The deemed-to-be universities in recent months have acquired the misnomer of being "dam'nd universities." Recent moves by the HRD Ministry in this regard have raised doubts about the efficacy of these institutions. The Yashpal Committee and other experts associated with policy matters in higher education are also not comfortable with the system.

As a result, the stakeholders of 'deemed universities' as also the student cadres of institutions along with others, have been confused. The public at large, remains confounded.

The concept of deemed university was conceived by the UGC to evolve an educational structure of the institutions which excelled in their spheres of higher education. These institutions had the potential of a university but were still lacking in some areas as to qualify themselves as a full-fledged university. The rationale was that these institutions could breathe easy and evolve their course structure and syllabi in the wake of new academic challenges.

No easy task

In the traditional system, these institutions faced bottlenecks in their growth due to the affiliation system with one university or the other. Undue delays and non-approval of their new programmes, coupled with the regulatory mechanism of the university system and the obtrusiveness of its hierarchy, held them back from further progress. Hence, to provide sufficient autonomy and make provision for their speedy developments of academic programmes, the deemed-to-be university was brought about.

These institutions were examined rigorously by a multiple process which seldom left scope for faltering in the findings of the examiners. Several high-level autonomous bodies, viz., the All-India Council for Technical Education, the Medical Council of India, the Dental Council of India, the Bar Council of India and scores of other autonomous bodies, were part of the Central government's scheme of inspection committees for approval of such professional courses.

Therefore, it may not be misconstrued that 130-odd varsities sprang up overnight and became the bone of contention between those who stood for uprightness and others who took this task rather in a Bohemian style - the perception which has usually been created.

In demand

Most of these institutions were significantly in demand due to the heavy rush of students for talent growth and match the market demand for employment.

During the 1990s, there was a spurt in demand in areas that suited the economic reforms and a tendentious turn towards professional employment in the spheres of medical, and engineering education, business and hotel management, housing, tourism etc. Inevitably, higher education became part of this industrial growth - hence an industry in itself. These demands began multiplying and government agencies were hard put to respond to such needs. The deemed-to-be universities became the tool "ready to respond" to such demands and their growth increased.

These institutions were not exactly the same as the conventional varsities in terms of research output or characteristic innovativeness. They were meant to be a quick recipe for short-term courses or vocational courses and did marvellously well in those areas. In many cases these universities stood aloft in comparison to other institutions. Their infrastructure, lab facilities, libraries, the quality of classrooms and facilities have been worthy of mention, compared to the pathetic state of affairs in State universities and, to some extent, in some Central universities.

However, some of the deemed-to-be universities fell short of the requisite standards and they created a dismal image of these institutions. As a result, they met a sad demise at the hands of experts and lost the academic market. Hence, no universality of judgment could be valid in those cases.

A question has been raised about these institutions' research potential. Research is a long process and it does not show quick results. Nor are these institutions by their very nature of catering to the demands of students in emerging areas - for short term course, with an eye on jobs - could become the mainstay of research.

It is also well-known that several government-sponsored institutions are languishing in a pitiable condition as far as research is concerned. Do we close down those institutions? Is it not a laudable mission if institutions can impart quality education to prepare future generation to be excellent managers, engineers and professional corporate executives? Will that not be the main contribution to a developing society by educational institutions? Although imparting quality education and engaged in research are not incompatible, it is a question of emphasis and parenthetically singling out one or the other.

(The writer is a former member, UGC and former Indian ambassador to Turkmenistan)