Universities are considered knowledge powerhouses built on intellectual debates and a fair reflection of ideologies across society. Those heading them have, ideally, elite personas and a respect that few others in the society command, but the recent developments in Telangana universities are in no way a reflection of that.
The developments at the Telangana University in Nizamabad, where the Vice-Chancellor is at loggerheads with the government over the choice of registrar for alleged misappropriation of funds and ‘illegal’ recruitments, have tarnished the image of the fledgling university. The Executive Council (EC) meeting rejected the V-C’s choice, citing a lack of approval and appointed another senior professor.
What followed was a full-blown fight in the public domain between the Collegiate Education Commissioner Navin Mittal and Vice-Chancellor Prof. D. Ravinder Gupta, and the issue ultimately landed in the High Court.
Earlier, Prof. Gupta stirred a controversy dancing with girl students at the women’s hostel and also showered currency notes on them. He is also accused of recruiting part-time employees without any norms and clearance from the EC.
Universities in Telangana are plagued by controversies like never before as most universities have similar stories of confrontations among teachers and students. Political pressure and unilateral decisions by Vice-Chancellors are said to be the root cause of these problems.
Prof. Ravinder Yadav, Vice-Chancellor of the Osmania University, was in the news for his confrontational attitude with regard to certain decisions. He hit the headlines recently for hiking the fee for PhD students from ₹2,500 to ₹25,000 at one go. Last year, he was in news for denying permission to former Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who was invited to deliver a talk on the campus.
Another top university, the Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University, Hyderabad (JNTUH), too is facing problems with the alleged unauthorised appointment of outsourcing employees. The appointment of Professor K. Narasimha Reddy as the Vice-Chancellor itself was shocking to many as he comes from a non-engineering background to head a purely technological university. Many opposed his appointment as he was over 70 years of age and had faced allegations regarding appointments in his earlier stint as the V-C of the Mahatma Gandhi University in Nalgonda.
The Rajiv Gandhi University of Knowledge Technologies (RGUKT), Basara, which was created to admit rural talent into technological courses at par with IIITs, too faced a huge crisis recently with students agitating for over a month seeking laptops, better food and accommodation. The intervention of IT Minister K.T. Rama Rao at the right time saved it from plunging into a bigger crisis.
The situation in other universities is not great either with rifts between the administration and faculty showing up every now and then. Allegations of nepotism and misappropriation of funds are quite common, but there has been little intervention from the government.
Academicians argue that the poisoned atmosphere on campuses is primarily due to the government’s inept handling of the institutions, right from the appointment of Vice-Chancellors to undermining the citadels of knowledge with little financial support.
For the Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) government, higher education was seldom the top priority and universities that provided the impetus to the Telangana movement were rarely acknowledged for their role. One popular belief is that this is the result of the way that some student groups ill-treated Chief Minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao in the initial years of the government, with constant abuse over delay in job notifications.
The recruitment of teachers is also in limbo with Governor Tamilisai Soundararajan refusing to clear the file on the new method of recruitment. The government has proposed a common recruitment test for all universities, followed by interviews replacing the earlier mode of direct interviews. This is to avoid corrupt practices and curb legal problems.
A fresh and professional approach to the changing times to make the universities more relevant will perhaps set things right. But that needs some conviction and dynamism from the government.