Ethics in Higher Education: Much needed reforms

Ethics in Higher Education: Much needed reforms

New guidelines for imparting values and ethics in higher education, prepared by the University Grants Commission, have been released by the Human Resource Development Ministry a few days ago along with another initiative to promote professional ethics in publishing labeled as   publication ethics. The guidelines have come at a time when university campuses are increasingly being used for political battles and students are dragged into extremist propaganda necessitating a scrutiny of their involvement. However, value-based education, intended to promote modesty and harmony, has a longer history and is not an overnight idea to be linked with the present campus unrest getting rooted in some sensitive places. It is part of much needed educational reform.

Student community is a youth group comprising hundreds of groups in various places. It is rather easy to collect and organise its members under a common purpose or programme. It has all the characteristics of a youth group – active and energetic possessing ability and inclination to participate in social activities and quick to respond to calls for united action. Like the general youth population, student group is also undergoing changes under the influence of democratic institutions, political parties and social media.

Students today are not passive recipients of classroom lessons, but active participants in teacher-student interaction.  They want a say in all that concerns education. More than that, with voting age at 18 years, every student entering college needs political learning which in practice is not divorced from action. Therefore, value-based ethical education now framed should prepare students to lead a value-based democratic life. It is intimately concerned with the mode of relating to other people and the disposition to follow certain principles in this relation.

UGC guidelines include five documents dealing with evaluation reforms, eco-friendly and sustainable university campuses, human values and professional ethics, faculty induction, and academic research integrity. The main object is to evolve such a system of higher education that will equip the country’s next generation with vital skills, knowledge, and ethics for leading a rewarding life. There can be no controversy over such admirable qualities which are necessary for human resource development, but still we require special efforts to mobilise the enthusiasm of the entire academic community and general public in support of the scheme so as to make it a success.

Value-based education is not a novel concept. It has been discussed as part of education policy several times. More than 30 years back, Guidelines for Human Rights and Values in Education were provided by the UGC in 1985. A blueprint for promotion of human rights teaching and research at all levels of education was also prepared by the Commission. It had two components – one on Human Rights and Duties Education aimed at developing interaction between social and educational institutions, sensitising students so that norms and values would be realised and encouraging student research; and the other on creating awareness, convictions, and commitment to undertake academic and other activities preparatory to teaching, research and extension programmes in values and culture.

Ethics deals with what is good and bad. It is concerned with moral duty and obligation and is part of national culture. It requires moral judgement of what is right and wrong. Judgement is not always part of nature and instincts, but has to be imbibed and cultivated. Hence, the need for teaching.

The present guidelines that have been evolved to discuss and streamline the process to infuse the culture of human values and ethics in higher education underlines a call to students to observe modesty in their over-all appearance and behaviour, maintain good health and refrain from any kind of intoxicants, maintain harmony among students belonging to different socio-economic status, community, caste, religion, or region.

Usage of the word “modesty” is likely to raise a question over its definition. With State governments keen on lowering the minimum age for buying alcohol and people ready to fight for their right to drink, shunning intoxicants may pose problem.

The other four guidelines are also intended to qualitatively improve the educational system and procedures so as to enhance their values. Evaluation reforms will be directed to more meaningful and effective assessment linked to “learning outcomes”. Eco-friendly and sustainable university campuses will encourage policies and practices to enhance the environmental quality of the campuses and adopt sustainable and green methods. Faculty induction will be done with the object of motivating the faculty to adopt learner-centred approaches, and Information and Technology Technique, and new pedagogic approaches to learning teaching, assessment tools, etc.

There is also a proposal to set up a Consortium for Academic and Research Ethics (UGC-CARE) to continuously monitor and identify quality journals to help promote academic integrity and ethical publishing. The UGC has also approved a 2-credit course in ethics in research under the title “Research and Publication Ethics.” A 30-hour course is made mandatory for all Ph.D. students in pre-registration period.

Students and teachers are governed by the same ethical principles and standards. Academic dishonesty cannot be allowed in either. Respect, responsibility, integrity, competence, and concern for others are considered prime constituents of model ethics, which if inculcated in higher education, can effectively curb violence and indiscipline in educational campuses.

India has around 37.4 million students in higher education. Increasing enrolment is no longer our one-point  goal, for we need a workforce with necessary knowledge and skills, ability to further their knowledge, and more than that, with conviction in and habit to adhere to certain human and social values. Needless to mention social values include legal and constitutional values adopted in our society. We have to specifically include values in our education since the system that has evolved has concentrated in imparting information and skills and enlarging enrolment and retention of students.

It is said that the Scandinavian countries — Norway and Sweden — paid special attention to student values and this resulted in decreasing crime and corruption in the society. They are now considered safest and hospitable places in the world. In Japan, school students are taught to listen to others with different opinion, and to be fair, and to respect their country and learn about foreign cultures. Education in Indonesia is based on five principles which include belief in Almighty God, a just and civilised society, unified Indonesia, democracy led by wisdom of consensus or representation, and social justice for all Indonesians.

India is a late comer in many reform processes and is adept in politicising any issue and dividing people. It will be a herculean task to counter protests and blocks before we can bring any reform however urgently needed.

Ethics cannot be forced or enforced even with great sincerity and selfless intentions. Internalisation of values in the learners by the teachers is next to impossible in this materialistic world constantly running after goods and comforts.

What we actually mean by values is qualities to foster cooperation, goodwill, equal respect, personal integrity and such qualities to promote social cohesion in the place of intolerance, dishonesty, injustice, inequality, and corruption. Perhaps, value education may better be called humane education to be acceptable to all and to remove any mischievous interpretation of “value” as religion based.


The author is Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi


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Ethics in Higher Education: Much needed reforms