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Updated: September 17, 2012 18:22 IST

A university goes the ‘school’ way

G. MAHADEVAN
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Nifty giant: The university tries to instil a renewed academic vigour with the school system.
Nifty giant: The university tries to instil a renewed academic vigour with the school system.

Teaching departments in the University of Kerala are being brought under schools, making way for enhanced collaboration

In a matter of weeks or even days, the Department of Law at the University of Kerala will move to another building. At first glance, it looks like just a routine thing to happen in a university, but it is not. Once this shift is complete, the School of Business Management and Legal Studies of Kerala’s mother university will become fully operational.

Though the idea of reorganising the teaching departments of the university was mentioned in detail in the Vision Document brought out by it in 2002, it took a good decade more for that “vision” to become a reality. All along the way, this “vision” had to fight many a skirmish, battle and even outright wars with the university’s powers that be. Now, the university has — on paper — 11 schools with a synergetic grouping of its teaching departments.

So, why did individual teaching departments have to be bunched into schools?

Over the years, the teaching departments of the university had gained notoriety for the manner in which they had zealously guarded their patch of academia from their fellow travellers in the path of knowledge. Each department was a watertight academic entity whose individual “learning” never committed trespasses.

The word “interdisciplinary” was completely absent from the dictionary of these departments. It was almost as if there was a law against academic collaboration, by way of synergetic syllabi or joint academic programmes.

And each department had to have its own infrastructure. There was a library for each with its own librarian. Each library had to subscribe to its own copy of magazines and journals. Never mind whether the department next door was subscribing to those self-same journals. Each department had to have a laboratory of its own; of course, not many even considered the possibility of sharing so much as a test tube. There was a separate administrative office complete with a section officer, an assistant, a typist. All told, things were not all that different from the ways governments mostly function.

For the first time in the history of the university, individual departments may cease to be academic islands run by heads of departments in ways that often bordered on the whimsical. Each school would be headed by a director who would oversee the academic and administrative aspects of the departments in that school.

New courses

Now, schools can start offering courses that draw on the resources and academic expertise of their constituent departments. Already, the School of Management and Legal Studies has submitted an application to the University Grants Commission to start an M.Com. programme in International Business.

“We are now working on an MBA plus LL.B. programme, which is said to have great value in the job market, K. Sasikumar, Director of the school and Professor of Commerce, told The Hindu EducationPlus. “We can now take up joint research programmes with one academic acting as the main guide and others as co-guides. There is also the possibility of taking up consultancy work in a joint operations mode.”

Each school will now have only one library. By pooling resources, these school libraries can at one stroke avoid duplications in subscriptions to journals and consequently have money left to subscribe to more publications. Normally, a department library functions from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. This was of little use to the students.

Now, there are plans to keep the school libraries open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., the working hours of the University Library.

There are also plans to streamline the administrative set-up in the departments. “We need only one office for a school. The other personnel can be redeployed in the university in sections where there is an acute shortage of personnel. The employees’ organisations are very touchy on this. So the university, for the time being, will retain all the individual department offices in the schools,” a senior professor said.

The larger picture

To be sure, the University of Kerala is not the first in the State to adopt the “school” system. In all probability, it will not be the last either. However, the academic, infrastructure and administrative dovetailing and synergy that the schools are capable of generating in one university need to be scaled up to include all universities in Kerala.

Many academics are of the view that there needs to be a clearly defined paradigm for the school system for all universities in the State. With elbow room for university-wise variations, this State-wide school system will not only harmonise the functioning of universities across the State but will also allow students to transfer credits seamlessly from one school in, say, Kannur University to another, in, say, Mahatma Gandhi University.

This will also open up the possibility of an inter-university “school-to-school” collaboration in cutting-edge research work where there is sharing of the intellect and infrastructure. Under the present structure of the higher education sector, such a paradigm has to be put in place by the Kerala State Higher Education Council.

Such a paradigm, many academics feel, will be a powerful tool to rejuvenate learning, research and extension work in Kerala’s universities.

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