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Updated: November 12, 2012 17:27 IST

‘Specialised universities enhance quality and research opportunities’

G. Mahadevan
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Sheena Shukkur.
Special Arrangement
Sheena Shukkur.

Sheena Shukkur, convener of the committee set up by the Kerala State Higher Education Council to suggest reforms to the State’s higher education policy, speaks to G. Mahadevan on the recommendations of the panel .

Sheena Shukkur, Assistant Professor, National Judicial Academy, Bhopal, and member of the executive council of the National University of Advanced Legal Studies, Kochi, was the convener of the committee set up by the Kerala State Higher Education Council to suggest reforms to the State’s higher education policy. The committee’s recommendation to hand over teacher appointments in aided colleges to the Kerala Public Service Commission has generated political heat in Kerala. Excerpts from an e-mail interview with The Hindu- EducationPlus.

A major recommendation of your committee is for a drastic increase in student intake by colleges in the State. But is there such a problem with access to higher education in Kerala? Also, such a massive increase in intake will mean the appointment of so many more teachers. Would the State be able to bear the financial burden?

Yes, there are problems with the intake of students in higher education institutions. A study conducted for the council on the request of the committee shows that there has been a decline in the number of students in many subjects and courses both at the undergraduate and the postgraduate levels. It may be more because of migration of students to other purely self-financing arts and science colleges or professional colleges. At the State level, the proportion of students belonging to the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes in arts and science colleges is below the reservation quota.

Again the study shows that State funds for higher education have been on the decline in recent years, though it is increasingly stated that State financing of higher education is important, and the State should make a firm commitment to finance higher education. For education, it ought to be a long-term investment and the State should see that the budget provisions are at least doubled.

The social and economic profile of students currently in select arts and science colleges indicates that those from underprivileged backgrounds face barriers in gaining access.

Hence, the State government should provide initial investment for the basic necessities and further find out ways for enhancing finance through agencies such as the University Grants Commission, the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development and other Union government machinery and offer new need-based courses on payment.

The committee has recommended the creation of universities for each professional course, including nursing, pharmacy and teacher education. If there is to be a separate apparatus from the Vice-Chancellor down for each of these universities, Kerala is looking at an exponential increase in its budgetary allocation for higher education. The implications?

The vision of our committee’s recommendations is based on increasing access to higher education and research, enhancing the quality of education and research and ensuring equity in higher education. Separate universities help maintain homogeneity, whereby knowledge may be consolidated and codified into concise and interdependent academic formulations.

For academic ordering of knowledge and developing social structures, it is essential to differentiate, for example, the matured sciences such as physics, and arts and humanities, for instance, education or sociology. There is a high level of divergence regarding what constitutes knowledge. Further consensus is required in theory, method, techniques and practices. It is essential thus to differentiate the applied fields such as law and engineering and the pure fields such as mathematics and physics.

Hence, specialised universities are meant to enhance the quality and research opportunities and help the students out with employability. (Appointments of Vice-Chancellor and others are by-products.)

The committee has mooted the concept of college cluster multiple campus universities in place of the affiliation system. The cluster experiment of the previous Left Democratic Front government did not take off. What makes you confident that things will be different this time round?

The cluster scheme suggested by the previous council is different from the one suggested in this committee. The protest against the previous attempts at clustering was with sharing of resources among colleges within a geographical area. The colleges also had reservations about loss of institutional discipline.

The Tareen committee has suggested the formation of College Cluster Multiple Campus Universities; at least one per district. All colleges in that district would be members of that cluster. Each college is to be headed by a dean and each college campus would be an autonomous entity of such a university. This is in tune with 12th Plan proposal of the UGC and substantial Central funding can be had for such a venture.

There is next to no political consensus in Kerala on the need for a unified university Act. Why make a recommendation that is almost certain to run into political heat?

The University of Kerala and the statute binding the university is of the pre-Independence period. Later, the University of Calicut was introduced with a Statute and an Act more appropriate to suit the needs of that geographical area and the society and culture of the Malabar area. Likewise, each university which emerged up to the recent introduction of the Malayalam University are deeply depending on the requirement and suitability primarily to the region and then to the culture. Since much of the educational, especially higher educational, requirements and structure remains same, there need to be some kind of homogeneity in the academic calendar, student admission criteria, proportion of intake, facilities provided to the students both residential and academic, quality assurance (faculty appointment, professional college student entry-basic level of merit), etc. Hence a Universities Act or a Model University Act is required, which upholds the autonomy of the institution and the Vice-Chancellor, controlled and monitored by the Syndicate, with a reasonable financial autonomy to the Vice-Chancellor and with less control by the government. There must be adequate academic monitoring including ensuring the quality and qualifications of the faculty on appointment.

The committee must surely have known that in Kerala, any move to take away the power of appointing teachers from managements of aided colleges will trigger a controversy. Now you run the risk of having your entire report being seen through the prism of this recommendation? Wasn’t this a political call for the State government to make?

The committee recommended that all appointment of teachers to aided and government colleges shall be made by the Public Service Commission in order to prevent unfair practices and nepotism and to ensure the high standards of teachers selected. The selection committees for self-financing colleges should also have a representative nominated by the Public Service Commission and a nominee of the Kerala State Higher Education Council. The committee also recommends that guidelines for selection of faculty by self-financing institutions should be framed in order to ensure heterogeneity and fair representation. Basically, the idea was to protect the reservation policies of the government and uphold affirmative action.

You have recommended setting up model women’s colleges and a women’s university. Will these places admit only women or do you have in mind institutions where the focus is on women-related studies?

An interesting observation from the study conducted was of course that the proportion of women students was much higher than men students in undergraduate and postgraduate courses . The domination of girls over boys in arts and science colleges is on account of a combination of the desire of girls to find employment and the lower importance attached socially to girls’ employment.

Hence the recommendations are based on the idea that women are given more access through women’s colleges and the women’s university will also take gender-related topics for research. Our idea is to help the womenfolk excel in all fields.

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