Academicians insist that a five-year term for university vice-chancellors will give them ample time to experiment, formulate and ensure implementation of policies.
In Indian universities, the duration of the term of vice-chancellors varies from three to five years. The tenure of vice-chancellor is for five years in Delhi University, four years in Calcutta University, and three years in University of Bombay and University of Madras. In Uttar Pradesh, the term of office is for three years, but extension is given for one year. Wherever appointment is for a period of five years, in general only one term is given.
The consensus among academicians is that a three-year term is too brief a period for a vice-chancellor to formulate and implement policies and plans. It is difficult or rather improbable to make an impact, administratively or academically, in this short period.
As in the case of Central universities, a five-year term is being adopted by many States as a sound proposition.
“A five-year time will definitely help vice-chancellors to fully experiment with the ideas they conceive and finetune them. In a three-year term, the successor vice-chancellor does not exhibit the patience to see the full implications of the schemes initiated by predecessors. They come with their own agenda, affecting the stability and cumulative progress of the system,” says former vice-chancellor of Bharathidasan University C. Thangamuthu.
But, there are some crucial factors that need to be addressed. Getting the right person for the position is never easy. Acts and statutes that govern appointment of VC vary from one university to another. There are many factors that go into identifying right persons to the key position in Indian universities. The choice of candidates definitely have a bearing on the image of the governments that invariably have a major say in the selection process. In most of the States, the head of the State is also the Chancellor of universities. When things go wrong, the State governments have to exercise their power of enquiring into the affairs of universities.
In most cases, Chief Ministers who are accountable to the legislature are the ones who determine the actual choice of vice-chancellors, based on merit. It therefore becomes imperative that they desist from appointing VCs on the basis of political affiliation. The task is not easy, considering the contextual factors of gender, religion, region, and castes that come in the way. Nevertheless, it is the responsibility of the States to find right persons for the position in the interest of nation-building.
As conscience keepers, VCs of affiliating universities are expected to be eminent academicians, excellent administrators, and more importantly persons of high vision and moral stature. Reports of Radhakrishnan and Kothari Commissions, and Gnanam and Ramlal Parikh Committees have highlighted the corollary between the role of the VCs and higher education quality, and the consensus is that the quality and status of even well-equipped and well-staffed institutions gets affected by poor leadership.
There has always been a question whether State Governors, as Constitutional heads, can appoint VCs of their choice or have to seek the advice of the respective State governments. The relevance of this question is in the context of political personalities are being repatriated in gubernatorial positions.
“There shouldn't be a nominee of Chancellor in the Search Panel for VCs. Obviously, the Chancellor will choose the candidate proposed by his/her nominee. Also, considering the political appointment of Governors, it will be appropriate if the Chief Minister of the State is Ex-Officio Chancellor. Thereby, the requirement for the post of Pro-Chancellor does not arise,” says P.S. Manisundaram, the first vice-chancellor of Bharathidasan University, Tiruchi. The system of appointment of VCs has to be made dynamic, he emphasises.
Alongside making the selection of vice-chancellors foolproof, according to Prof. Thangamuthu, the process should be evaluated periodically, and there must be a provision for recall in case of gross irregularities. “Otherwise, the system will suffer.” The Union Cabinet's recent nod for establishment of National Commission of Higher Education and Research (NCHER), which mandates all universities to choose VCs out of a panel the Commission proposes to maintain, is seen as a right augury for reforms.
The NCHER meant to improve the existing regulatory structure for higher education would subsume higher education regulatory bodies like University Grants Commission, All India Council for Technical Education and Council of Distance Education.