T o look into how numerous maladies at our universities are misinterpreted, we can glance at an example from recent times: In August 2012, two representatives from the Karnataka Council of Ministers went on an inspection to the Bangalore University campus.
The root cause of the prevalent problems, they said, was the bad condition of toilets in the university. The explanation, no doubt, is bizarre and ill-inferred. Instead of visiting the hostels, they ought to have religiously read the reports by reputed academicians who have diagnosed the ills of the Universities and suggested remedies for them.
This truth is simple, but difficult to grasp for those who are responsible for the downfall of our university system. The chancellor-governor, chief minister, ministers, MLAs, MLCs, MPs, VC, registrars, faculty and the students are all to blame for the ills of a university.
Even the University Grants Commission (UGC) and its various counterparts, the so called regulatory bodies, have been reckless in their interference in the functioning of our higher education system. They have all reduced through their zealous efforts a university to place where – as a cynic has put it – “non-motivated students are taught irrelevant courses by incompetent teachers to prepare them to face inconsequential examinations, all supervised by an unfit vice-chancellor.”
New universities have been set up one after another without planning, vice-chancellors (VC) and registrars are appointed without examining their academic merit and commitment, members of a Syndicate are usually nominated for considerations other than academics, teaching posts (30 to 40 per cent) lie vacant for years, the so called ‘guest faculty’ positions fetch a paltry salary and to cap it all, many legal battles are waged against the actions of VC and even the chancellor.
A Syndicate, appointed as a support system to a university, works as a supervisory mechanism as well. It is the most critical subsystem which has of late fallen in prestige and credibility. A few government and IAS officers and legislators are also members of the Syndicate, but are hardly seen attending deliberations in the Syndicate.
In the UGC, for example, there is no one on the governing body to take care of the interests of the states. The UGC’s budget hardly befits the federal obligations. The norms/ guidelines issued by the UGC which breathe down the neck of the state universities are hardly in consonance with local interests.
The UGC makes important decisions on various aspects of the state university’s functioning (the central universities do not attach much significance on the UGC mandate) and frequently goes back and forth on issues like NET and PhD, causing endless confusion and difficulties. The central universities obtain a generous funding while all state universities put together can manage but a trickle. Meetings are held once in two or six months. In the meetings, only an eminent few take deliberations seriously. It is given to understand that some VCs are handicapped by their lack of proficiency in English, which hinders their effective participation. The council therefore becomes a redundant ornament rather than fulfilling its original mission of a think tank. Though it is agreed that the VC is the key functionary in the higher education system, not much thought has been given to a proper selection method for the head of the system.
Some VCs have caused embarrassments to the posts they hold by indulging in misdemeanors like forgery and corruption, protection to scandalous elements (marks cards and sexual harassment), favouritism and politicking. A few of them are suspected to owe allegiance to the head of the system personally.
To cite an example from Andhra Pradesh, it is said that the Rayalaseema University year awarded 2,600 PhDs in two years. The 23 universities setup by the Y S Rajashekar Reddy admitted 38,000 PhD candidates and succeeded in awarding 13,000 PhD degrees in five years!
An approach towards bettering the existing system needs to be sustained and innovative. It must incorporate certain strategies like:
n Stringent norms are required to be laid down and adhered to while forming the Syndicates/ Boards of Management. An active and mature mind is desirable for nomination to the Syndicate. Perhaps an age limit (50-65 years), is also desirable. Only such a person who is considered to be an experienced administrator, an expert in any academic field, without a clean record, or without any conflict of interest with the university system should be selected for the body, either by the chancellor or the government.
If only the IAS and senior-level officials were to attend the Syndicate/ BoM meetings the resolutions passed there would not have been questioned by under-secretaries or deputy secretaries. It is a pity they choose not to attend such meetings.
n If one were to look for relief in this kind of a situation, a few groups of suggestions can be offered. Firstly, overhaul the state university system, and, secondly, overhaul the structure and procedure of the bodies like UGC in tune with other states without any narrow political consideration. Thirdly make our Universities units of socio-economic changes in the society.
n There are two views on bringing in outsiders like IAS/ KAS officers as registrars. Those in favour this practice argue that such officers discharge their duties impartially and effectively. On the other hand, the insider professors who are appointed to these posts may cost deeper fissures in administrations as they have their own following, and have future ambitions. This apart, it would also cause loss to the teaching faculty – in number and in quality.
n A common board of selection of teaching faculty at all levels for all universities in the state. The common selection body could comprise VCs, experts, representatives of states etc. A similar body can also be set up for the purpose of choosing non-teaching/ administrative staff.
n A number of problems arise in university administration. Student admissions, examinations, migration, fees, campus facilities, teacher recruitment, promotion, salary, seniority, transfer, funding research and conference-attending, pension and disciplinary matters, appointment of non-teaching staff’s, confirmations, postings, promotion, salary etc are some to be mentioned.
An academic institution cannot be expected to drive the alleged victims of injustice and unfair play to the courts for relief. One should think of setting up a Tribunal with different wings to look into the grievances of members of university community and come up with quick and fair solutions.
The state of higher education in Karnataka is disconcerting. A number of commissions and committees have come and gone but the quality of our educational system has remained unsatisfactory. What is required today is a strong will on the part of our statesmen both at the central and state levels. And a drastic reform of the UGC and other regulatory agencies.
(The author is a nominated member of the Karnataka State Higher Education Council)