The Central University of Orissa in Koraput began with four teachers taking post-graduate courses in English, Oriya, sociology, anthropology and tribal studies, and journalism and mass communication. One lecturer left soon after joining.
“We are not short of faculty and have visiting teachers. The procedure to appoint regular faculty takes time,” said vice-chancellor Saswati Banerjee.
The university has plans to appoint 15 faculty members initially.
With 150 post-graduate students in all, Banerjee has her task cut out.
Rohtak: Lord Krishna Central University of Haryana has been functioning temporarily from the Government Education College at Narnaul, the headquarters of Mahendergarh district, about 130 km west of Delhi.
* There is no place for teachers and students to stay at the college campus. There is a community health centre (CHC), only one cinema hall, a government school, and a few private schools in Mahendergarh.
* About 40 km from this place, about 500 acres of panchayat land for the university is under transfer. The process of admission for the M Phil and Ph D courses in English, Economics and Political Science is on.
* The temporary administrative office of the university is in Gurgaon, adjacent Delhi.
Patna: The state government wants to set up the central university in Motihari, 135 km north of Patna. Vice-Chancellor Janak Pandey has proposed for setting up a multi-centre campus, with Motihari as the main venue. Motihari does not have air connectivity.
* The university is functioning at a makeshift campus in Patna, mostly with teachers on contract from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, and the Institute of Development Studies, Jaipur.
The importance of higher education in India was stressed in a report of a committee, headed by former Indian Space Research Organisation chief U.R. Rao, which said in 2004 that there was a 70 per cent shortage of teachers with a Ph D in engineering.
There is a demand for more than 40,000 teachers with a Ph D while just about 13,000 are available.
There were just three Indian universities among the world’s top 500 in a ranking given by Shanghai Jiao Tong University in 2005 — Indian Institute of Science at 215, IIT Kharagpur at 421 and the University of Calcutta at 461.
In the ranking, the University of Calcutta scored on the criterion of the number of Nobel laureates, with one Nobel winner as a teacher (C.V. Raman, physics) and another as a student (Amartya Sen, economics).
On completing 100 days in office in September 2009, the Kapil Sibal-led human resource development (HRD) ministry said it had managed to operationalise the 12 new central universities established this year.
The ministry appointed the vice-chancellors for all the 12 universities, released Rs. 132.57 crore for 2009-10 and asked the heads to hit the ground running.
The usual work remained: beginning academic courses, hunting for teaching facility and temporary accommodation for them and making trips to state government offices to get land for the universities.
Recruiting lecturers has not been a problem. But universities are finding it difficult to fill the posts of associate professor and professor.
Inadequate infrastructure has meant poor student response. For instance, the Central University of Kerala began two interdisciplinary courses – MA in Comparative Literature and Economic Theory and Global Governance – while only five of the 25 seats in Economics and 15 of the 25 seats in English filled.
Guest lecturers are not too keen on visiting the Central University of Orissa because reaching Koraput, 450 km southwest of state capital Bhubaneswar, is difficult. A single passenger train a day runs from the state capital Bhubaneswar and takes 18 hours to reach Naxal-affected Koraput. The closest airport is in Vizag in Andhra Pradesh, a five-hour drive.
At the Central University of Gujarat, 25 posts have been sanctioned, but since recruitment is yet to take place, the university has begun functioning with three teachers on contract, temporarily in Gandhinagar. Land is yet to be allotted.
The Central government will fund the universities and state governments will provide free land and develop social and physical infrastructure to enable easy access to the universities.
Most of the universities have come or are slated to do so in educationally backward areas such as Koraput (Orissa), Thiruvarur (332 km south of Chennai), Gulbarga (663 km north of Bangalore), Mahendragarh (in Haryana; 130 km from Delhi), Kasargod (650 km north of Thiruvananthapuram) and Bathinda (Punjab; 146 km west of Chandigarh).
The following have temporary locations: Patna, Brambey (20 km west of Ranchi in Jharkhand), Jaipur, Gandhinagar and Kasrgod. The ones in Himachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir have not started functioning.
Land and infrastructure problems
Almost a year after the Central Universities Act, 2009, came into force, only five central universities (Haryana, Karnataka, Orissa, Punjab and Tamil Nadu) have managed to find land for setting up permanent infrastructure.
In Himachal Pradesh, for instance, the dispute between the state and Central governments has come in the way of setting up the campus.
In Bihar, the HRD ministry has attached conditions to the state government’s proposal for a central university at Motihari, 135 km north of Patna.
Sibal wrote to Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar in October that the state government should develop infrastructure such as roads and air connectivity as soon as possible.
Addressing the issue
Despite the challenges, the vice-chancellors are hopeful.
“We have constructed just a boundary wall on the 621 acres of land handed over to us and will soon begin construction,” said A.M. Pathan, vice-chancellor of the Central University of Karnataka.
“Unless some sort of infrastructure development happens in and around the central universities, attracting faculty and providing quality education will be difficult,” said Saswati Banerjee.
The crusaders will need more than hope to succeed. To begin with, they need more help from the central and state governments.