Deemed varsities: The glitches need to be removed

Last Updated : 27 January 2010, 16:53 IST
Last Updated : 27 January 2010, 16:53 IST

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However, according to M S Thimmappa, former vice chancellor of Bangalore University, “the blanket ban on all the 44 institutions is not right too as some of them have very good track record of providing quality education. No private initiative would come forward henceforth to better the education scenario in the country because of such governmental authoritarianism, interference and bureaucratic control.”

Although for the present, the supreme court has come to their rescue, the whole issue of deemed status of universities deserves some deliberations. In the recent past University Grants Commission (UGC) recommended deemed status for many educational institutions. As of June 2008 there were 130 of them in India.

The deemed status helps them to exercise autonomy in the courses they offer, examination pattern, research undertaking, fee collection, admission and governance. Autonomous universities in effect can foster progressive knowledge, liberal thinking, culture of reason and adventure of ideas through building an atmosphere of academic freedom and quality research. By contrast, most existing universities across the country are reminiscent of the first Presidency Universities of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras established in 1857. These Presidency Universities modelled on the then University of London, were primarily instituted as examination conducting bodies to grant degrees.
Ironically, the radical transformation that the London University itself underwent soon after did little to the way the Indian universities continued in their steadfast pursuit of the original goal. The rigid bureaucratic control, their resistance to change and inability to adapt to the changing needs of society coupled with corruption and red tape have rendered most universities ineffective in imparting quality education.

Seen in this light, granting autonomy to universities, where merit takes centre stage, where education knows no curricular boundaries, where regimentation does not stifle progress and where examination is not synonymous with endless, anxious wait, may seem as a panacea of sorts. But a reality check of most of these deemed universities quickly dispels this myth. Barring a few most of them have sought this tag merely as a business enterprise and have disgustingly succeeded in commodifying education.
Disillusioned by the quality in higher education in the country, students and parents flocked to these institutions that lured them by their smart marketing strategies. Despite UGC funding these institutions continued to charge hefty fees from students who are only too willing, partly because the allure of swanky, high-tech, corporate style infrastructures is difficult to resist and partly due to the pseudo belief that quality is directly proportionate to the cost. This is anathema to inclusive education that our constitution guarantees.

Introduction of indiscriminate courses without providing trained faculties or verification of job opportunities, have left the students in a quandary. Based on the P N Tandon task force report, the affidavit that was submitted to the supreme court by the ministry mentioned ‘several aberrations in the functioning,’ ‘fragmented with concocted nomenclatures’ and seats that were ‘disproportionately’ increased beyond the prescribed intake capacity.
Further, the nefarious activities in the name of research that many of them are engaged in qualify these universities to be termed as ‘education malls’ where degrees like MPhil and PhD are available for the asking. During the recent selection of lecturers for government colleges in Karnataka, MPhil ‘shopped’ by many of the candidates from these ‘malls’ in Tamil Nadu became a bone of contention, delaying the whole process of recruitment for more than a year.

Since these institutions are also allowed to set their own guidelines for instructions to student, discipline and student management very often take archaic forms. Students can easily be denied attendance, failed, suspended or rusticated with impunity, in violation of student rights, prompting the task force to speak of “undesirable management architecture.”

These days when focus is on student centric, humane approach to education, one fails to understand how such constricted campus atmosphere can bring any quality; it is fodder for counselling centres around campuses.

True, the existing university system and higher education scenario have left a lot to be desired. But granting autonomy from all scrutiny and allowing them to claim a superior position, function in isolation from national purposes of education are like committing two wrongs to make one right. Allowing absolute autonomy not only sacrifices basic democratic principles but also goes against the basic tenets of education where openness is the hallmark of quality.

In our country, whether higher education can be allowed in private domain just yet is debatable but the government’s role in overlooking educational institutions is undeniable. “Education should be a state initiative and it also has to set regulatory authorities,” says Shankarnarayana, director, Dayanand Sagar Business Academy very rightly.
There is an urgent need to unshackle education from bureaucratic rigidity, bring in robust systemic changes and more meaningful teacher participation.

(The writer is an educationist)

Published 27 January 2010, 16:53 IST

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