Restructuring deemed universities

Tags: Op-ed
Restructuring deemed universities
Deemed universities are in discussion once again. They became a point of dispute ever since they got de nova (or independent) status for accommodating information and communications technology (ICT) and computer education in the higher education domain in 1985. In the late 80s, ICT industries were grooming and also more freedom and liberty was given to industries in production, which enhanced demand for engineering education. Simultaneously, management education brought in a new stream altogether. A parallel change happened in medical education as well.

Neither the State Government Public University Act nor the Central University Act could match the growing demand in computer science and technology, management, engineering and medical education.

First, academic infrastructure could not match the demand pressure and secondly, both the state and central governments were locked with the general growth in education, which quenched their financial support in emerging ICT and other subjects. State governments, initially in Karnataka and then in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, brought in the idea of self-financing discipline-oriented colleges affiliated to public universities. However, those who were the creators of first generation ‘self financing’ institutions immediately realised the high demands of parents and more freedom through deemed structures, and quickly switched over to a ‘free and no-link’ structure. By the second decade of the 21st century, deemed universities became the most profitable ‘education industry’ and by 2008, their number grew to 130. They were low quality product producers and there was a discreet flow of money amongst the sponsoring members. This is how the political entities became the masters of the higher education sphere.

The central government realised the misery of students and parents just a decade ago and appointed the Tandon Committee in October 2009. This committee examined all 126 deemed universities in the country and classified them into three categories — A, B and C. Universities that fell under category A got full clearance, while those under category B were given five years to improve their performance and the 44 universities in category C were asked to wind up their status alleging that apart from low level performance in delivery of education, they were being run as family fiefdoms rather than on academic considerations. The ministry of human resource development (MHRD) also took a decision to avoid jeopardising the future of nearly two lakh students enrolled in these universities spread over 13 states by allowing these universities to revert back as affiliated colleges of original universities. As expected, these universities went to the Supreme Court claiming that they had been harassed for no reason.

The University Grants Commission (UGC), in parallel, had become active while all this ‘drama’ between the MHRD and deemed universities was going on. They appointed expert committees to study each of the deemed university in terms of their academic, infrastructure and financial aspects. It is very interesting to note that many of those 44 universities had scored very high grades in UGC’s report. This allowed sponsoring agencies to further strengthen their argument of injustice to the Supreme Court. The UGC soon issued guidelines for creation and operation of deemed universities too. Apart from various aspects that were the focus of the Tandon Committee, UGC’s guidelines also made it clear that a sponsoring authority member cannot become either a chancellor or vice chancellor. They desired that the deemed universities truly become academic entities. The MHRD appointed one more committee comprising the members of the Tandon Committee and four independent experts to look into all the issues that have emerged through the various Supreme Court orders and recommendations of the UGC committee.

Today, the struggle of deemed universities is still on when one studies the judicial and executive proceedings in the battle between deemed universities and the Tandon Committee as well as the special committee of MHRD and UGC’s 2010 guidelines.

The power of the Union of India to constitute the Tandon Committee is the central issue that is intensely litigated in the Supreme Court. Ever since this case was tagged with Vipalav Sharma versus Union of India (142 of 2006) during 2009, 24 interim orders have been delivered by the Supreme Court. Recently, it reserved a verdict on a batch of petitions on regulation of deemed universities and indicated that it would ask the UGC to reassess the standard of education in the 44 deemed universities which were sought to be de-recognised on the basis of the Tandon Committee’s report. The Supreme Court also directed the centre to put on the internet the recommendations of the Tandon Committee and the task force on the basis of which the government had decided to de-recognise the 44 deemed universities in the country.

The 15-year litigation pro­cess in the vital higher education domain will continue. In all these years, all deemed universities must have cha­nged and they would continue to change. The Supreme Co­urt has given a great opportunity to UGC whose power to conduct a review flows from its parent Act. It must take clues from the court’s exercise about its statutory duty and review all the deemed universities and sanitise the system. It just has 120 days to do this task to glorify its authority.

(The writer is former chairman of UGC, former vice-chancellor of University of Pune and founder director of NAAC)


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