Recognise emerging global trends, Pranab tells VCs

Says Central universities have the responsibility to lead the transformative processes of India’s higher education system.

Central universities have the responsibility to lead the transformative processes of India’s higher education system, said President Pranab Mukherjee on Wednesday as he addressed a Conference of Vice Chancellors of Central Universities (CUs) at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi.

Mr. Mukherjee said in addition to international rankings, the universities should attempt ratings on a National Ranking Framework which needs to be expeditiously developed.

He urged the Vice Chancellors to recognise emerging global trends which are likely to bring sweeping changes in higher education worldwide.

The President said students passing out from the Indian higher education system will have to compete with the best in the world, therefore, there is a need to imbue young minds with competitive spirit and a sense of pride in their alma mater.

He expressed concern over the vacancy position in Central Universities, which he said remains alarmingly high – in terms of percentage, vacancies have increased from 37.3 percent as on March 31, 2013 to only 38.4 percent as on December 1, 2014.

The President said the problem of non-availability of a Visitor’s nominees in the selection committee of faculty has been addressed; each Central University will now have a panel of five names of nominees who can be called as per extant instructions.

Pointing out that only four universities have so far established centres of excellence while another five are working towards these, the President stressed on the need to encourage engagement of central universities with industry and alumni. He also said there is an urgent need to put ICT Networks to effective use.

The President said because of the diversities in evaluation systems, students have suffered in the acceptance of their credentials across the university system and in accessing employment opportunities. The initiative of Choice Based Credit System (CBCS) will ensure seamless mobility of students across higher education institutions in the country as well as abroad. The credits earned by students can be transferred and would be of great value to them in the event of their seeking migration from one institution to the other. 23 central universities have already implemented CBCS. He urged remaining universities to consider implementing this system from next academic year, he pointed out.

Mr. Mukherjee said the university is a role-model for society at large and its persuasive power extends beyond the classroom and teaching, therefore, its influence must be tapped for greater good and called upon Central Universities to start working with at least five villages each under Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojana to transform them into model villages.

The President said particular emphasis has to be provided by our higher learning institutions on the inculcation of core values in our students. ‘Our civilization has championed patriotism, pluralism, tolerance, honesty and discipline. Our democracy has thrived on these values. The next generation must learn to recognize our diversity, inclusiveness and assimilative capacities as inherent sources of strength’ he said.

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VIT’s Riviera 2015 takes off

Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT) University’s international sports and cultural festival — Riviera 2015 — began on Thursday with over 4,000 youngsters participating in a 9.9 km-long marathon to create awareness on clean India campaign — Swachh Bharat.

Riding on this year’s theme — Colours of India, the four-day cultural fiesta sought to highlight the country’s diversity. As G. Viswanathan, university’s Chancellor, put it, “We need to utilise the diversity for the strength of India. At VIT campus itself, we have students speaking 40 languages, including foreign languages,” he said at the inauguration.

‘Be your natural self’

For enthusiastic students, who had gathered for the inauguration, Krishnamachari Srikkanth, former captain, Indian Cricket Team, had a simple message to convey. “In the process to prove ourselves, we lose out on the actual beauty of life. Laughter and enjoyment is important but we forget it in the process of making big in life. Be your natural self, stop seeking approval of others,” he said.

“Create the positive energy within you, shine with radiance as energy is the success of life,” he added. He expressed confidence that the Indian team would go on to win the cricket World Cup 2015 as in 2011.

100 events, 12 workshops

As the university campus brimmed with life, Riviera 2015 has 100 events and 12 workshops lined up. At least 5,000 to 7,000 external participants are expected to participate in Riviera, besides students of the university, Gautam Gaur, committee coordinator of Events and Culturals said.

A packed Anna Auditorium was witness to fashion extragavanza as students walked the ramp for the Style Check prelims early during the day. VIT Roadies was one of the most popular events as over 400 students thronged for participation.

“The event has three rounds, starting with group discussion, personal interview and series of 14 tasks. This is being organised for the second time at Riviera,” Abhinav, student coordinator said.

The day also saw many other events such as Wanna Be RJ/VJ (Tamil). Its coordinator T. Divakar said participants were judged based on their compering skills.

They had to compere based on a situation in the first round, then dub for a video and then finally, take a creative take on expressing about themselves.

A workshop for aspiring DJs was part of the festival. Participants will be trained in sound production and mixing during the workshop, Pranav Sharma, its coordinator, said.

Singer Mohit Chauhan was all set to enthral the audience during a performance in the evening.

Rowan Williams: include humanism in new RE courses

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has called for students to be given the option of studying humanism alongside other world religions in new religious education courses.

Dr Williams has written to ministers urging them to reverse a decision to leave humanism out of the specification for the new religious studies GCSE, as well from AS- and A-level qualifications.

The GCSE, due to be introduced from 2016, will require pupils to study two faiths from among: Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and Sikhism.

While humanism was originally due to be included in the list, with content for the new qualifications drawn up by the British Humanist Association (BHA) at the request of the Department for Education, it was subsequently dropped.

Now Dr Williams has joined 27 other religious leaders in writing to schools minister Nick Gibb asking him to reconsider and reinstate humanism in the list of major world faiths.

“Such a change would not compel anyone to systematically study non-religious world views or make it possible to do so for the whole of a qualification, but it would allow young people to study a more representative sample of major world views that are common in Britain today,” the letter says.

Including humanism would also reflect how the subject is taught in many schools, and the idea has been backed by the RE Council of England and Wales and the National Association of Teachers of RE, the letter adds.

In additions to Dr Williams, the letter was signed by former Bishop of Oxford Richard Harries as well as members of other Christian denominations and Jewish and Sikh leaders.

Andrew Copson, BHA chief executive, said the decision to exclude humanism would “make a joke of the idea that religious studies will be accessible to every child.”

He added: “It is completely inexplicable to us why the government would take this arbitrary and counter-educational decision.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said GCSE students could still study humanism as part of the 50 per cent of the course devoted to philosophy and ethics.

It wasn’t true that there was a ban on studying humanism and if schools wanted to teach it they could, the spokesperson added.

London comprehensive becomes first UK school to offer degrees

maths university degree

A London comprehensive is to become the first school in the country to offer a degree, to encourage more students to pursue higher education and a career in teaching.

The Woolwich Polytechnic School will offer a three-year BSc in maths with qualified teacher status (QTS) from this September, making it the first school to cater to 11- to 21-year-olds.

Woolwich Polytechnic may not have the usual attractions of a university student union, but it is confident that the course will attract applicants from its own and neighbouring sixth forms, as well as mature students and career-changers.

According to the school’s co-headteacher Tim Plumb, students will need at least 280 Ucas points to be accepted – equivalent to grades BBC at A-level.

“We’ve always felt there’s a connection between further education and higher education that is not fully exploited,” Mr Plumb said.

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Plan to cut ‘excessive’ teacher work announced by ministers

“Unnecessary and unproductive” teacher workload will be reduced with a series of “decisive measures” to be introduced in England, ministers have announced.

Changes will include an end to major government reforms being introduced during the academic year, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said.

The pledge follows the biggest survey of teachers undertaken in 10 years.

The National Union of Teachers said the measures were “simply insufficient”.

‘Browbeaten and under-valued’

Almost 44,000 people – the majority of them classroom teachers – responded to the Department of Education’s Workload Challenge survey.

They cited excessive amounts of time spent recording data and dealing with bureaucracy as factors which contributed to “unnecessary” or “unproductive” workloads.

Other reasons included unrealistic deadlines and excessive marking – with some saying they marked up to 120 books a day.

School

Teachers had been left feeling “browbeaten and undervalued”, said Mr Clegg as he announced the series of commitments alongside the education secretary.

They include:

  • Commitments by Ofsted not to change their handbook or framework during the school year, except when absolutely necessary
  • Giving schools more notice of significant curriculum changes, and not making changes to qualifications in the academic year, unless urgent
  • Tracking teacher workload by carrying out a “large scale, robust survey” in 2016, and then every two years

Ms Morgan said the changes would tackle the root causes of excessive workloads.

“It is no secret that we have made some very important changes in schools – changes that we know have increased the pressure on many teachers,” she said.

“We know there is no quick fix but we hope the commitments we have outlined today will support and empower the profession, and free up teachers to focus on what matters most in their jobs.”

‘Out of control’

However, the National Union of Teachers said teachers would be “bitterly disappointed” by the measures.

“At a time when the number of teachers leaving this proud profession is at a 10-year high, this announcement on workload is simply insufficient,” said general secretary Christine Blower.

She said the government should immediately tackle its “out-of-control accountability system”, which had “Ofsted at its centre”.

More than half of respondents said the perceived pressures of Ofsted inspections contributed to unnecessary workloads.

HM Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw said Ofsted was working to “dispel some of the myths that may have led to unnecessary workloads”.

“It is very important that schools maintain a sense of proportion when preparing for an Ofsted inspection,” he said.

“If they are devoting their energies to getting things right for pupils, then an Ofsted inspection will take care of itself.”