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India spends, but education suffers

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Business Standard
March 28, 2013

Educational spending is soaring. At the turn of the decade, new legislation has been enacted to make education a fundamental right. But India’s elementary schoolchildren are just not learning.

The country’s elementary education budget has more than doubled since 2007-08, from Rs 68,853 crore to Rs 147,059 crore this fiscal, but the number of Standard-III students who could read a Standard-I textbook has plummeted from just under 50 per cent five years ago, to some 30 per cent in 2012. So, what’s going wrong?

At the heart of the problem, Accountability Initiative’s national school-level PAISA survey, part of the Annual Survey of Education (ASER) – Rural, suggests, is a massively centralised, top-down delivery system, which coupled with a lack of capacity across the board, has ensured a drastic reduction in learning outcomes. (LEARNING THE HARD WAY)

The survey, which covered 14,591 schools, broadly focuses on the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), the government’s main instrument for implementing the Right to Education (RTE) Act. The SSA allocation, which stood at Rs 67,307 crore in 2012-13, itself, is comprised of the school maintenance grant (SMG), the school development grant or school grant (SDG) and the teaching-learning material (TLM) grant.

But about 43 per of the total SSA allocation is for teachers, including salaries, training and teaching inputs. Another 35 per cent goes to school infrastructure and 12 per cent is utilised for children, including entitlements and remedial teaching.

“All critical teacher and infrastructure-related decisions are taken by the education bureaucracy, which is managed and controlled by the state government. Funds for infrastructure development are often channelled to schools; however, key decisions related to sanctions and procurement are taken by the district administration,” the report adds.

Effectively, it is the school grants, at Rs 1,377 crore in 2012-13, only about two per cent of the SSA corpus, that remains the only fund over which school management committees can exercise some expenditure control.

That, however, isn’t the only structural issue that is hobbling India’s education sector.

Money matters
The various grants under the SSA don’t reach all schools – and not on time, either. In 2011-12, the report reveals, 87 per cent of the schools surveyed reported receiving the SMG, a spot higher than 84 per cent in the preceding year. Similarly, the TLM was delivered to 89 per cent schools and the SDG to 79 per cent in 2011-12, a little more than 85 per cent and 77 per cent respectively in 2010-11. Though there remain variations in grant receipts across states, the situation nationwide seems to be improving.

Yet, the survey – conducted in October-November, the middle of the financial year – reveals that there hasn’t been any substantial improvement in the timely delivery of these grants between 2011-12 and 2012-13. “Just about half of India’s schools received their grants by November 2012,” it reported.

“In 2011, 41 per cent schools had reported receiving all 3 grants by November; this increased to 43 per cent in 2012. However, more than 30 per cent schools did not receive a single grant by October-November 2012,” it added. In 2010-11, in comparison, 26 per cent of school hadn’t received a single grant.

White-washed spending
But what exactly do India’s schools spend their money on?

“Between April 2011 and November 2012, 67 per cent schools white-washed their walls and 70 per cent used some of their money to fund school events. 90 per cent schools purchased chalks/ dusters and registers,” the survey reported. In contrast, only 36 per cent schools repaired toilets during the same period, while less than half repaired drinking water facilities.

The spending seems this irrational, the report suggests, because funding is inadequate for the range of work that schools require to undertake. “The money schools get seems to get absorbed in just purchasing essential supplies, leaving little for other activities,” it explains, “The emphasis on white-washing suggests a second conclusion – that planning at the school level is weak.”

RTE non-compliance
The overall impact of this funding and spending pattern, the PAISA Report asserts, is that only 15 per cent of the government schools in the country are in compliance with all the seven physical infrastructure norms identified by the RTE.

Although SSA funding for teachers and school infrastructure has jumped by over 60 per cent between 2010-11 and 2011-12, there has been no major improvement in the pupil-teacher ratio (PTR): 46 per cent schools have a PTR greater than 30, the ratio mandated by the RTE.

Physical infrastructure is no better. The survey shows that 25 per cent schools did not have a separate toilet for girls, while 47 per cent schools had fewer classrooms than required by the RTE. “There has been no perceptible change in these numbers over the past three years,” it adds, even as overall spending on the sector has escalated.

India today has a law that makes access to education a fundamental right, but for many of its young schoolchildren, it isn’t turning out to be great learning experience.

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No extension to RTE deadline: Goverment

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The Economic Times
April 1, 2013

With the deadline for meeting RTE obligations ending yesterday, government ruled out any extension maintaining that 90 per cent of the schools have met required norms.

HRD Minister M M Pallam also appeared to dismiss fears of schools risking the threat of being closed down for lagging behind when he said that there were government schools also which were lagging behind in meeting infrastructure norms such as classrooms, libraries, toilets and disable friendly campuses.

“Enrolment figure is 96 per cent consistently for the last few years. In terms of infrastructure, it is 90 per cent and even in terms of toilets, it is 90 per cent except for a few states,” he told reporters here, though he said that the main challenge was bridging the shortfall of teachers.

“What I would like to appreciate is the collective will demonstrated by the states and Centre to meet the RTE deadline and everybody has worked very hard on it. But of course there are unfinished work which we are working on,” he said.

He said the aim of the government is to ensure a holistic learning environment for the children in keeping with the provision of the RTE Act and there would be no dilution in this fundamental right.

The RTE Act providing free and compulsory education to children in the age group of 6 to 14 came into effect from April 1, 2010. A three-year timeline was stipulated to ensure that all schools meet the norms as mandatory by the Act.

Schools which have failed to meet the norms face the threat of being closed down.

Government had last week ruled out extending the deadline beyond March 31 for schools to meet RTE requirements even as it conceded that many states were lagging behind.

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RTE just on paper as deadline looms

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Hindustan Times
April 20, 2013

When a popular private school in Pune asked Ramesh Gaitonde for covert donations in exchange for his 5-year-old son’s admission, the technology entrepreneur was quick to cite the Right to Education Act that bars schools from demanding capitation fees or donations.

But when the school, unperturbed, challenged him to a legal battle, a shocked Gaitonde found that the Maharashtra government had not appointed any local grievance redressal officer he could go to, though the law requires the appointment of these officers.

“It was a betrayal,” Gaitonde said. “Not just to me, but to all the young children in India.”

Three years after the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act was enacted on April 1, 2010, with an unprecedented televised appeal from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, no state has met all the requirements of the law. But as the March 31, 2013 deadline to comply with the RTE Act requirements comes this weekend, the human resource development (HRD) ministry’s latest assessment of the law’s implementation – accessed by HT – shows that 24 out of India’s 35 states and union territories (UTs) have denied parents and students even the possibility of approaching authorities who are supposed to hear their complaints and give them justice.

In these states and UTs, the governments have not appointed the local grievance redressal officers required under the RTE Act, according to the HRD ministry report that will be shared with state governments on April 2 at a meeting of the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE), the nation’s top education advisory body.

This means that parents who come across schools that seek donations, indulge in corporal punishment, detain students till class 8, hold admission tests or have inadequate facilities or teachers have no one to go and complain to, except courts or state commissions for protection of child rights (SCPCRS), which were meant as appellate authorities, not the place where parents first complain. Only Andhra Pradesh, Chandigarh, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Rajasthan have appointed district level grievance redressal officers.

“This is a very major area of concern,” said Yamini Aiyar, a senior research fellow at the non-profit Accountability Initiative, who has closely tracked the implementation of the RTE Act since 2010. “Not only do we need grievance redressal officers appointed and available, but we need a publicity campaign on what their roles are.”

Currently, there is a lack of clarity on what these officers are empowered to do – a gap in the law’s implementation that is preventing the RTE Act from effectively curbing rampant education malpractices like nepotism in admissions, Aiyar said.
“What India needs is a citizen’s charter that lays out a clear chain of command to establish accountability,” she said.

Most schools – and even local and state governments – are violating key requirements of the RTE Act, the HRD ministry assessment reveals.

Out of the 35 states and union territories, only 18 have revised their curriculum as required and 11.8 lakh out of 52.2 lakh sanctioned teacher posts are vacant. Of the appointed teachers, 20 lakh are unqualified for the job. Desperate to bridge the teacher shortfall, the HRD ministry has exempted 13 states – Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Tripura, Bihar, Chattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal – from rigorous qualification norms in appointing teachers.

“We realize that this may send a signal that isn’t the most appropriate, but we simply don’t have a choice,” a senior HRD ministry official said. “These 13 states are in a really bad state.”

Nationally, only 59% schools have enough teachers, and 62% have ramps for the physically disadvantaged. As many as 35% schools don’t have separate toilets for girls and boys, and 6% schools don’t even have drinking water.

Delhi, Goa and West Bengal have not even set up school management committees. Made up of school administrators, teachers, parents and local government officials, these committees are meant to oversee the implementation of the RTE Act in each institution.

The absence of any grievance redressal mechanism in most states means that those denied the rights extended to them under the RTE Act have to struggle to even register a complaint against these multiple violations of the law.

Three years after its enactment, the law has changed little for parents like Gaitonde.

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Delhi goes easy on RTE land norms for schools

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Governance Now
March 29, 2013

Unrecognised private schools in the national capital seem to have finally caught a break from the stringent norms on space that are a part of enforcing the right to education (RTE).

Recognition from any municipal, state or central education board hinges on the schools adhering to strictures of the RTE Act on minimum space including classroom space and playground. With the RTE Act mandating the closure of all unrecognised schools that don’t meet its guidelines by March 31, 2013, the Delhi government’s decision to lower the bar for space comes as a reprieve to many.

These schools have remained unrecognised so far because of failure to comply with many standards set by the state government, only one of which was land requirement. The threshold for space for a school had been earlier set at 800 sq m in the Delhi Master Plan 2021.

But now, with the relaxed norms, unrecognised primary schools can make do with 200 sq m of space instead of the mandated 800 sq m and middle schools can function out of 700 sq m of space instead of the 1,000 sq m as per the RTE guidelines.

According to the RTE guidelines, no school, other than the ones established, ownedd or controlled by a government will be allowed to be established or function (if established before the Act came into force) without a government recognition. The Act had mandated that such schools should get government approval by meeting the minimum standards on infrastructure and teaching staff.

One of the other conditions set was that schools had to match their teachers’ salaries with that paid to government school teachers.

The Act, which came into force on April 1, 2010, gave three years to such schools to get recognition from the government. With the period ending on March 31, 2013, any school which has failed to comply by then will be fined Rs 10,000 a day.

Before the enforcement of the RTE Act, unrecognised schools till class VIII could be run and they could get recognition while operating.

The unrecognised schools, which may not have adequate infrastructure and resources, teach lakhs of children across the country.

More than three lakh such ‘budget schools’ operate in the country. In Delhi alone, around four lakh students are estimated to be studying in 2,235 such schools, out of the total 7,469 schools in the national capital.

Only a few of the unrecognised schools charge high fees and meet most infrastructure norms but most are low fee-charging schools operated from homes. They are affordable mainly because they lack the expensive infrastructure and qualified teachers mandated by the government rules.

Parents from the low-income groups have increasingly switched their children from free government schools to fee-paying private ones.

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RTE has failed to impart quality education: Report

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live Mint
March 28, 2013

With the deadline to enforce the Right to Education (RTE) across India expiring in two days, a group of for-profit and non-profit organisations on Thursday released a critical analysis of the programme and suggested that the government adopt the model followed in Gujarat.
“Three years since the passage of the RTE Act, an ever-increasing number of children have access to education. Yet, a large and growing amount of data points to the fact that student learning levels are unacceptably low, and that improving schooling inputs have had a very limited impact on improving learning outcomes,” said the 22-member group, which includes organisations such as Accountability Initiative and Centre for Civil Society.
“The RTE’s focus on inputs to education rather than on learning outcomes of students may ensure that children are in school, but is unlikely to result in them getting a meaningful education,” it added.
The Act, often referred to by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government as one of the key achievements of its second term, has failed to keep pace with the schedule of implementation. The deadline expires on 31 March.
RTE is seen as one of three key flagship social programmes of the union government, the other two being the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and the National Rural Health Mission.
Ashish Dhawan of the Central Square Foundation said that due to non-compliance with RTE norms such as infrastructure and teachers’ salaries, around 300,000 budget schools, accessed by around 40-50 million students, face the threat of closure.
“This is completely counterproductive… We therefore call for an approach to private school regulation based on transparency and disclosure of audited performance metrics as opposed to inputs. The approach outlined in Gujarat’s model rules of recognizing private schools based on meeting performance standards is (a) path-breaking model to follow,” the report said.
The government has already refused to extend the deadline to enforce RTE norms against demand for this by at least 13 states.

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Liberalizing Cross-Border Trade in Higher Education: The Coming Revolution of Online Universities

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By Simon Lester
CATO Institute

Recent developments in higher education, with leading institutions starting to offer courses online, suggest that the Internet is going to disrupt this industry, just as it has already disrupted the music and book industries and many others. We are entering a period of experimentation with new business models for higher education, with MOOCs (massive open online courses) the most prominent among these. At this early stage, it is not clear what the final product will look like. But regardless of the specific form the new industry will take, there is likely to be more competition, lower costs, and higher quality. This is great news for consumers of higher education.

However, some existing institutions may fare badly in this transition and are likely to call for government support. This would happen even if higher education were exclusively a national market. But demands for government protection will be even stronger where foreign online competition is hurting traditional domestic institutions. With education now moving online, it has become tradable across borders like never before. Until now, trade in education was fairly small in scope, limited mostly to students studying abroad and a few foreign branch campuses. The growth of online education will make international trade in higher education services far more common. And in response to this increasing trade, there are likely to be complaints about the impact of foreign competition on domestic institutions.

We must resist these calls for protection. The great beneficiaries of the coming online revolution in higher education are people all around the world looking for access to better educational opportunities. We should embrace this new period of innovation in higher education, not try to hold it off.

One way to promote free trade in higher education is with international trade agreements. Through these agreements, governments can make commitments not to discriminate against foreign online higher education programs. The past few decades have seen great progress in bringing down tariffs and other protectionist trade barriers through trade agreements. In order to bring the benefits of international competition to an important sector of the global economy, we should apply that same model to trade in higher education services.

Click here to read the complete Policy Review.

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A new doorway to education

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The New Indian Express
March 7, 2013

‘Dwara’, a cloud-based education enabled development product by Cisco, which can provide two-way communication between teachers and students was unveiled on Wednesday. The teachers can conduct classes in several places at once and the students can use the in-built wi-fi access point to reach out to the teacher.

“We have managed to virtualise the teacher and bring good education into the reach of aspirant poor and lower middle class. India will be a young country and we need to focus on good education,” said Aravind Sitaraman, president of Inclusive Growth, Cisco Systems.

He added that Cisco will partner with NGOs to provide teachers and the content. The company will take contents from government textbooks and distribute them in various languages. “We will provide the entire ecosystem, including setup and technical support,” he said. With Dwara, a teacher who is based in Bangalore will be able to take classes for students in Shimoga.

Dwara was put through a rigorous two-year testing period in nine schools and four hostels. “We plan to sell 400 machines in the next six months. Dwara will cost a school approximately 1$ per student per month with a minimum strength of 200,” Arvind said.

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Staff shortage takes toll on quality of education

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The Times of India
March 11, 2013

Education seems to be low on the government’s priority list with 40,000 vacant seats of teachers and the future of 45 lakh students studying in government schools at stake.

According to provisions of the Right to Education (RTE) Act, the student-teacher ratio should be 30:1 in Classes I to V and 35:1 in Classes VI to VII. But the schools are violating the RTE provisions and jeopardizing the career of lakhs of students in the state.

With about 43,000 government schools in the state, there are 27,000 recruited teachers against a total of 67,000 sanctioned strength. Beside, 90% of the schools are running without headmasters.

According to an HRD official, the teachers’ eligibility test (TET), an examination meant for recruitment of teachers in the state, has not been conducted for the past two years. Though the department announced the date of the test several times, but the exams were cancelled.

Member of the Jharkhand Primary and Secondary Teachers’ Association Parsuram Tiwari said, “We are facing a lot of problem in teaching large number of students at a time because of staff crunch. ”

The shortage of 40,000 teachers in the state is adversely affecting the education system as a whole. The department says that they will recruit teachers but they fail to do so each time, added Tiwari.

This apart, teachers have to look after the midday-meal scheme and various other programmes and are even engaged in various government programmes along with elections. In all this, the students are the one worst affected.

Tiwari said that TET was conducted in 2011 against the vacancy of 18,600 posts generated against a total of 25,000 vacant seats. In the advertisement announcement, there was a provision of taking two sets of examinations. The candidates passing TET would have to take another exam. But only 5000 teachers passed the examination.

The HRD then made a sudden announcement that they would not conduct the main exam as the candidates passing the examinations are less as compared to the vacant posts and that they would be directly recruited.

Seeing this, several candidates challenged the decision of the HRD in court, owing to which the state government’s efforts to fill up the vacant posts of teachers suffered a major setback when the Jharkhand high court cancelled TET conducted by the Jharkhand Academic Council (JAC) in 2011. Hearing the writ petition filed by Anjuman Tarique Urdu, a division bench of Chief Justice Prakash Tatia and Justice P P Bhatt ordered for cancellation of the recruitment process.

The petitioner had alleged that the TET was not conducted as per the laid norms of the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE).

District superintendent of education in Ranchi, Jayant Misra said, “In order to meet such a crisis of teachers, the HRD in collaboration with the Jharkhand Academic Council will conduct TET.” According to him, exams will be conducted by the end of October.

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Five key education reform Bills likely to get Parliamentary nod

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LiveMint
March 11, 2013

At least five key education-related Bills, including one that will allow foreign universities to open campuses in India and another to combat educational malpractices, will likely soon get passed by Parliament, signalling the first success for the human resource development (HRD) ministry’s efforts to reform higher education.
Stuck for more than two-and-a-half years, these Bills have finally found favour from a parliamentary committee comprising members of several political parties. The HRD ministry is hoping the consensus will enable it to push the reform Bills in the ongoing session of Parliament that continues until May after a month-long break that starts 22 March and in the following session.
“Parliament scrutiny of all these proposed legislations has been completed. The committee observes that enactment of all these legislations will bring about major transmission in the higher education sector and thus restructure and re-orient our higher education system… in a globalized world,” said the committee report.
Mint has reviewed a copy of the report. “The committee is of the firm view that passing of these legislative proposals need not be delayed any further,” the report said.
A member of the committee, who didn’t want to be named, said the report had unanimous support. Committee members believe that such legislation is important to reform higher education; the HRD ministry has told the members that it doesn’t want to push the reforms through in an arbitrary manner, as was the perception among critics earlier.
The foreign universities Bill proposes to allow foreign educational institutes to open campuses in India and award independent degrees. The malpractice Bill aims to prevent, prohibit and punish abuses in the educational system.
The other Bills envisage setting up a national accreditation regulatory authority for higher institutions; a tribunal to fast-track adjudication of disputes in the higher education system; forming a national academic depository to digitize educational credentials of students and curb forgery.
HRD ministry officials said the committee’s report will boost the chances of getting the Bills passed.
“A lot of labour has gone into these Bills and several rounds of interactions with concerned stakeholders have already been undertaken. And it’s high time we take it to its logical end. We are liberalizing higher education and unless we put in place enough mechanisms, quality push of sector is not possible,” said a senior HRD ministry official on condition of anonymity.
K.B. Powar, a former secretary general of the Association of Indian Universities, a government-recognized body, said he agreed with the objective of the government but foresaw problems in implementation.
“The question is—do you have the mechanism to implement the plan,” Powar said. “For example, around 15% of the universities and colleges in India are accredited by NAAC (National Assessment and Accreditation Council, a statutory body),” said Powar, chancellor of the Dr. D.Y. Patil Vidyapeeth, a Pune-based deemed university.
India has more than 600 universities and around 35,000 colleges.
Currently, it isn’t mandatory for colleges to get themselves accredited. The HRD ministry official said the Bill seeks to make accreditation mandatory.
The HRD ministry, through the University Grant Commission (UGC), is also devising an alternative. Last week, the UGC told colleges that all institutions will soon need accreditation if two batches of students have graduated from them.
The HRD ministry official also said that the foreign university Bill will be a “huge plus” for education, and enable students to stay in India rather than go abroad for higher education. The ministry is likely to seek cabinet approval for the Bill and reintroduce it.
Powar noted that the condition stipulating that foreign institutes cannot repatriate their revenue home was a potential disincentive. Foreign educational institutes also offer distance learning programmes and even online courses.
“I don’t think top institutions will open campuses here, they may be looking to expand through (existing) programmes,” Powar said. “So I believe the implementation will be a key concern.”

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UGC retains Academic Performance Index for teachers’ promotion

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The Times of India
March 12, 2013

Going back on its earlier decision to scrap the Academic Performance Index (API), a mandatory requirement for universities to select and promote faculty members, the University Grants Commission has decided to retain the Performance Based Appraisal System (PBAS) with API.

The decision was taken at the full-Commission meeting on Monday, after the ministry for human resource development intervened and asked the UGC to re-look at the decision to scrap API. The 489th meeting of the UGC in October 2012 took up the matter on the recommendations of the Revisit Committee on granting of exemption to PhD holders from NET and removing the API and PBAS. Subsequently In January 2013, the Commission decided to scrap the PBAS with API.

The argument given for scrapping the API was that the strict but inflexible parameters of the UGC’s API were holding up appointments and worsening teacher vacancies scenario across universities. Scrapping of the API apparently gave the universities flexibility to evolve their own mechanisms to screen teacher performance.

However, scrapping the PBAS has evoked much criticism from the academia. But, according to a senior official with MHRD, “The ministry intervened and asked the UGC to take a re-look at the decision and to retain the API and work out necessary modifications to improve the system.” Following the intervention and in the Monday meeting, it has been decided that the PBAS with API system will continue for promotion and selection of senior university teachers. UGC has also set up a three-member committee to look into the distorting factors in the API to make it a more workable and academically useful model for the university teachers’ promotion. The committee is expected to submit its report in 20 days.

“Instead of scrapping the system, the commission decided to modify the complications in the PBAS and API, do away with the distortions and improve the model. The three-member committee set up will look at improving the PBAS with API system and is expected to submit its report in 15 to 20 days,” said a UGC official present in the meeting. The API was introduced as an attempt to link teacher selections and promotions to their academic performance.

The system was introduced alongside with the salary hike teachers received from the Sixth pay Commission in 2010, thereby making promotions under career advancement scheme performance-linked and increasing the accountability of the country’s teachers to improve the standard of India’s universities. But teachers unions protested the API, saying that the system is a flawed one as it allows favouritism and benefited a select few.

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