Meddling with higher education

Meddling with higher education

Vatsala Vedantam questions the Karnataka Government’s move to hustle 13 private universities in a State known for its dubious standards of higher education.

Well known educationist Dr Malcolm Adiseshiah once described higher education in this country as “chicanary in admission procedures, corruption in teacher appointments, dishonesty in examinations, unaccountability in teaching and depravity in student behaviour.

” The latest move by the Karnataka government to hustle in 13 private universities in a state that is not particularly renowned for its higher education should recall these words of an educator who knew what he was talking about.

Not only has the present proposal been made in an arbitrary fashion without proper legislative conduct, but it reveals a sad and colossal ignorance of the role of universities in higher education. The powers that took this decision probably understood only one thing.

That education is a lucrative and thriving business proposition, and nothing more beyond that.

Private universities like public universities have to be recognised and approved by the University Grants Commission (UGC) according to a ruling by the Supreme Court of India.

They cannot be “floated” by the whims and fancies of politicians. We already have more than 100 private universities in the country. Many have already flouted norms and regulations by affiliating colleges and even running centres on franchising basis. The state governments which have sanctioned them have apparently turned a blind eye to these violations.

 The obvious conclusion to such misdemeanours can take place only with the connivance of the respected states. It is hoped that the Chancellor of the state universities in Karnataka will intervene to make sure that such lapses do not occur here.

There are nearly 600 universities in India. Of these, the deemed universities have maintained high academic standards with excellent teaching and research facilities. Private universities like the Birla Institute of Technology or the Manipal insitutes in our own state have proved that private initiative in higher learning is  the only answer when governments alone cannot bear the burden.

This kind of privatisation where the funding is through a corpus and higher fee collections to meet the demands of excellence is what the centre aimed at in 1995 when it handed over the responsibility of higher education to the private sector. There is nothing wrong with that as long as the private sector maintains the level of excellence needed in a university.

It is exactly the same formula practised in western countries which also encourage students from all sections of society to benefit from such universities by offering scholarships and tuition fee waivers to those with merit. Such institutions also have high standards of teaching and research. These two are the hallmarks of a great university.

State move

When the Karnataka government decided to lauch these 13 universities, did it have a plan asto how they will be funded, or how they will be staffed? What kind of curriculum in what discipines? Are they multidisciplinary universities including the humanities as well? Will they support meritorious students who are unable to pay their exorbitant fees through scholarships and assistantships? Will these universities prove their academic viability with regard to their infrastructure and programmes before they are declared fit for privatisation? As pointed by a former vice-chancellor of Bangalore University, regulations must be put in place first before giving them the sanction.

The authorities must check their viability and make sure they meet the required academic criteria. All these issues have been overlooked which makes the picture more suspect. Besudes, the institutions selected are presently governed by the All India Council for Technical education (AICTE) or the Medical Council of India (MCI) or the UGC itself.

The engineering colleges which are governed by the Visveswarayya Technological University (VTU) and the medical colleges governed by the Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences (RGUHS) will become private universities hereafter with their own rules and regulations and totally outside the control of apex bodies.

Many of these colleges have been found lacking academically. It is not clear what yardstick the government has used to declare them as private universities. It also seems redundant to create one more authority to monitor their functioning.

The entire proposal lacks credibility and will surely pave the way for further exploitation.

According to UGC regulations, (Establishment and Maintenance of Standards in Private Universities) the managements of any proposed private university must “provide all the relevant information relating to the degree/postgraduate degree/diploma courses including the curriculum structure, contents, teaching and learning process, examination and evaluation system, and the eligibility criteria for admission of students prior to the starting of these programmes.

” Has the Karnataka Government ensured these qualifications before selecting the 13 private universities? When a similar move was made by the British government recently, a lobby of 500 professors publicly condemned “plans that would allow profit making organisations into the higher education system that would lead to higher drop out rates and lower academic standards.”

Danger to students

Commenting on behalf of the University and College Union of teachers, they pointed out that if “for-profit companies” were allowed access to higher education, it would pose a danger to students as well as taxpayers as events in America have shown where publicly funded education offered a better quality of education than unregulated profit making universities.

The exorbitant fee structure in these private universities – barring the well established ones — leads to students dropping out midway due to lack of resources. Whereas state universities in the US have encouraged brilliant students to study at lower costs with a better education.

If the state government’s proposal materialises, it will open the door to greater exploitation in the name of higher education, with private providers of doubtful legitimacy launching  universities with no credentials.

The capitation fee culture which drove professional colleges to rake in money will now become rampant in universities. As the Students’ Federation of India (SFI) commented, the only reason for their establishment is money. Several other student bodies have also articulated their disapproval of the government’s proposal.

University teachers who will be affected by these ill conceived educational programmes should also voice their disapproval as the professors in UK did when that government tried to do the same.

When higher learning is in danger of turning into a business proposition. it is time that academicians put a stop to the whimsical proposals of politicians.

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