Varsities bill aims at full state control

Varsities bill aims at full state control

Instead of persons with impeccable record, we will see stooges of the govt playing power politics.

Stanford University in California is known for its beautiful campus. When you enter its palm tree laden grounds, you are greeted by a bronze replica of Rodin’s sculpture “The Thinker.”

Further on, there is an imposing climbing wall. The first seems to tell you that students are encouraged to think for themselves in this school.

The second, which they struggle to climb, speaks of perseverance and grit to reach the top, no matter what the obstacles. These two signs of learning represent the best in education  in one of the world’s greatest universities. They also tell us how the worst can function by contrast.

If the authors of the latest Education Bill introduced in the Karnataka Assembly recently had an inkling of what higher education is all about, they would not have indulged in this useless exercise.

To them, education is obviously not about thinking or climbing walls. It is simply a means to acquire power to better their own  interests.

Otherwise, of what earthly use another  higher  education Act when there are already seven in existence - some of them product of excellent minds. They have been relegated to the trash bins of the education department because they did not serve the interests of governments and politicians.

The latest Bill, which has been termed a “legislation for the comprehensive revamp of all universities in the state” is nothing but a law to subjugate them to state control.

Why is it necessary to have uniformity in the administration of universities where research and other academic activities are varied with their own special characteristics?  If the state government hopes to improve their functioning by “consolidation”, one can charitably assume it is an error in judgement.

The Bill is more likely aimed at bringing all the 53 universities under state control.  Karnataka has state universities, central universities, private universities and reputed deemed universities.  Some are autonomous. Some aided, and others run directly by the Centre or state.

If the Siddaramiah government hopes to bring them all under its ambit in one stroke with the passing of this Bill, it will surely spell the death knell for higher education in Karnataka. First of all, it proposes a state controlled recruitment board for the direct recruitments of teachers.  Its dubious claim that this will ensure transparency is laughable.

Again, its proposal to form a search-cum-selection committee chaired by a nominee of the government for appointment of vice  chancellors exposes its ulterior motive for this Bill. When the minister for higher education was made pro-chancellor of all universities by an earlier government, their autonomy was eroded considerably.

The move to take absolute control establishes the stranglehold of the government on higher education. “The chancellor shall exercise all powers in consultation with the government for uniform, speedy and effective decision making,” tells all.

If universities in Karnataka have to be improved, the best method would be to dig into the state archives and bring out meaningful documents like the 1980 Review Commission Report which holds good for all universities for all time.

Besides, this well-documented treatise contains recommendations that can be implemented with least cost to the exchequer. Universities as we know are unique places dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. They are spaces where “new ideas germinate, strike roots and grow tall.”

In order to generate that ambience, they must nurture creative minds with a vision at the highest level both in academics and administration. Minds that will create the right environment to conduct both research and teaching. Above all, the universities should be totally free from political interference. Unfortunately, governments that fund universities like Karnataka use their economic power to manipulate them.

Quality of research

The result is a sad erosion in the quality of research and teaching which are inseparable and fundamental entities in any institution of higher learning. Our universities do not have sufficient freedom in designing the academic programmes in professional disciplines either, as these are largely influenced by statutory bodies like the Medical Council of India (MCI) and the All India Council for Technical Education.

Governments in Karnataka were notorious for the corrupt practices in the higher education  system which they have already damaged considerably. Now, if  appointments to sensitive posts like that of directors and vice chancellors are manipulated by politicians, it would mean the complete collapse of these institutions.

Instead of having persons with impeccable records, we will see the stooges and hand maidens of the government playing their power politics in elite places of knowledge.

Universities like Stanford have been able to reach great heights because they are free from political interference at all levels. Can the Karnataka government take a leaf out of such institutions?

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