Time for a lesson or two

Time for a lesson or two

Bangalore University’s stock has been on the rise for the last two years, so much so that a recent survey commissioned by a weekly has ranked it the ninth best in the country.

Yet, the news of the ranking has puzzled many a higher education observer in Karnataka and they have taken the news with a pinch of salt. The university has had a fair share of problems over the last two years — with results, corruption in college inspections, caste politics, infighting among university officials and an assertive vice-chancellor who has rubbed the government the wrong way.

The ground reality

So are the high ranks justified? Such rankings have been highly criticised by several academicians in the past, as they typically use a model known as perceptual survey — which is more akin to an exit poll than a rigorous assessment of the infrastructure, facilties and faculty members.

(For a more detailed critique, visit http://alternativeperspective.blogspot.com/2006/07/b-school-ranking-surv...)
Former vice-chancellor M S Thimmappa says that while he congratulates the university on  its achievement, it still has a lot of work to do. “The high ranking is welcome, and is a measure of all the good work that has gone into the university. But that said, these surveys do not go into what really matters — teaching and research.”

The only exhaustive assessment of universities is the one done by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC). The university has been re-accredited by NAAC with A grade — the highest possible. But there have been shortcomings with the assessment done by NAAC, too, and the credibility of the NAAC grading has not been very high.

Research output

The scepticism about Bangalore University’s ranking is partly justified by the fact that it does not feature among the top 25 universities when ranked according to research output — one of the most critical functions of a university. A 2009 paper by Gangan Prathap and B M Gupta that ranked universities on the basis of research papers and the quality of the output did not even list Bangalore University in the top 25.

In fact, the only university from Karnataka to make it to the list was the University of Mysore. The list, topped by the University of Hyderabad, placed the University of Mysore at rank 21. Even though the university boasts of having the largest number of PhD students in the country, this has not translated into quality research. Thimmappa says the research output at Bangalore University, along with several other universities, has not been very good.

“Research is one of the most fundamental activities of a university. Universities should create knowledge and share them with students,” he said.

Faculty shortage

The other area of concern has been the slow pace with which the faculty positions have been filled. According to university officials, nearly 50 per cent of the faculty openings have remained vacant.

Former vice-chancellor N R Shetty says one of the reasons for the decline in the quality of research is the lack of staff. “Many senior faculty members who did excellent research have retired and there is no replacement for them,” he says.

Overburdened?

Another common plaint against Bangalore University has been its size — it has nearly 650 affiliated colleges. Under the norms proposed by the University Grants Commission (UGC), a university should ideally have around 150 to 200 colleges. As per the records of Bangalore University, it has a whopping 654 affiliated colleges. This is nearly three times the number considered optimum by the UGC.

The university was founded in 1964 when the Central College (established in 1886), then part of the University of Mysore, was separated and renamed Bangalore University. Over the years, the university has expanded as Bangalore expanded, first as a hub of public sector companies and then as the IT boom took off in the mid-90s. Now, the university has become one of the largest in the country.

The resultant administrative nightmare is what has prompted the government to look into the bifurcation of the university. For instance, the evaluation of the answer scripts and the  announcement of the results have long been the bane of Bangalore University. The matter was then referred to a committee of the Karnataka State Council for Higher Education — the highest decision-making body on higher education in the State. The committee recommended carving out a new university out of Bangalore University. With this, two universities will be formed in Bangalore, namely Bangalore University and Bangalore South University.

However, the proposal was openly snubbed by Prabhu Dev, and the former vice-chancellors also did not support it. Thimmappa says he is totally against the splitting of the university resources. “If the government splits the university, then the situation will be worse in individual universities. However, if the government proposes to start an entirely fresh university with new faculty members and new grants, then I am for it,” he says.

Politics

While internal politics has also marred the functioning of the university, things have gotten better, says one faculty member, on the condition of anonymity. “The bigger problem facing the university is its clash with the State government. Higher Education Minister V S Acharya has repeatedly clashed with the V-C over several issues,” the faculty member says. The V-C and the Higher Education Minister have clashed over several issues, including the bifurcation of the university, the recent allegations involving the post-graduate centre in Kolar, and the appointment of registrars to the university.

Bold steps

But there have been positive gains over the last couple of years. Vice-Chancellor Dr N Prabhu Dev, in charge since 2009, has been an ambitious administrator who has brought in a slew of reforms, even as he attempts to expand the varsity’s horizons.

These reforms have been accompanied by bold steps. When he took charge, delays in the announcement of results had been the single biggest grouse against the university. Within a year, Dev brought in Syed Jamal — the same man who nurtured the Common

Entrance Test  for engineering and medical seats to much acclaim — as special officer to reform the evaluation system.

Jamal modernised the evaluation system by bringing in Optical Mark Reading sheets, which he had introduced in CET, and which has also been adopted by the SSLC and PU boards. Officials said the main reason for delay in results was manual entering of marks. The examiner correcting the paper will manually enter the marks and tally on a sheet of paper, which is uploaded by data entry operators.  Thimmappa says:

“There is a need to digitise the entire examination system, instead of only a portion of it.”

The university also recently launched a mid-day meal programme for students and faculty members at its Jnanabharathi campus. Under a tie-up with Iskcon, the university will offer meals at Rs 2 for students, and Rs 10 for faculty members.

The varsity is also beginning to take steps to improve the quality of colleges. At a meeting of the Academic Council, the university proposed several changes, including making accreditation mandatory, reforming the inspection process, and including university nominees in the governing bodies of colleges. More ambitiously, Prabhu Dev has proposed the setting up of a Bengaluru School of Economics on the lines of Delhi School of Economics and London School of Economics.

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