'Punish the institutions, regulators who failed, not the students'

'Punish the institutions, regulators who failed, not the students'

Three of the four deemed universities whose students have suffered the loss of their engineering degrees, thanks to a court order, should have been stripped of their deemed status in 2009 itself. That's what the Tandon Committee had recommended. Not the cancelling of students' degrees with retrospective effect. The primary author of the report, Prof P N Tandon, the 90-year-old distinguished neuroscientist, is distraught at the way things have turned out in the deemed universities case. Why should the students suffer for the faults of the regulatory bodies, teh government and the institutions, he asks DH's Prakash Kumar.    

How do you feel about the SC verdict suspending the engineering degrees awarded by four deemed universities since 2001 through distance education programmes?

If somebody wants to make me a doctor by distance education, can I become one? Never. I have to have worked in a hospital. Similarly, how can engineering be taught in distance mode? The basic principle is wrong. And, how did they get permission? The AICTE never gave them permission. Yet, they had the permission of the erstwhile Distance Education Council (DEC).

The people who obtained these degrees have to suffer now. Whose fault is it?

I think, the State is responsible for them. What is the fault of those poor students? If their education has been incomplete, they must be given a condensed education in a proper manner to be able to qualify for the degree. You cannot play with their lives. Is this what we produced our report for?  

The court has directed AICTE to hold a test for those who obtained these degrees between 2001 and 2005 to enable them to retain their degrees. Is that fair?

That's alright. In my time also, there used to be a three-year Licentiate in Medical Practice (LMP) programme and there was MBBS also. After we got Independence, the government took one of the wisest decisions. They said all LMPs will spend two years in medical colleges and go through their final examinations there. All LMPs and LSMF (Licentiate of State Medical Faculty) went through that and became full MBBS. All the LMPs were then in service and in practice. They stopped their practice and came to the college. Several of them joined my class.

What will happen to those who fail the AICTE's test, because then their degrees become invalid?

There is no reason or justification for students to be penalised. Those who granted the degrees should be penalised. But, nobody is penalising them. They are not even de-recognising these institutions. What is the fault of those students? Why didn't the government take action against such illegality? Was the government sleeping or was it part of the whole thing? The government should not only conduct the test for them, if there are deficiencies in their education, it should introduce a condensed course to enable them to qualify. In our (the LMPs) case, the government did arrange for it.

What were the key recommendations of your committee on deemed universities? Did the government act on them?

The most important thing we did as I recall is to classify the 'deemed to be universities' into three grades - those that fulfilled the criteria for that status, those that needed to improve to retain it, and those that were not at all worthy of the tag. That very concept has not been accepted. Therefore, as far as I am concerned, our report is null and void. Nobody has so far said the criteria we used for the review were wrong. Once we submitted the report, it was for the HRD ministry to use it the way it wanted.  After all, it was the HRD ministry that appointed our committee because they were dissatisfied with what was happening.    

So, your report failed to make any difference?

The report partly seems to have made a difference. I don't think any new institution has been granted 'deemed to be university' status after its submission in 2009. So, if that report has served any useful purpose that is probably to put a break to this malpractice. This is the only thing that has happened.  

Is there scope for revisiting the issue and perhaps going back to your report?

As far as I am concerned, the whole issue of higher education in the country needs to be reviewed. It is not a question of deemed universities alone. There are a large number of private universities in our country. Some of them, I am sure, are very good, some of them I know are trash. We should review the whole system of higher education. Everybody, from the President to successive prime ministers, has said that our higher education system is not good. Whatever happened to institutions like Allahabad University, Calcutta University, Madras University today, which produced the brightest of the bright minds of this country in the past! This country has produced endless reports. What happened to the Yash Pal Committee report? This country is outstanding in producing reports, but third-grade in implementing their recommendations.

Do we need deemed universities at all?

Yes, we need them. The status helps an institution mould its education system according to what it considers right, not what is dictated as a common minimum programme. But such institutions have to be honest. The National Brain Research Centre, of which I am the president, is a deemed university. What it has produced in 10 years' time would not have been possible had it not been given deemed university status.