H. A. RANGANATH amp; K.G. SRINIVASAMURTHY
State universities have to respond positively to the newer challenges for their survival
Having grown from the gurukula system of Takshila and Nalanda fame, the concept of higher education in India has acquired enormous significance for survival and today it is neither a luxury nor elitist.
The university system in the country is experiencing revolutionary changes, resulting in the emergence of a variety of academic ecosystems. This is clearly visible if one looks at the names of the institutions – State universities (affiliating universities), unitary universities, deemed universities, Central universities, IITs, IIMs, IISc, national universities, etc. The heterogeneity is also seen in every aspect of the composition and functioningof the institutions.
Of these institutions, the worst hits are the affiliating State universities. Today there are about 21,000 colleges affiliated to 200 State universities out of a total of 420 universities in the country. More than 85 per cent of the student community in higher education is with State universities belonging to affiliated undergraduate colleges. Therefore, State universities deserve more attention.
Within the affiliating university system, there exists a variety of colleges — constituent, Government, private aided, private aided with unaided courses, totally unaided colleges/self-financing, autonomous etc. The divergence is reflected in the quality of education despite they being under one umbrella. Also, an unavoidable divide is seen between rural-urban and professional/non-professional institutions.
Therefore, State universities have to respond positively to the newer challenges for their survival and identity within the ecosystem. Only then can they meet the demands of the stakeholders.
Thus, it becomes imperative that changes have to be effected to the Karnataka State Universities Act towards strengthening the universities. The following issues warrant the attention of the policy makers while effecting changes.
An important step in streamlining higher education is to establish a State Council for Higher Education, which so far has not been set up in Karnataka despite there being a provision in the Karnataka State Universities Act. The Council has to be an autonomous organisation insulated from government interference.
This body has to assume the role of mentor; evolve new policies;function like a think-tank and be a promotional body for higher education. The onus has to be on this organisation to provide and formulate guidelines for all dimensions of university education.
Affiliation and reforms
The State universities are affiliating bodies with defined geographic jurisdiction. About 2,200 colleges are affiliated to the general universities — Mysore, Bangalore, Karnataka, Mangalore, Gulburga, Kuvempu, Tumkur and Women’s University. Also, mono-faculty universities — Visvesvaraya Technological University and Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences — with State-wide jurisdiction have affiliated professional colleges.
In the past, the idea of ‘Big Brother’ went well with universities and the system worked well for obvious reasons. The university had the authority to exercise powers — to grant, regulate and even withdraw affiliation — to any college/course of study, regulate the number of admissions, fee structure, ensure adequate infrastructure, number and quality of staff, etc.
While birth of institutions with market-oriented and self-financing courses creates new power centres, entry of business and political classes into the education stream makes inroads into the authority of the university.
The number of colleges/courses/students could both be a boon and a curse to a university: a) as a source of certain income, the number of colleges adds to the comfort zone of the university regarding finance; b) alternatively, the number factor could strangulate a university to maintain standards and achieve excellence.
Reforms in the affiliation system should focus on liberating universities from this economic overdependence on colleges and institutions.
The process of affiliation has to be de-linked from universities. Reforms in the affiliation procedure have to be addressed on a priority basis. For instance, creation of a State-level regulatory body with regional branches that can take care of affiliation and examination system can be considered. Degree/diploma etc., may be awarded by the State university of that region, similar to the autonomous college system. Specific guidelines have to be prepared to achieve this.
The need of the hour is to strengthen undergraduate programmes.
The existing State universities should be transformed into non-affiliating “unitary universities” to focus on teaching and research programmes. The teaching programmes should include constituent undergraduate programmes along with postgraduate courses.
The State has to “fund” all the activities of these universities, the way Central universities are funded by the Central Government. . They have to be elevated to the level of research centres contributing to the knowledge base with following provisions:
*State has to offer scholarships to doctoral students.
*Post-doctoral fellowships to be instituted.
*Attractive provisions to get well-trained researchers as pool officers.
*To recognise and award funds for research for different thrust areas in different universities.
* Mechanisms to recognise performers vs non-performers etc.
*Birth of new universities and genesis of mono-faculty universities.
Quality assurance cycle
Quality is a continuous process and it has to start from day one of conceiving the idea of starting a new university/college, and continue throughout the life of the institution. The next step is to establish Internal Quality Assurance Cells (IQAC) in every institution as per the guidelines of NAAC (National Assessment and Accreditation Council). The annual reports of IQAC have to be placed before the Syndicate or other such bodies and they in turn are expected to take care of quality parameters.
The third step is to have a review of the institution by an external body called Academic Administrative Audit (AAA) constituted by the organisation itself. The review must occur once in three years and the report has to be placed before the Syndicate etc., for further action.
(The authors are Director, National Assessment and Accreditation Council, and Professor, V.V. Puram College of Science, Bangalore respectively. The opinions do not reflect the organisation to which the authors belong)