The State budget proposals may have left the finance officers of universities happy. Some teachers’ organisations are worried if these will give rise to commercialisation.
Finance officers of universities in the State are a happy lot these days. For one, the overall outlay for universities has gone up —from Rs. 11.9 crore to Rs. 31.5 crore — in the latest budget presented by Finance Minister T.M. Thomas Isaac. Moreover, the Plan fund of every university has been increased.
This is seen in pro-government quarters as an indication of the seriousness with which the Left Democratic Front views the “inclusion” aspect in higher education, for which increased public funding is seen as sine qua non.
The proposal of the Minister to give as grant 50 per cent of the additional resources raised by universities in 2008-09 through fee and money roped from such agencies as the University Grants Commission (UGC) has attracted widespread attention, appreciation and some concern.
Many academics told The Hindu-Educationplus that they wished to see this proposal as a “performance-based reward scheme,” something no Finance Minister had done before. “This would —should — encourage universities to try and get more research and development grants from funding agencies. The more money they raise like this, the more government funds they will get. Now it is up to the universities,” was how the Head of the Department of Geology, University of Kerala, V. Prasannakumar, summed up this proposal.
Others, principally in Left-leaning teachers’ organisations, view this proposal with some concern. Delegates to the golden jubilee State conference of the All-Kerala Private College Teachers’ Association (AKPCTA), which concluded last week in Thiruvananthapuram, said this proposal of Dr. Isaac might open the doors, even floodgates, of commercialisation in public universities. “The government is willing to provide 50 per cent of the additional resource mobilised in 2008-09 over and above 2007-08 through fees and grant from the various agencies, such as the UGC. This will be in addition to the increase in grant provided in the budget,” was how Dr. Isaac introduced the scheme in his budget speech.
The “grant” part sits comfortable with such teachers, but many of them said they were worried that this proposal might provide just the platform for universities to raise “additional fee” through courses and course-delivery modes that, according to them, would “smack of crass commercialisation.”
For instance, the AKPCTA already has serious difference of opinion with the way Mahatma Gandhi University is running its “off-campus” programmes. The organisation sees this as a prime example of how education gets commercialised. Representative of the association from the university, Rajan Varghese, told The Hindu-Educationplus that the Finance Minister’s proposal was very likely to be exploited by those who thought up such programmes.
A former leader of a teachers’ organisation in the State pointed out that the universities could not raise additional resources from fee without increasing them.
“The national consensus among teachers’ organizations is that cost-recovery from students in institutions of higher education should not exceed 20 per cent of total expenditure. Moreover, at the recent conference of vice-chancellors organised by the UGC, the VCs had made clear their stand against increasing fee in colleges or universities. They also set their face against the recommendations on this front made by the National Knowledge Commission. The question then is, how can universities effect any significant additional resource mobilisation in 2008-09 through their fee?”
Teachers’ organisations, including Left-leaning ones, are unhappy with the budget’s “silence” on the issue of teacher appointments. True, the budget does speak of according sanction for filling up 642 posts of lecturer in aided colleges. However, these organisations are quick to point out that in effect only meant that the government was filling up retirement vacancies as on 1998. What about the appointment of teachers for the 400-odd courses sanctioned after 1998 by the then LDF government? This, they argue will come to 600 vacanices. This figure is exclusive of teachers for the unaided courses in aided colleges. What is clear is that each university in the State is going to be richer by at least a few lakhs the financial year; what is less clear is what they are going to do with the funds.