In India the relationship between governments and universities is conditioned by three major factors viz.:
(i) That universities are established by statutes of the Central or State Legislatures or, in some cases are recognized as ‘deemed to be universities’ under provisions of the University Grants Commission Act;
(ii) That universities depend to the extent of about 30-50 per cent (sometimes more) of their budgets on government funds; and
(iii) There is an absence of a historical tradition of fostering and supporting the autonomy of statutorily established “autonomous” institutions. There is, in fact, a tendency for the relationship between government and universities to develop along the lines of a patron-client relationship.
Despite this close linkage and the patron-client relationship between government and the university, governments in India formally accept the position that in a democratic polity universities should be allowed administrative autonomy and academic freedom. One of the objectives in writing this paper is to examine more closely the relationship between these two systems and to see how this dualism of dependence on government and the notion of administrative autonomy and academic freedom works in practice.
Issues of Education Policy:
To begin with, there are certain aspects of government’s general policy on education which also affect university education, though the policy covers all levels of education. One such policy was the decision taken by government in the late ’60’s to regroup the number of years spent by a student at different stages of the education ladder. One objective of this reorganization was that the middle stage of two years between the school and the college would provide vocation or career oriented courses to students who might wish not to continue with their education at the college level.
The 2 year stage had three different objectives. It was expected to be a terminal stage for many, bifurcating mechanism for those who wished to enter professional courses leading to a degree or diploma and also a preparatory stage for those who wished to enter college for a degree in arts, science or commerce faculties in a university.
The fulfillment of the first of these objectives—viz. providing vocation based terminal education at the + 2 stage—could have been attained only if (i) sufficient infrastructural and curricular investments were made to make the 2 year curriculum really vocation based, (ii) if a sufficient change in social attitudes of the educated middle class could be brought about to make manual skill jobs respectable and (iii) the economy succeeded in throwing up a sufficient number of jobs or self-employment opportunities for those who would opt for the vocational stream.
The reorganization did not achieve its objective because most State governments failed to make the infrastructural investments for vocational/technical education at the + 2 stage. It is also possible that for the majority of the expanding middle class a terminal vocational/technical stage might not have proved attractive because the traditional occupational goal for this social class is some kind of an office job in government or in industry. These jobs can normally be had after obtaining a college degree.
What it has meant for university education is a rising number of students seeking admission from junior to senior colleges. Here again governments have failed on two counts. On the one hand they have been unable to provide resources for expansion of college education in urban areas where there is the greatest demand for it and on the other government spokesmen have announced in legislatures and on public platforms their ‘determination’ to ensure that every student who has passed the junior college would get admission to the senior college.
As a result colleges located in the bigger cities are required to cope with much larger numbers of students than they were intended for. Some of the older, established institutions have resisted the pressure, but newer and younger institutions often provide eight or ten divisions for the first year class in the faculties of arts and commerce.
This pressure of large numbers of students and the correspondingly increasing—though not at the same rate—number of colleges poses serious administrative problems to the colleges as well as to universities—not to speak of the students themselves. The problem faced by the college is intensified by another decision of government in Maharashtra to keep the junior and senior colleges together.
This was done partly to meet the problem of teachers who would have been rendered surplus in the old colleges as a result of the reduction of the college course from 4 to 3 years; partly to protect the social status as well as the salary scales of teachers who would have had to go to the junior colleges; partly because the junior colleges, despite a regrouping of the years, were in fact expected to do nothing substantially different from what was being done earlier in the eleventh standard of high school and the first year of college; but mostly and primarily, because government could not have found the resources to finance the capital expenditure for creating a new set of institutions at the + 2 stage.
The net effect of the re-grouping of school and college years has been that colleges which earlier had to provide accommodation for students studying in four years have now to provide for five years. They have, therefore, adopted a shift system for the junior and the senior colleges resulting in a substantial reduction of extra-curricular and co-curricular activities for students at both the levels. There is no room for teachers in the common room nor for students in the libraries.
Students are required to leave premises after the night shift is over. The failure of the 10 + 2 + 3 pattern in stemming the number of students who seek admission to senior colleges and the government’s public posture that college education should be open to all who wish to enter it without any reference to the student’s academic ability and without proportional increase in the resources made available for higher education has created problems for the universities.
Every year at the beginning of the academic session about four to five thousand students move from one college to another seeking admission. Finally they end up at the gates of the University. The student organizations meet university authorities demanding that colleges be allowed to open more divisions and/or the number of students per division be increased. For Bombay city, the prescribed number per division is 100. This limit is usually initially relaxed and raised to 110, then to 115 and, in few cases, to 116 or 117.
Since there are about 57 Arts, Science and Commerce colleges in Bombay and between them they have about 330 divisions of the first year, correspondence courses being the only safety valve, it means that about 5000 additional students can be accommodated in the existing number of colleges beyond the originally permissible number.
Since, however, the students are not evenly distributed between the three faculties, and since the largest number is seeking admission to the commerce faculty the actual number of additional seat available is far smaller. The University tries to cope with this problem by providing admission to the overflow in its correspondence course programme.
In 1985, the Bombay University enrolled 3000 students in the F.Y.B.A. and F.Y.B. Com. programme. But the rising expectations of students, the available inadequate facilities in the colleges and the somewhat under-developed structure of the correspondence course programme leads to considerable tension and student unrest. This situation is not likely to ease in the immediate future.
Another decision taken by the governments in many States including Maharashtra has had far-reaching implications for the relationship between government and the university. This was the decision of the government to change the grant-in-aid pattern for colleges and universities. The crucial change is that instead of the old formula of providing grants to colleges on the basis of a certain proportion of the approved deficit of the colleges the government now provides for a grant basically to cover the expenditure on salaries of approved staff, teaching and non-teaching.
The colleges also get a certain additional grant to cover some of the other expenditure. In the case of universities, at least in Maharashtra, government grants cover only salary payment of approved staff and all the other expenditure of the universities is expected to be covered from out of tuition fees, examination fees, etc.
Government and College Management:
The new pattern of grant to colleges and universities has had important consequences—financial as well as administrative—for the colleges and universities in Maharashtra. The direct financial consequences are serious, but some of the administrative consequences of the pattern of assistance adopted by government are discussed below.
First, let it be said that the new pattern of assistance was generally welcomed by employees of educational institutions because it ensured the regular payment of their salaries—particularly in the case of the permanent employees whose appointments had already been approved by the University and by government.
But soon the administrative implications of this new policy began to be clear. They followed logically and almost inexorably from the fact the once government accepted the responsibility for payment of employees’ salaries it was necessary for government to satisfy itself that the number of teaching and other staff employed by the colleges was justified in terms of some common norms of workload.
The government thus had to define the workload of teachers in terms of the number of class lectures, tutorials, laboratory supervision, field visits, intensive coaching and such other “approved” activities that a teacher would engage in during the course of one week. The government also had to lay down how much remission a teacher in college could earn for every period of post-graduate teaching that he might do—the argument being that post-graduate teaching requires greater preparation than undergraduate teaching does.
The college principal has now to justify the teaching staff employed in his college in a particular subject in terms of the number of divisions and the number of period prescribed for that subject. The total number of teaching periods divided by the number of teachers in a subject must not be less than the periods specified per teacher. If it is, the government will reduce the grant proportionately.
The government also requires that the teachers employed are duly approved by the university both in terms of the minimum academic qualifications specified by U.G.C. (and accepted by the State Government) as also the workload norms prescribed. This approval takes considerable time at the level of the university because the number of teachers to be approved is large depending on the number of colleges and the number of new teachers whose appointments are to be approved.
For a variety of reasons such as the fulfillment of backward class quota and non-availability of appropriately qualified teachers, there is a substantial proportion of teachers at any given time who are only temporarily appointed or temporarily approved. Every time their names come up for approval the “Approval Committee” of the university has to go into the whole question of workload justification and the qualifications of the teacher.
One major problem which colleges face follows from the different interpretation of work norms and of the norms of remission for post-graduate teaching. In an agreement that government had arrived at as a result of negotiations with the teachers’ union the workload per teacher per week was fixed at 20 periods of 45 minutes each, of which 17 periods would be given to class room instruction (lectures) and 3 periods would be devoted to tutorials in smaller groups. In these negotiations neither the universities nor the college managements were associated.
As a result of the overcrowding in Bombay colleges most institutions find it difficult to provide the room-space for tutorials. Government takes the position that the undergraduate teacher must engage 20 periods of lectures per week. The teachers’ organization insists that as per their agreement teachers cannot be given more than 17 periods of classroom lectures. They can’t be held responsible for the inability of college managements to provide adequate space for organizing tutorials.
In this controversy regarding interpretation of workload norms the principals of colleges find themselves in a difficult position. The government officer who finally recommends a particular grant asks for details of class room allocations and time-tables showing distribution of work for different teachers. He calculates the number of teachers required at the rate of 20 periods a week whereas the teachers take the position that they shouldn’t be given more than 17 periods of lectures. This vitiates the relationship between principals of colleges and teachers on the one hand and between principals and government officers on the other.
The amount of scrutiny that the government has to exercise following its acceptance of the responsibility for salary payment of college employees does not end here. It has many other ramifications.
Having decided to calculate how many teachers would be required to teach a subject in a college the government has to look at other aspects of work as well. For example, science teachers are required to engage in laboratory work.
Since one teacher cannot supervise all the students in his class during their laboratory periods it becomes necessary to decide the minimum and the maximum number of students that can form one batch for supervision of laboratory practicals. The number of practicals to be conducted in a subject, the number of batches of students in a class has to be found out to determine the workload and the number of teachers required to share it.
Similarly in the subjects of botany, zoology and geology field trips have to be organized and teachers are required to accompany students on these trips to make these educative. The number of days spent by a teacher on such trips further complicates the calculation of workload and financial liability of government.
Whereas the Boards of Studies in these disciplines may recommend a certain number of long or short trips for such field work government may not accept them as legitimate either for purposes of calculation of workload or for purposes of admissible expenditure. What is the per diem allowance to be paid to teachers and over how many days can also become matters of disagreement between college principals and the concerned grant-releasing officers of government.
Recently in Maharashtra—particularly in the Bombay University—another issue cropped up. As per norms accepted by government every teacher of an undergraduate college who participates in postgraduate teaching can be allowed remission in his instructional workload in the ratio of two periods of undergraduate instruction for every period of post-graduate instruction upto a maximum of four periods per week. A question arose whether this remission is to be debited to the workload requirement of 17 periods of lectures or whether it could also be remitted to the three periods of tutorial instruction.
As mentioned above government insists that every undergraduate teacher must put in 20 periods of work per week. The distinction between class lecture and tutorials is used by government more to decide the maximum of tutorial work admissible rather than to define the maximum of class lectures that a teacher can be given. The teachers’ organization argues that remission for postgraduate teaching work can only be calculated against lecturing periods and not against the tutorial quota.
The teachers’ organization has warned that they may call upon their members not to participate in post-graduate teaching unless their contention is accepted. If such non-participation materializes university instruction at the post-graduate level will be severely affected in all science subjects and in some of the other disciplines where the number of teachers employed in the post-graduate departments are too few to cope with the teaching load.
Thus one finds that the decision of the government to relate its grants primarily to the salary payment liabilities of the colleges has led to greater and greater rule making and rule enforcement by government. It has also meant that while the college managements have the responsibility to maintain the academic norms and standards prescribed by the university authorities they may not have the freedom or the resources to do so because of government’s own separate norms in the calculation of admissible grants to individual institutions.
Principals spend quite a lot of time on how to present their expenditures and workload distribution to qualify for maximum financial subsidy from government. The Principal who approaches the administrative officer of the Directorate of Higher Education for a grant is very much in the supplicant posture like an income-tax assesse who is approaching an income-tax officer and seeking the maximum rebates and remissions that he can claim in the assessment of his taxable income.
The recent decision of the Maharashtra—and the West Bengal— governments to take over the responsibility for disbursement of retirement benefits is again a logical sequel to the adoption of the salary payment formula for purposes of grants to colleges and universities. This was, however, a service that neither teachers nor managements had sought from the government.
The government seems to have been attracted by the large amounts of money—held by college managements and university bodies—in trust for their employees in the form of provident funds. Government issued directives that the funds be handed over to government after encashment of all the securities and fixed deposits in which they were invested. This last direction has not yet been followed up, but in the meanwhile government has stopped payment of grant to colleges towards the employer’s contribution of the provident funds of teachers.
It is arguable that the government’s plan to give pension and gratuity benefits on par with government employees is in the long term interest of the employees, but in the immediate present it has had two consequences. It has deprived many college employees of the gratuities that they used to get on retirement from their college managements since the expenditure on such gratuity payment is no longer accepted as admissible expenditure and it has involved college and university administrations in the preparation of a new set of service records in the form specified by government for each retired employee.
It has also more or less completed the process of the “governmentalisation” of all the employees of institutions of higher learning. If there was any element of freedom or flexibility left to the managements and the employees of these institutions it is now being taken away by the Code of Conduct rules and conditions of service promulgated by government for the non-teaching employees of colleges and universities. Very soon government will extend the same ‘benefit’ to the teacher employees as well!
The issues that arise with reference to the relationship of government to colleges following upon some of government’s policy decisions—one on the adoption of a new pattern of grouping school and college years and the other on the change to a new pattern of grant-in-aid to colleges.
Some of the problems that we have discussed follow from the government’s inability or unwillingness to provide the funds required to make a success of the + 2 stage and tardiness in accepting the genuine needs of the senior colleges in terms of staff, infrastructural facilities, etc. In the process the government has succeeded in seriously limiting the freedom of the colleges to experiment in new directions or develop diversified programmes—unless they can raise independent resources of their own.
As it is, college managements are required to provide the buildings, the furniture, the laboratory equipment and the recurring laboratory costs. There is a general provision available from government to meet expenses on certain other approved miscellaneous items, but this provision is barely adequate to meet the most necessary non-salary expenditures that a college has to incur.
So far as the internal day-to-day administration is concerned government does not directly interfere in the decisions of the management, but there is a provision in the Act by which government can regulate the terms and conditions of work of employees.
These terms and conditions according to the various university Acts were supposed to be defined by Statutes formulated by each university. In the absence of Statutes, Vice-Chancellors—on the basis of Government resolutions—have issued Directives under appropriate sections of the Act to cover some aspects of the service conditions of teachers.
Now government have decided to promulgate Codes defining these terms and conditions for employees of all non-agricultural universities and colleges in the State of Maharashtra. In large scale decision making process uniformity is a great virtue, but it can be dysfunctional for promoting local initiative and experimentation.
Government and University Administration:
The relationship between government and the main body of the university is much more complex than the relationship between government and the colleges. On the one hand universities are supposed to be autonomous statutory entities, provisions of the Act themselves provide for a certain measure of direct and indirect control over the university and its various authorities, bodies and officers. Additionally, the financial leverage is, of course, available to government as it is in the case of colleges to ensure compliance with government’s directions.
To begin with, the University Acts in most States provide for the Governor of the States to be the Chancellor. Much depends, therefore, upon the Chancellor’s interest in higher education and his equation with the State Government. As it happens, university education is one of the few areas of governmental activity in which a Governor of a State can take active interest. If he is inclined to do so he will keep himself in touch with the Vice-Chancellors of State Universities and understand what their problems are and help wherever he can to mediate on their behalf with the government.
In this he is helped by the fact that usually the Governor is either an older party politician or a senior retired officer who has had much broader experience of public life than a Minister of Education at the State level. But it can also happen that the Governor himself does not have much interest in education nor the necessary background to take informed interest in it. In that event he is content to abide by the advice of the Minister and the Secretary for Education in the State Government.
In most State universities the Chancellor formally appoints the Vice- Chancellor and also the Pro-Vice-Chancellor, if any. The procedure is for the Chancellor to choose a person out of a panel of names suggested to him by a committee appointed as per procedure laid down in the Act. Usually, the Chancellor also nominates the Chairman of this Committee.
The Chancellor can influence the choice of the panel put up to him through his nominee. In Maharashtra the Chairmen of the Committee have usually been persons of high standing in public life and one presumes that they have been independent in their judgement. In any case there are other members on the committee representing the Executive Council and the Academic Council. The panel that is suggested has to have the approval of all three.
But once the panel has been suggested the work of the Committee is over. The choice of a particular person out of the panel is formally that of the Chancellor. How much independence the Chancellor will show in his choice is largely a matter of his personality, but it is hardly likely that a Governor will choose a Vice-Chancellor for a university without consulting the government—particularly the Chief Minister and the Education Minister and it is extremely unlikely that he will choose a person who is unacceptable to government. That would not be wise either since, in the last analysis, the Vice-Chancellor cannot function without cooperation from the government.
Thus, though in a formal sense government has no direct voice in the appointment of a Vice-Chancellor it does in fact play an important role in the final choice. What is true of the appointment of a Vice- Chancellor is also true in most cases of the other areas where the Chancellor is given specific powers under the relevant university Act.
The Chancellor has also to appoint the Pro-Vice-Chancellor wherever provision for one exists. This he does on the recommendation of the Vice-Chancellor, but again after informal consultation with government. The Chancellor also has a nominee in the Executive Council and on the Selection Committees for the appointment of teachers. He also nominates a certain number of members on the Academic Council and on the Senate.
The Chairman of the University Accounts Committee is also a nominee of the Chancellor. How a Chancellor uses his powers of nomination will naturally vary from person to person. But in some of the States nominations to these positions have been done on the advice of Ministers of Education and from among members of the ruling party. Additionally, Directors of Higher Education, Technical Education and Medical Education are ex-officio members of the Executive Council of universities.
The Chancellor has the responsibility of interpreting the provisions of the Act or of Statutes whenever there is any ambiguity or a disagreement about the exact implications of particular provisions. He has also to approve the various Statutes and Ordinances that may be framed by the appropriate authorities of the university. In all these things he is likely to find it necessary and expedient to consult the education or the legal department of the government.
Thus the simple provision that the Governor of the State shall be the Chancellor of the universities in the State gives the necessary leverage to the State government to influence the working of universities which are otherwise statutory, autonomous bodies. How commonly and to what purpose governments will use this leverage varies a great deal from State to State and it depends largely on the political culture of the area where the University is located. This leverage need be no more and no less important than the influence governments can exercise because universities are financially dependent upon the State.
From one point of view the Vice-Chancellor who heads a university administration finds that while the elected bodies of the notionally autonomous university expect him to function in response to their wishes he is not really free to do so even if he is in agreement with them because these are areas where the university is not really autonomous.
From another point of view, he may at times find that the Chancellor’s office and the government between them provide him with an excuse for not doing what he does not wish to do. But a Vice-Chancellor who makes a habit of so playing one center of influence against the other will in the long run find himself in a difficulty because he will have lost the confidence of both.
In any case, the Vice-Chancellor in a State University is expected to shoulder a lot of responsibility and be accountable for the many sins and virtues of the university authorities and the university administration with a very slim base of statutory authority vested in him. A Vice-Chancellor then is tempted to build a semi-political base for his authority but in doing this he will leave himself open to direct and indirect attacks by his “opponents” or “detractors” in the various affairs of the university without a formal ‘party’ structure to support or shield him in the way that a Party Whip shields a government member in the legislature.
Apart from the influence that State Government can exercise over the functioning of universities through the office of the Chancellor or through the vulnerability of the Vice-Chancellor, there are other areas where government can exercise a direct influence.
It was mentioned earlier that in Maharashtra and in some other States the grant-in-aid pattern to colleges has been changed and the State now takes responsibility only for expenditure on salary payment of approved staff. This is also true for the universities.
We need not concern ourselves here with the purely financial implications of these conditions of government grants, but we may look at the administrative implications for creation of posts. Unlike in the case of colleges, the creation of new teaching posts in the department is not made dependent on the number of students registered and the number of periods a teacher is expected to take.
This is probably a recognition of the facts that at the post-graduate level teachers have to give a bulk of their time to research and writing. But the government tries to limit its commitment by requiring that before creating any posts—teaching or non-teaching—the University must obtain the concurrence of government. In the case of the administrative staff no guidelines exist today.
Universities have to argue the need for each additional post and seek to convince the government about its necessity. In the absence of any ratio either in relation to number of affiliated colleges or in relation to number of students or in relation to financial transactions universities are entirely dependent on the government’s willingness or ability at any given point of time to accept their proposals for creation of additional administrative posts.
Since the work of the universities is expanding and has to be carried on from day to day universities inevitably create additional posts and wait for governmental approval. As at present, the Bombay University has about 500 non-teaching posts whose salaries are not covered by government. The Dube Committee report which on the one hand suggested a formula for determining the number of administrative posts required by each university and on the other argued for a standardization of the terms and conditions of work has been accepted by the government only in so far as it relates to the latter.
Universities which have some reserves have had to use it up over the years and, in addition, to commit the irregularity of creating posts without the required approval of government. Some universities which ran into heavy deficits and turned to overdraw on their bank accounts had to be bailed out by government by making additional ad hoc grants.
One direct implication is that university administrative structures are today far too inadequate to cope with the work involved in affiliation and inspection of colleges and enrolment of students and the conduct of examinations. The universities do not and cannot adequately perform their supervisory functions in respect of affiliated and recognized institutions. The work of servicing the various authorities of the university also suffers.
The Executive Council which meets once a month and the Academic Council which meets approximately once in two months have agendas running in over 100 items and the staff to prepare these items and to follow up the decisions upon them is woefully inadequate. Each of these bodies appoints committees of special purposes and the meetings of these committees do not get convened for want of follow up from the office.
The working efficiency of the university suffers. While the paucity of supportive staff is not the only reason why the universities are found to be in arrears of work and slow in responding to letters, quarries and problems of students and colleges.it is certainly one important reason.
In the creation of posts of teachers, the government goes largely by the development plans approved by the UGC, even if the approval for the creation of new posts has to be obtained before the posts can be filled. The UGC itself takes an year or more to complete the process of appointing Visiting Committees to scrutinize the plans of universities and to communicate their department-wise allocations in the respective universities. The government takes another year to communicate the acceptance of the UGC approved allocations.
Thereafter, the universities require between 9 to 12 months for advertising and filling the posts. The implementation of the plans is delayed by upto two to three years and the UGC finds itself compelled to allow the plans provisions to be carried over at least for a period of one year into the next plan. In the case of nonrecurring grants involving construction of new buildings universities can never utilize the full grants within the time limit set and the financial liabilities from one plan become a first charge on the funds available for the next plan.
Delayed finalization of the plans, delayed acceptance by the State and the consequent short-falls in university utilization of plan allocations has become an indirect device of ‘economizing’ on development expenditure.
While discussing the relationship between government and the colleges it was mentioned that apart from the introduction of the salary payment scheme the government has now decided to make the pension-cum-gratuity scheme applicable to teachers. We mentioned there the problem of delays in settlement of claims. But at the university level this particular form of retirement benefit raises a different and academically serious problem. It is likely to affect the mobility of post-graduate teachers from one university to another.
Universities are expected to recruit their post-graduate staff from all over the country on the basis of academic merit through open nation-wide advertisements. If the service that a teacher may have put in at another university within or outside the State ceases to count in the calculation of the years of service in his new post he would stand to lose.
Yet he has now no option to subscribe to a Contributing Provident Fund. This will be a disincentive particularly to senior scholars who would be recruited at the level of Professor since a number of them are likely to be 50 years of age or more by the time they are selected for this position.
Universities, College Affiliation and Government:
A totally different area where the writ of university should normally prevail is the one of granting affiliation to new colleges. But there again the acts governing different universities in Maharashtra provide for a major role to government. This is sought to be justified on the ground that in the last analysis government has to provide additional funds.
The procedure of granting affiliation to colleges consists of the following steps:
(i) The society desirous of establishing a college applies to the university communicating the intent to establish a college. Normally such applications are expected to be received about six months prior to the beginning of an academic year. This application has to be accompanied by data on the society’s ability to provide a suitable building and the physical facilities and the necessary financial support for such an institution;
(ii) All such applications from different societies are first scrutinized by a committee of the Executive Council of the university. The scrutiny is done on the basis of written information supplied by the prospective management and seeks to ascertain the need for an additional college in the particular geographical area, the financial strength of the society and its ability to set aside stand-by funds;
(iii) After such a scrutiny the university forwards these proposals to government recommending some for favourable consideration and not recommending those which in its view are either not viable or not necessary;
(iv) At this stage government may or may not accept the universities recommendations based on initial scrutiny. But whatever the government’s decision it is expected to be communicated to the university at least four or five months before the beginning of the academic year. Also, the government should normally accept the advice of the university or ask for clarifications and explanation. Usually this does not happen and only a letter is issued to the university communicating government’s ‘conditional’ approval of certain proposals even in the case where the university has not recommended the proposals and rejecting others;
(v) The approval is conditional upon the university’s satisfying itself through an on-the-spot enquiry conducted by a specially appointed Local Inquiry Committee to find out whether the society concerned has all the necessary facilities by way of land, buildings, financial reserves, faculty, library, laboratory etc. to conduct a college.
The Local Inquiry Committee Report is crucial in every sense because it is only the members of this committee that have an opportunity to visit the proposed premises and inspect the available facilities. This committee alone can make a recommendation based on first-hand knowledge. At all the earlier
(vi) The report of the Local Inquiry Committee has then to be considered by the Academic Council, the Executive Council and the Senate of the university before a decision is taken on whether or not the university should recommend to government the grant of affiliation to a particular proposed college and, if so, on what conditions;
(vii) It is on the basis of a positive recommendation from the university that government finally issues a notification of affiliation. The Act, however, provides that government may, for reasons to be recorded, set aside the university’s opinion and decide to grant or not grant affiliation to a college contrary to the university’s recommendation.
The procedure is obviously a long one and even the period of six months is often not adequate to complete all the formalities. The Vice-Chancellor of a university has not uncommonly to exercise his special powers to accept the report of the Local Inquiry Committee on behalf of at least one of the two concerned authorities of the university. Major problems arise in the case of delayed—almost last minute—applications from the intending societies.
There are also delays in receiving initial clearance from government and again delays on the part of the university in completing the Local Inquiry Committee procedures. Over the last three years there have been at least a dozen cases wherein the initial applications from societies were received much after the last date set for this purpose. When the university refused to entertain the applications, the managements of some societies approached government directly and persuaded government to issue initial clearance.
In a few cases education societies have approached government for such clearance and succeeded in their efforts without even having made a formal application to the University. In all such cases, if there is still time for the local inquiry procedures to be completed the university has generally complied with government’s direction after requiring the societies to pay fines for late applications. But there have been instances when government clearance has been given as late as the month of August though the academic year normally starts in the third week of June.
In such cases the university has the awkward choice of sacrificing academic considerations or sacrificing the goodwill of government. In two successive years so far the University has had occasion to say that no useful purpose would be served by appointing a Local Inquiry Committee to consider the application of some of the societies in view of the fact that the academic year had already begun.
The Act gives the power to government in such cases to overrule the university’s decision or recommendations and grant affiliation to a college. It must be said that so far the government have not used this power.
There is, however, one instance where the government by a decision at the highest level sought to pre-empt the scrutiny and consideration of an important academic issue by the universities. This was the instance when two years ago government decided almost overnight to expand the facilities for professional education by permitting about 20-30 different societies to start new medical and engineering colleges in the State.
In doing so they not only sought to present a fait accompli to the universities by abridging their right and responsibility to scrutinize the proposals of several new colleges but introduced without prior discussion the principle of non-grant-in-aid professional colleges which could charge high fees and wherein management were given the right to fill 10 per cent of the seats at their discretion. This latter provision meant that the merit criterion would not be applicable to these seats even among the applicants who were prepared to pay the high fees.
The controversy that arose out of this discussion is still fresh in the minds of most educators. The medical students in particular rose in protest and the Medical Council of India looked in askance at the whole proposal.
The universities found themselves in the awkward position of justifying the affiliation of colleges of engineering which had no laboratories or workshops of their own and colleges of medicine which had no hospitals attached to them or had hospital beds without patients in them. The problems created by the newly and hurriedly started colleges are yet being sorted out.
Even apart from this, the provision in the Act giving discretionary powers to government in the matter of affiliation of colleges is contrary to the spirit of academic autonomy of the universities. Though the government has generally not used its special power the relations between the university and government do tend to get strained on this whole issue of the procedure of affiliation.
There have been occasions on which government have given initial clearance to societies whose application had not been recommended by the university and there have been others when government have thought it fit to deny initial clearance to societies whose application had been recommended by the university. What is more, in some cases government have given initial clearance in cases when no application has been made to the university. No reasons are given for these decisions of the government.
If the relations between the government and the University occasionally get strained it is not because of the personalities of individuals involved. If at all, it is said that because of the amiability of persons concerned both in the university and the government these strains have been minimised and contained. The problem lies in the traditions of public life that we have developed wherein the preeminence and omnipotence of political authority in all walks of life is encouraged and fostered. Where institutions depend upon governmental support it is considered natural that government should have all the residual power and ultimate control over them.
A democratic polity in which state-aided yet statutorily autonomous institutions in different walks of life—education, culture, sports, social welfare or mass communication—can function with true independence has yet to strike roots in our public life. Universities face a peculiar problem. While on the one hand they have to abide by the norms set by government following largely from the constraint of financial resources—a constraint experienced by the government as well as the university—they have also to be cognizant of the academic norms set by their own authorities, by the UGC, by the Medical Council of India, by the All India Council of Technical Education and other such norm setting bodies.
It may be argued by some that the universities have not done much to earn their autonomy and that in fact, some of the public disclosures about how they discharged their instructional and examination functions have raised doubts about their ability to manage their own affairs. Yet, it is believed, that if we have opted for a democratic polity we must do everything to strengthen the autonomy of statutory and non-governmental institutions despite their dependence on government for financial support.
To use statutory and financial powers to bend them to the wishes of government, would inevitably lead to an increasing trend to governmentalisation. The university’s own processes of decision-making are cumbrous and if these decisions are made further subject to ratification by government it will only serve to make them rigid and incapable of new initiatives.
The policy objectives of government in the field of education lays a great deal of emphasis on decentralization, diversification and flexibility in the functioning of educational institutions at all levels. An increasing element of choice to the student, the establishment of linkages between different streams, and different disciplines, the scope for a greater variation in the grouping of subjects, the minimization of public examinations and their replacement by continuous evaluation by the teacher are a few of the many dimensions of change suggested.
Our present university structure characterized by time-consuming, centralized decision-making processes and further slowed down by having to work in tandem with governmental bureaucracy are hardly suited to usher in an era of flexibility and diversification. Universities must be given greater autonomy and universities themselves must grant autonomy to their departments and colleges. The model statutes proposed by the Maharashtra Government for grant of autonomous status to colleges are hardly likely to serve this purpose- they conceive of not more than ten per cent of the colleges in any university being autonomous at any stage and not more than three being granted autonomy during one year!
The proposed statutes are obviously based on the need to ensure that standards of education do not fall and the credibility of the university system is not undermined. The longer we continue our present centralized and unresponsive decision-making structures the sooner will our university system lose what credibility it has. The standards of instruction that obtain in different colleges are not comparable even today and no system of control of supervision nor of university conducted examinations can ensure such comparability.
In the process of controlling the universities and controlling the colleges we are making the entire process of education uncreative for the student and the teacher. Besides, when you expect students from good, not so good and indifferent colleges to be judged by a common standard of achievement the net result is that they tend to be judged by the norms that can reasonably be applied to the weakest institutions.
Despite impressions to the contrary examiners do not mark answer books in terms of any absolute standards; they apply standards which seem ‘reasonable’ in the light of the diversity of material presented to them. There is really no way of ensuring that what transpires by way of instruction between one teacher and his class is exactly the same or strictly comparable to what happens between another teacher and his class—whether these teachers and classes are in the same college or two different colleges. Common syllabi, common text books, and a common external examination only create the illusion of comparability.
What happens in the classroom depends upon the ability, skill and academic equipment of the individual teacher; it also depends upon the previous scholastic achievement and the motivation of the students who get selected or who select particular educational institutions. It depends further on the difficult-to-define traditions and ethos of particular institutions. These things cannot be equalised nor they should be made exactly the same.
If we want to usher in an era of educational experimentation and change we would need to make the individual institutions more free and the universities more autonomous. The process of governmentalization of the academic is contrary to the objectives which we have set for ourselves.