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Deemed universities need restructuring urgently
Recently, the Yashpal Committee had done a thorough study on "deemed universities" operating in the country. Findings point out numerous lapses in the system being pursued. Therefore deemed universities need restructuring urgently.

DEEMED UNIVERSITY is a status of autonomy granted to high performing institutes and departments of various universities in India. It is granted by the University Grants Commission (UGC) of India. The deemed university status enables not just full autonomy in setting course work and syllabus of those institutes and research centres but also allows it to set its own guidelines for the admissions, fees and instruction of the students.

The parent universities of these deemed universities cannot control their administration though the degrees of deemed universities are awarded by the parent universities. However, many deemed universities are allowed to award degrees under their own name.

Recently, the Yashpal Committee had done a thorough study on "deemed universities" operating in the country. Findings point out lots of lapses in the system being pursued. Therefore deemed universities need restructuring urgently.

The chief reasons why things are out of control are described below, with extracts from leading dailies.

It is encouraging to note that the Yashpal Committee has come out strongly for an immediate moratorium on new deemed universities and a review of the existing ones. It has been rightly pointed out that only 29 deemed universities were notified in the period of 35 years from the establishment of the UGC Act in 1956. At the same time, more than 63 universities were notified after 1990. Even with adjustments for the increased public need, this number seems like an unnatural growth, not intended for the purpose for which the institution of deemed universities was conceived.

The committee notes that in areas like engineering, medicine and teacher training, the statutory bodies exist purely for the task of regulation. They have systematically abdicated their 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 it's academic programmes.

The concept of deemed universities was mooted by the Radhakrishnan Committee for the express purpose of promoting merit in higher education. It was expected that industry and philanthropic institutions would provide for merit. The concept has been turned on its head and today rich students with mediocre merit are being used to promote the business of education.

Many of these institutions have already profited inordinately from having had the status all these years. Over the last decade, many private medical, dental and engineering institutions have used financial and political clout to be notified as deemed universities. This appears to be for the sole purpose of appropriating the highly sought after seats available and distributing them based on the highest bid.

In the realm of medical undergraduate and post-graduate education, the entrance examinations in many of these universities are rigged to benefit pre-determined candidates. Deemed universities continue to maintain that their entrance examinations are conducted to choose merit. If the recently started deemed universities are indeed comfortable with the principle that merit should be the criteria for admission, then one cannot see why they should object to a transparent national level entrance examination for all the deemed universities.

The mechanism of applications, examinations and unbiased valuations has become very user-friendly and many government institutions use them to good effect. Unfortunately, the public is not aware of the shenanigans of the ‘education mafia’ which has used every loophole to deny merit its due.

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 and they are treated 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 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.

According to UGC sources, there were as many as 214 colleges waiting to get the deemed university status as on 31 December 2008, some applications pending since 2000. While many apply for the status, only a handful with the right connections and money power manage to get it. From January 2008 till date, 32 clearances have been given, while only 14 were given in 2007 and even less in 2006.

The latest two notifications were issued on 20 February, one in favour of the Koneru Lakshmaiah Education Foundation, Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, and the other for the inclusion of seven institutions under the ambit of KLE Academy of Higher Education and Research in Belgaum.

Under Section 3 of the UGC Act, the provision for deemed university status was made to bring under the commission’s purview institutions “which for historical reasons or for any other circumstances are not universities and yet are doing work of a high standard.” Despite such a lofty purpose, the system has degenerated into a money-making proposition for all the stake-holders involved.

In a letter dated 19 May 2008, UGC Secretary R.K. Chauhan had written to the vice-chancellors of 103 deemed universities that "it has been observed… some of the deemed to be universities are not functioning as per well-defined objectives and norms…"

According to A.M. Sherry, dean of the Institute of Management Technology, Ghaziabad, the basic idea behind the system is noble - promoting education in backward areas, specially for girls. "Some institutes are indeed doing good work, but it is largely being misused now." The solution lies in stricter monitoring and implementation of rules, Sherry says.

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 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.

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.

Some feasible solutions to tackle the above issue are as follows:

The UGC only needs to bring in a simple rule necessitating all deemed universities to follow the guidelines already circulated to them in 2007. The guidelines should ask for nothing more than a transparent national examination for admission, fixed tuition fees and no capitation fee.

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.

Allowing universities to act as self regulating bodies is in itself a big draw back; UGC must moot out the idea of creating an independent audit agency with full powers which would go to each and educational institution and submit reports annually. Such reports should become the basis for aspiring students joining these colleges. Perhaps, ICWAI (Institute of Chartered Accountants of India) can be requested to frame a suitable audit guideline policy for all the educational institutions like they have for corporate industries.

It would also be in the fitness of things to request various corporates to give a lending hand to plug all the minuses that seem to have crept into the normal functioning of deemed universities. Corporates are visiting various campuses more frequently for recruitment on a mass scale. Therefore, they could play an active role in raising the quality standards for all deemed universities operating in India by giving suitable suggestions and recommendations and many more.

Lastly, if India has to emerge as a knowledge centre in the days to come, deemed universities need restructuring urgently. More ideas are welcome.

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