To be world-class, delink guv, varsities

The President of India and Governors of states are regarded as constitutional functionaries. The President, by virtue of his office, assumes the role of a Visitor of more than 120 of central universities/institutions. Likewise, the governors, ex-officio, act as Chancellors of state universities. This system has been in place for several decades now.

From ancient times, universities around the world have had authorities such as President, Chancellor, Vice Chancellor, Proctor and Deans. Renowned Indian mathematician-astronomer Aryabhata was made the vice-chancellor of Nalanda University (5-12 century CE) by the then ruler Buddhagupta.

State universities in Karnataka are either governed by specific Acts as in the case of Viswesvaraya Technological University and Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences or by a common Act called Karnataka State Universities Act (KSU Act, 2000 - herein referred to as the Act) in respect of Mysore, Karnatak, Bangalore and other universities.

Various provisions of the Act, say for example, Sections 8, 9, 12, 14, 15, 16, 20, 22, 27, 39, 40, 41, 43, 44, 53, 58, 69, 71 and 84 ascribe a wide range of administrative, advisory, supervisory, executive and regulatory powers/responsibilities to the chancellor including the appointment of vice-chancellors (VC) and their removal from office on disciplinary ground. In fact, Section 14 of the Act states that "a VC shall hold office at the pleasure of the Chancellor".

Our law makers seldom find time to amend multitude of laws to bring them in tune with the changing times. One example in the higher education system is the continuation of the British-introduced 160-year old affiliation of colleges to universities when the world outside is championing the cause of autonomy.

At present, the dynamics of higher education are such that they entail intense globalisation, competition, massive investments and able governance so as to sustain quality in teaching and research. It is against these developments that our Parliament recently passed a Bill granting not only autonomy but also delinking the President from the Visitorship of IIMs, IITs and IIITs.

At present, there are 26 state universities in Karnataka covering diverse disciplines and knowledge systems. Several pressing issues of each of these institutions certainly need the attention of a full-time chancellor for timely actions on the appointment of VC, faculty, statutes, ordinances and regulations. In addition, there must be an efficient mechanism to monitor, regulate and oversee the functioning of universities and their authorities like the syndicate and academic council.

In fact, Section 71 of the Act provides for review of working of a university every five years by the Chancellor (though this has never been implemented) through a duly constituted Commission. In other words, we certainly need a responsive, responsible and result-oriented mode of university governance.

Need for change

Currently, there are seven universities in the state without full-time VCs. There appears to be little or no coordination between the government and the chancellor on this important issue. Draft statutes and ordinances are delayed inordinately through the circuitous route of government-chancellor.

State universities have nearly 45%-50% vacancies in faculty positions resulting in a significant dilution of the standard of teaching and research. The chancellor often appears as a mute spectator on gross indiscipline and irregularities in universities.

The most important drawback, however, is that the contribution of a governor as chancellor in upholding the quality of postgraduate teaching and research - the twin hallmarks of a university - is regrettably nil. In contrast, some of the private state and deemed-to-be universities with their own chancellor are doing well in terms of meeting the challenges of higher education, especially on introducing courses in thrust areas, appointing talented faculty and providing state-of-the-art infrastructure for quality teaching, if not research.

The university chancellor cannot simply be ornamental; he should be functional and effective. It is impractical if not impossible for a given chancellor to be the custodian of an ever-
increasing number of state universities. If IITs, IIITs and IIMs could be delinked from the President, why not state universities from the chancellor?

Every university should have its own Act with a Chancellor, Pro-Chancellor, VC, Pro-VC and other officers. Such a system, apart from bringing accountability, will also facilitate self-governance. The state government must set the governor free from the onus of functioning as the chancellor of scores of universities.

(The writer is former vice chancellor, University of Mysore)

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