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By Jyotirmoy Prodhani

The recent crisis on the medical seats in Assam medical colleges for the North East states has opened up a new concern pertaining to the higher education scenario in the region in general. It is unfortunate that the few seats of as important a discipline as medicine doled out to the students of the Northeastern states by the Assam medical colleges have now become uncertain. Under NEC quota there are only 13 seats for North Eastern states with 10 seats for Meghalaya and one each for Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland. Arguably the students who crack tests to get these seats come through stiff competitions and are, undoubtedly, some of the most deserving students from their respective states. Out of the 726 medical seats available in Assam not even 2% of seats are meant for the students of these states where infrastructure for higher education is still at its nascent stage. In order to ensure a comprehensive growth of the region it is incumbent upon Assam, the largest state of the region, to provide certain facilities it has at its disposal, to the states which are smaller, relatively new with inadequate resources to build up enough institutions for themselves. Besides, Assam also has historical obligations to these states. In India the doctor to population ratio is 1:2000 that is, there is one doctor for  every 2000 people which is considered quite low by the standards set by the WHO, which is 1:1000. If we go by the India Population statistics, doctor and population ratio stands at around 1:5000 in Meghalaya, 1:3000 in Nagaland 1:7000 in Mizoram and about 1:1700 in Arunachal Pradesh. The combined doctor population ratio in these four states is about 1:2500. These are rough estimations on the basis of available data; the actual reality must be far grimmer.

Evidently there is a huge deficit of doctors in these states where basic health services are yet to reach the last man living in the periphery. The present dilly dallying on the part of the Assam government in accommodating the NE students in the medical colleges of the state is extremely unfortunate and enormously disappointing. One might argue that how come these states are yet to come up with their own medical colleges? But then to set up medical colleges and sustain them is not so easy for the resource strapped states, although the paucity of resources cannot be an excuse to ignore the necessity of establishing educational institutions. However, there should be special directives from the centre to increase NE quota in the educational institutions in Assam not only in Medicine but also in other institutes of professional and higher learning (including medical and engineering colleges) as well as in the universities.

When in academic circles we are so vocal and emphatic about North East as a composite geo-political identity, the situations on the ground is quite the opposite. There are hardly any combined efforts to formulate policies for greater coordination among the states to ensure the strengthening of the North East solidarity at a more comprehensive level. Massive disparity in learning opportunities among the states is a major factor leading to intraregional imbalances. In fact, it should be addressed as one of the key issues by the states to come up with a mutually agreeable policy to formulate an agenda for enhanced education opportunities all over the North East. To make North East a common hub of learning for the students from the region there should be uniform growth of education infrastructure in all the states in the region and at the same time the states with better infrastructure need to take the lead as an ethical imperative. At present there are huge gaps when it comes to education opportunities in the states. It is noteworthy that when the central government is spending millions in the region in terms of security expenditure, spending in education sector is evidently low. It is likely to further go down with the progressive decline in budget allocation by the centre in education sector which has gone down to as low as just 3.77% of the GDP that stands as the lowest so far. Even the highly developed countries like the US, UK and many other countries from the first world, which have much higher GDP and lesser population than that of India, still spend much more on education than what India has been doing in terms of GDP ratio.

            Substantial investment in education sector in the North East should be an urgent priority for the central government in order to ensure all round growth of the region so that it can subsequently be at par with any other developed parts of the country. Investment in education can be an alternative to the insensitive industrial push at the cost of its ecology and human habitats. A new vision and a well thought out plan for education in the North East is an urgent necessity.   

Firstly there should be more investment in the region to develop education infrastructures in all the states. A lone central university in the respective states is not enough. There has been huge outflow of students from the region to the other parts of the country seeking higher education as well as various professional courses. The centre and the states should ensure developing high quality institutions of professional courses and higher education in the region which should be some of the best not only within the country but should be among the top institutions of higher education in the South and South East Asia. North East has a huge potential to emerge as an education destination for the South and South East Asian countries like Bhutan, Nepal, Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand  and the like following the close ethno cultural linkages North East shares with these countries.

Each state in the North East must have medical and engineering colleges with full central support for it might not be feasible for the tiny states to sustain such institutions. Some seats needs to be reserved for the respective states as a special provision. Professional courses like medical, engineering, media studies, science education and the like should gain priority where a few seats should be earmarked across disciplines as North East quota which would not only help students get opportunities for higher education within the region, but also help bringing various communities and ethnic cultures of North East come closer to each other. That would, subsequently, enhance greater amount of mutual understanding.

Reputation of education institution is not achieved through the physical facilities alone, the eminence of an educational institution is primarily predicated upon the quality of teachers. Most of the great institutions evolved into prestigious centres of learning because of their teachers and facilities for research. In this respect it is a critical requirement to develop teaching and research in the region as an attractive proposition. It is a common practice in the major institutions of higher education world over to offer various incentives to attract best of the minds as its faculty and researchers. Quite sadly there is hardly any such policy in the North East,  teachers in the universities and colleges here do not even get any research seed grants or substantive incentives resulting in the absence of a robust research environment which has direct bearing on the quality of teaching at any level. Besides, there should be a comprehensive policy to attract the best of the young minds and academicians to cultivate and permeate their knowledge in the region to turn North East as one of the major knowledge destinations.

If North East has to grow as a region with edge and strength, massive development in the education sector is the key for which the union government must come up with affirmative policy strategies which is also crucial to ensure stable economic and political climate in the region.

The author can be reached at [email protected]

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