Should College Students Get ‘Credits’ for Pushing Digital Economy?

We shouldn’t force our students to participate in govt programmes for extra credit at the cost of their education.

3 min read
Should College Students Get ‘Credits’ for Pushing Digital Economy?

While there is a general consensus that the demonetisation programme announced on 8 November 2016 is well-intentioned and could have long-term benefits for the economy if followed up effectively, there is a raging debate on the short term or ‘transitional costs’, and its political implications.

While one of the stated objectives of the official policy is to increase digitisation in financial transactions in the country, the question about whether there has been adequate preparation has been asked.


Large Sections of the Population Don’t Trust Digital Transactions

The Aadhaar Card is now ubiquitous, and has reached the remotest areas; and who would have imagined ten years ago that the cellphone would be available and used by nearly everyone, in all parts of the country?

There has also been large scale participation in the Jan Dhan Account programme.

Despite these significant recent developments, the parallel fact is also that large sections of the population are unfamiliar with digital transactions, and do not have the ability to use the service, nor do they have confidence in such dealings – and that’s not to speak of the availability of appropriate institutional, societal and personal infrastructure.


Should Education and Digital Transactions Mix?

It is in this context that the Ministry of HRD’s ‘Vittiya Saksharata Abhiyaan’ (VISAKA) – an action plan for higher educational institutions, as a national campaign in the period 12 December 2016 to 12 January 2017 needs to be looked at.

The Ministry has directed the University Grants Commission (UGC) to circularise all higher education institutions in the country to encourage a campaign with large student participation, and undertake training activities and educate the general public in the various modes of digital payments.

It is a moot question whether at this stage of national debate on the ramifications of the official policy, whether the student population should be, at least indirectly, willy-nilly sucked into what could be a debate on the merits of the policy.

The UGC’s circular of December 2016 directs all heads of institutions to train students and “encourage them to join as volunteers in large numbers for this campaign”. The NSS and NCC units in institutions have been asked to ‘meet immediately, identify one nearby market/mandi and to transform it into a digital market place’.

The first question that arises is whether it is proper to involve college students, whose main objective is pursuing higher studies, in the process of educating the common man on conversion to digital payment modes.

Good Deed or Compulsion?

While the UGC circular does not refer to mandatory student participation in this proposed campaign, many newspaper and press announcements have referred to participating students being given ‘extra credit’ if they do participate.

The HRD Minister Mahender Nath Pandey has been quoted saying that “all institutions have been instructed to ensure that ‘credits’ are given to student volunteers of VISAKA.” Indeed, there is no well-defined ‘credit’ system to reward college students for participation in social service programmes outside the formal curriculum – which could actually be a burden on their educational career.

Many higher education institutions have voluntarily embraced a programme for social service participation.

Thus many schools and colleges already participate in Saksharata or Swachhata programmes and related campaigns. Per se, there need not be any direct criticism for encouraging students to participate in social programmes.

The question, however, is one of compulsion, and the inducement through the ‘rewards’ or ‘credit’ system. Already many students are over-burdened with their academic pursuits – diverting their attention in a particular direction to support a social cause which is mandatory, cannot be justified.

Questioning Credibility

The fact is that the UGC has a developed a poor reputation over the decades.

It has been ineffective in ensuring high quality education, and has a weak image for probity as well as in its ability to meet its mandate related to recognition, accreditation, curriculum approval and disbursement of grants – a recent HRD Report has pointed that UGC is not an ‘effective regulatory force’ and has recommended that the present UGC Act should ‘lapse’.

While it is true that the UGC circular does not insist on a mandatory course of action for all education institutions, involving all students, the credibility of the UGC to issue advisory in this regard is questionable.

The current issue is not so much with regard to the desirability of encouraging digitisation in the economy or society – it is more on the tone, tenor and effect of the UGC pontificating to various education institutions, how they need to serve society – the danger is, many institutions may take these directions too seriously, at the expense of providing quality education to students.

(The views expressed above are of the author’s own and The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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