic. For example, for Swachhata Pakhwada, can you say cleanliness is not my business? Look at it positively. It is the nation’s idea which is now coming out as government schemes and policies. We should all support it.” The official added that reporting the events is essential for monitoring the activities.

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