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Mumbai university in a mess, needs urgent attention and redressal

To keep students on tenterhooks for their results, particularly, is extreme apathy

mumbai Updated: Aug 04, 2017 00:36 IST
Ayaz Memon
The delay has meant that several students of the University of Mumbai have missed overseas and out of town admissions.
The delay has meant that several students of the University of Mumbai have missed overseas and out of town admissions.(HT FILE)

For alumnus of the University of Mumbai, past and present, the past couple of weeks have brought wretched news. Neither in my student days in the early 1970s, nor in the decades since, has the situation looked so dismal.

A leading professor has spoken out against pathetic facilities and miserable governance while students across the board are riled because of inordinate delay in assessing exam papers and announcing results.

While there is no connection between these two, taken together they reflect the quagmire that Mumbai university is in currently, leading to a clamour for the head of vice-chancellor Sanjay Deshmukh from both quarters.

It is very rare that student bodies affiliated to different political parties find common cause. The Yuva Sena (Shiv Sena’s student wing), NSUI (Congress) and even the ABVP (BJP), otherwise ranged against each other, have all joined in the protest.

There are always two facets to a conflict, but in this case, the only side that deserves sympathy is the students. The fundamental concerns of those in university are related to the quality of education (so dependent on facilities), and getting results on time.

To keep students on tenterhooks for their results, particularly, is extreme apathy. In keeping with the push to ‘digitise’ post-haste (this finds expression in several walks of life incidentally), Mumbai University grandiosely announced that all results would be posted online by July 31.

Like most digitisation plans, the reality falls desperately short of ambition and promise. All results are not yet out. In fact, more than 4 lakh papers are still to be corrected. The excuses range from ‘technical glitches’ to not enough expertise available to handle the workload.

The delay has meant that several students have missed overseas and out of town admissions. Beleaguered chief minister Defendra Fadnavis has assured that results would be out by August 5. Vice-chancellor Deshmukh, however, says that this could extend beyond Independence Day.

These differing dates only add to the confusion and the irresponsibility of the institution as well as the government, making it even more problematic for students to chart their future course of action.

With his back to the wall, chief minister Fadnavis has been contrite in admitting that the online assessment should have been done in a phased manner. Which raises the question: why the unholy rush?

Digitisation is desirable, but surely does not happen bingo.

Clearly, there was no analysis or recce done of how long and what resources were needed to put systems and processes in place.

Empty claims made for public consumption have left students in the lurch. And angry. Unless they are assuaged by prompt action, it is very likely they will get restive and more demonstrative than they have been yet.

In recent times, the unfortunate tendency among politicians (and I dare say media too) has been to see student life only in the binary of their politics. This is unfortunate and takes away the true import of students as the future wealth of the country.

It is incumbent on Fadnavis to address the situation urgently, and in proper perspective. And while he is doing this he must also cast an eye on issues of quality of education and facilities raised by professor Neeraj Hatekar, head of Mumbai School of Economics and Public Policy.

This is not the first time professor Hatekar has waved these red flags. A couple of years back too he was at loggerheads with the then V-C Rajan Welukar, compelling the then chief minister Prithviraj Chavan to intervene.

It could be that professor Hatekar is misanthropic, as some allege. But several reports also suggest his misgivings about non-existent library facilities and abysmal research or academic work is not unfounded. The best way to judge his complaints would be by due diligence, not power play.

Mumbai university holds an esteemed position in India. It’s original base — a grand, neo-Gothic building near Flora Fountain, with the Rajabai Tower spiraling 280 feet upwards — is one of the landmarks of the city.

After the first graduate to pass out, Mahadev Govind Ranade, thousands of other illustrious names have come through its portals: BR Ambedkar, Nani Palkhiwala, Anil Kakodkar, Shabana Azmi, Sunil Gavaskar to name just a few.

The chief minister has to ensure against further degradation. Politicking and bureaucratic bumbling cannot be allowed to reduce Mumbai university to a cipher.