Higher education in low spirits

Many factors have contributed to the controversies raging in Kerala’s higher education sector. Nearly 70 colleges do not have Principals and those in charge are reluctant to take bold decisions. Also, the practice of making “recommendations” for appointments and admissions in violation of university laws has come in for scathing criticism. Predictably, the reforms introduced by the government have been slow in yielding results

Updated - June 23, 2023 04:34 pm IST

Published - June 23, 2023 12:19 am IST - Thiruvananthapuram

Activists of the Kerala Students Union gherao Principal A. Muhammed Thaha on the MSM College campus at Kayamkulam.

Activists of the Kerala Students Union gherao Principal A. Muhammed Thaha on the MSM College campus at Kayamkulam. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The recent controversies that have rocked higher education institutions in Kerala have been in the making for a long time. While these have stemmed from a systemic rot that has plagued the sector, policy experts feel such issues could hamper the implementation of reforms that are in the pipeline. 

Educationist R.V.G. Menon firmly feels the “gross irresponsibility” shown by the State government in decision-making has percolated to the lower tiers of administration in universities and colleges. The scenario has led to a situation wherein senior officials in higher education institutions lack accountability.

Also read | Higher education in Kerala inching towards collapse: Governor

He flagged the delay in appointing Principals in nearly 70 colleges that necessitated senior Professors being given temporary charge in such institutions. “Very often, such officials are reluctant to take bold decisions. The delay in appointments, owing to pressure exerted by various groups, shows that the government does not take higher education seriously,” he said.

Referring to the Maharaja’s College’s attribution of SFI State secretary P.M. Arsho’s altered result to technical glitches in the software designed by the National Informatics Centre (NIC) for long, Prof. Menon asked why no remedial issue had been adopted earlier. “The autonomous college failed to exercise its powers by evolving solutions from within.”

Instilling confidence in faculty

Echoing the view, academic K.N. Ganesh rues the reluctance shown by large sections of the teaching community in assuming responsibilities for fear of victimisation. It is up to the government to embolden university and college authorities and instil confidence to function in accordance with the prescribed norms.

While he remains a staunch proponent of campus politics, the historian decried a scenario wherein governing bodies of universities and colleges are either sectarian or align themselves with political parties. “Such tendencies are unhealthy and often create a negative public perception. People respect those who uphold neutral or objective positions while conducting their responsibilities. It is also wrong to create an impression that one could not get anything done without political patronage,” he said.

The way forward

Prof. Ganesh called for ensuring a fool-proof admission process that involved an exchange of information among universities to prevent fraudulent practices like what had unfolded at MSM College, Kayamkulam. He prescribed emulating the Central University of Hyderabad system that provided conditional admission for PhD and MPhil aspirants who are yet to appear for their qualifying degree examinations and later, a regular admission upon submission of degree certificates after scrutiny.

Also read:Higher education institutions in Kerala to compile student life cycle registry

The State government had over the recent past adopted measures to ensure the timely implementation of various reforms, which official sources point out, could resolve some shortcomings of the higher education sector. A dedicated cell in the Higher Education department has achieved considerable progress in developing an enterprise resource planning software aimed at automating administrative, academic, human resources, financial, examinations and other processes in universities and colleges.

The many possibilities

The e-governance system as well as the introduction of tamper-proof certificates with holograms and other security markings could help root out fraudulent practices. Besides, the proposed automated system could do away with the need for maintaining the hard copies of certificates. Such reforms assume importance in the wake of universities reporting instances of misplaced certificates and mark lists as seen in Mahatma Gandhi University recently.

While welcoming the decision to introduce four-year degree courses, Prof. Menon cautioned against the “inertia” among the stakeholders that has hampered reforms in the past, while alluding to the resistance displayed by the academic community towards the curriculum revision spearheaded by the Kerala State Higher Education Council led by its first vice chairman K.N. Panikkar. 

Criteria for faculty promotions

He also suggested introducing impartial, fair and competent performance-based assessments for faculty promotions. Such review systems have helped premier institutions maintain quality and student intake. 

Calls to overcome an “excessive” reliance on State governments to preserve the academic and administrative autonomy of higher education institutions have also been growing louder. Several stakeholders, who prefer anonymity, have been demanding an end to the practice of making “recommendations” for appointments and admissions in violation of university laws. Such goals will require Vice-Chancellors who are not merely “empowered” by governments and political masters, but liberated from their clutches.

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