The Yash Pal Committee constituted by the Government of India has demanded to mobilise all energies to launch a freedom struggle of sorts for higher education to restore the idea of university in the new egalitarian context and fight the systemic weakness created by the profligate growth in professional education.

The committee notes that in areas like engineering, medicine and teacher training, the statutory bodies exist purely for the task of regulation. A university has systematically abdicated its power to decide whether an institution that claims to train engineers or doctors has the wherewithal to do so and, at the same time, it does not have any say in designing its academic programmes to these statutory bodies.

Undergraduate education has never been part of the mainstream in university life as they are viewed as a lower level of learning. This has perpetuated a source of its own intellectual malnourishment and the university faculty, especially the senior faculty, thus deprives itself of rejuvenating the pedagogic experience that arises out of interaction with UG students.

Since 2005, the Government of India has notified 108 institutions as Deemed University and in Tamil Nadu, the number of private deemed universities increased from 18 in 2007 to 35 in 2008 and many are in the queue. Many have campuses spread throughout the country and most of them are without any statutory approval.

Matter of credibility

The committee points that many of these private universities and colleges offer foreign degree programmes of questionable reputation. The appointment of teachers is made at the lowest possible cost, treating them with scant dignity, a limited number of senior positions with attractive salaries, the faculty being asked to work in more than one institution belonging to the same management (also partly true in Government institutions), their salary being paid only for nine months, and the actual payment being much less than the amount signed for, are the common features, the committee points out. Nearly 70 per cent of the amount is diverted to other non-educational ventures. Many entrepreneurs multiply their number and “buy more private colleges and more deemed universities.” Immediately after becoming a Deemed University, they start admitting five to six times the intake without a corresponding increase in infrastructure and conduct classes at strange hours like a factory production operation.

The committee records that some of the universities give guarantee for degrees, including Ph. D., for a price and it has become a serious matter of credibility.

The universities are unfairly condemned by comparing them with world-class institutions, without pondering over the disabling resource crunches and vexing political interferences.

The committee points out that there are interferences in different forms, prominent being the external interference by political and financial power centres who find the educational institutions a favourite play field for promoting their personal or political agenda.

It pervades all aspects of higher education like appointment of VCs, senior faculty, student admission, etc., and it percolates to all levels of academic life.

Effective audit needed

An attempt made by the UGC by way of academic and administrative audit in higher educational institutions has become defunct and it could not expose issues of malpractices. There is a gap between research bodies and universities though research and teaching are simply different aspects of academic work. Most of the universities have been reduced to teaching centres and, on the other hand, creation of more and more elite research bodies where researchers have no occasion to engage with young minds. It is important to design a balanced regulatory system that is transparent to promote innovation and quality.

The committee recommends that all the academic functions of these professional bodies be subsumed under an all encompassing Higher Education Council (HEC) with three wings — academic, grants and accreditation, created by Parliament. The HEC will not interfere with academic freedom and institutional autonomy. From the current inspection approval method it would move to a verification authentication system.

Universities are to been seen as self-regulatory bodies and the HEC, a catalytic agency, that would help them to identify their roles and activities.