A dream shattered

A dream shattered

Painful lessons

Bangalore University, Jnana Bharathi campus in Bengaluru. Photo by S K Dinesh

Bangalore University (BU) was culled out of the University of Mysore in 1964. Its creation was based on several valid reasons: Need of a university in the state capital, expanding access to quality higher education and, above all, the aspirations of well-meaning educationists to shape the new university with new academic flavours in its journey towards excellence.

As an educationist, I was at the forefront of public opinion to welcome the creation of a new Bangalore University with Central College as its headquarters. After closely observing the developments in BU, with which I have had an emotional bonding since its inception, I join the multitude of disillusioned, like-minded educationists to note the loss of a glorious opportunity to build a vibrant university and dedicate it to national development.

In this article, I search for the answers for the sorry state of affairs, only to explore the ways and means to restore its credibility.

In the early years, the government as a regulatory stakeholder, supported BU by appointing the ‘right person in the right place’ as Vice Chancellors. Illustrious personalities like V K Gokak and Justice Tukol, and later H Narasimhaiah led the university with grace and good governance. They appointed eminent academicians as HODs to ensure excellent academic output. However, this happy scenario lasted only for a few decades, with negative forces and events accumulated to such levels that a stage was set once again for a division of BU again, this time trifurcation.

Reasons for trifurcation: The slide started in the late 1980s, culminating in the trifurcation of BU into three universities — Bengaluru University at Jnanabharathi (parent), Bengaluru Central University (BCU) at Central College and Bengaluru North University (BNU) at Kolar. The important factors that led to the division of BU were:

a) Ever increasing number of colleges, courses and students, leading to unwieldy governance on all fronts. At the time of trifurcation, BU had jurisdiction over nearly 750 colleges and had to administer three campuses at Jnanabharathi, Central College and Kolar PG centre.

b) Shifting the university from Central College to a sprawling 700-acre new campus at Jnanabharathi, which reset the development of infrastructure to ground zero.

c) Inadequate faculty: a university cannot run on guest faculty.

d) Allegation of corruption in appointing VCs was the ‘talk of the town’. Appointing a ‘right person in the right place’ policy was ignored.

e) Accountability rests primarily with the government since the chancellor appoints a VC only with its concurrence. This lapse cannot be compensated later by trying to correct the situation by bureaucratic methods of notices, inquiry committees and so on.

f) Collapse of institutional responsibility: Internecine quarrels among top functionaries of the university involving even the VC, registrar, finance officer, syndicate and academic council members; examination scams and incessant inquiry committees by the government/chancellor individually and collectively eroding public opinion. Such events even led to the loss of a Rs 150 crore offer by Jindal Aluminium Limited, Bengaluru, to establish a Babasaheb Ambedkar School of Economics (BASE) under PPP/CSR funds.

The trifurcation process: Responding to the inevitable, government of the day constituted N Rudraiah committee and followed it by two more committees led by Narahari, professor and former MLC, and thereafter K R Venugopal, professor and the then special officer, BU. Ultimately, trifurcation was notified, with each of the three universities getting 200+ colleges under its jurisdiction.

However, the support to newly created universities of BU, BCU and BNU in terms of land, staff, resource allocation was delayed beyond reasonable limits. Neither the parent university – BU - nor the new universities were enabled to accomplish the declared vision and mission goals. The intended cure thus turned out to be worse than the disease.

Future outlook

To bring back the three universities on a befitting academic track, the government has the primary responsibility to make urgent course corrections. Following are a few suggestions:

1. Exalted positions of vice chancellors should be given wide publicity to attract eminent academicians across the globe.

2. Ensure appointment of a visionary as VC who has merit, integrity/values and commitment.

3. Search committee comprising only eminent academicians should be free to empanel top academicians, if necessary, from reputed national and international institutions. The procedures should be the same for first time appointments by the government.

4. Avoid repeated nominations of the same persons to the search committee. Bureaucrats and sitting VCs should not be nominated to the search committees.

5. Government may publish the CV of the appointed VC on its or Karnataka State Higher Education Council  website. To enhance transparency, VC-designate should declare his/her assets and liabilities before taking charge and also annually make such declarations during his/her tenure.

6. Normalise faculty position commensurate with the student strength and research needs. Rationalise non-teaching staff positions among the three universities; present over-polarisation in the parent BU should be resolved without compromising the interests of the employees.

7. Ensure sufficient funds to each of the three universities; encourage and support them to mobilise resources from CSR/PPP funds.

8. Research areas should focus on extending the frontiers of knowledge and generating socially relevant technologies and implementable patents.

9. History informs that some of the oldest universities in the world such as Oxford University and Harvard University (UK) still retain their preeminent position (see Times Higher Education World Rankings and QS World University Rankings). Journey towards such excellence would be a distant dream without drastic course corrections, government’s commitment and stakeholder cooperation.

I am an incurable optimist and hope that the above and other required processes and procedures would nudge the three universities towards their declared institutional responsibilities. I cherish the view that Karnataka should lead other states, in thought and practice, to evolve a governance model for universities worthy of emulation by other states.

(The writer is Adviser, Education Reforms, Government of Karnataka) 

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