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Clusters: Private colleges still doubtful

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Differing views: A student peering through a microscope; the sharing of resources is being looked upon with apprehension by private managements.
Differing views: A student peering through a microscope; the sharing of resources is being looked upon with apprehension by private managements.

G. KRISHNAKUMAR

Despite elucidation that the sharing of resources under the college cluster scheme will be voluntary, private managements still retain apprehensions about it.

The constitution of the governing body is such that all stakeholders are adequately represented in it and decision making is made largely through consensus. When there is division, decisions require two third majority

The Kerala State Higher Education Council (HEC) is trying to develop its clusters of colleges scheme, as a model for decentralised administration in higher education across the country. The revised scheme, which was finalised after including the feedback from various quarters, envisages equal status to all partnering colleges.

A section of the stakeholders had feared that the earlier concept of cluster around a lead college would give only a subordinate role to other partnering colleges. An important clarification that has been made in the final report is that membership in the cluster would be voluntary.

Stating that HEC has no intention whatsoever to coerce colleges to join the cluster, be it government or aided colleges, Thomas Joseph, Member Secretary, HEC, told The Hindu EducationPlus that the clusters would be constituted by colleges in the neighbourhood, which voluntarily agree to come together by progressively sharing their resources and conducting common programmes. “The objective will be to enhance access to and quality of education,” he said.

However, individual colleges will retain their freedom to take decisions on the extent and pace at which resources would be shared and common programmes organised. The report stated that the colleges in the cluster will have a dual identity. Besides their present identity as individual institutions, they will also acquire a new identity as partners in the cluster.

Despite such assurances from HEC, the Kerala Private College Managements Association apprehend that the governing body envisaged in the scheme of cluster of colleges is designed to take over the administration of the private colleges indirectly.

Association view

Mathew Maleparambil, general secretary of the association, observed that by the scheme of cluster of colleges, the government and HEC visualise an authority in name and style of the governing body of private colleges to be imposed over the managers and principals of member colleges of the association.

“This amounts to an extraneous authority above the de jure authority. Moreover, it will result in two authorities functioning in a college, which is not at all acceptable,” he said in a letter sent to HEC.

Countering the argument raised by the managements, Prof. Joseph said that the governing body of the cluster will be competent to take decisions only in regard to the cluster programmes.

“The constitution of the governing body is such that all stakeholders are adequately represented in it and decision making is made largely through consensus. When there is division, decisions require two third majority. Moreover, the system of rotation has been provided to ensure sharing of responsibilities among the partnering colleges within the cluster. These provisions have been incorporated to ensure the smooth functioning of the cluster,” he said.

The clusters would have no authority, except the authority mutually agreed upon and conferred by the partnering colleges. Decisions on setting up common facilities and running common programmes will be taken by the governing body through mutual agreement among the partnering colleges. Extraneous powers will have no right to interfere in the decision making process.

Managements had also feared that the cluster scheme would intrude into the financial administration of colleges. They had made it clear that no external agency would be allowed to interfere in the financial administration of individual colleges.

Funds

But the report on the scheme of clusters of colleges has already made it clear that the funds of the cluster will include all funds raised by the cluster, funds received from funding agencies such as the University Grants Commission and the government and contributions made by philanthropic agencies.

Obviously, the overhead expenditure of the clusters could be met from such funds. There will of course be no mixing of the funds received by individual colleges within the cluster and the funds received by the cluster as such. These will be administered separately, the former by individual colleges themselves and the latter by the governing and executive bodies of the clusters, said the report.

Prof. Joseph said that there was no contradiction between the programme of action in the report which states that seven clusters would be set up over the next three years and the decision of HEC to set up only three clusters this year.

“The council hopes to set up all the proposed clusters during the next three years, for which it would seek the co-operation of aided college managements,” he said.

HEC is also taking the initiative in regard to setting up of clusters on the strength of its statutory rights and responsibilities. The government has also recognised the role of the council as the nodal agency for setting up clusters of colleges.

Further steps would be taken to incorporate the scheme in the statutes of the universities, so that there would be no ambiguity about the legal status of the clusters of colleges within the existing affiliating system, Prof. Joseph said.


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