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The advice Mumbai university shouldn’t have ignored

Experts say the ouster of Sanjay Deshmukh as the vice-chancellor of the 160-year-old varsity over the ill-prepared switch to digital assessment of papers is only reflective of the problems that have been in the making for long.

mumbai Updated: Oct 28, 2017 16:21 IST
Musab Qazi

Delay in announcement of results, suffering of lakhs of students and tarnishing of the Mumbai university’s (MU) image – all this could have been avoided if the varsity and the state had paid heed to the solutions proposed by experts, as early as 2012.

Experts say the ouster of Sanjay Deshmukh as the vice-chancellor of the 160-year-old varsity over the ill-prepared switch to digital assessment of papers is only reflective of the problems that have been in the making for long.

SS Mantha, professor, Veermata Jijabai Technological Institute (VJTI) and former chairman, All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), said college affiliation system is the root of many problems faced by the MU and public universities in the state.

“In India, universities began with the premise of providing scholarship across disciplines and conducting inter-disciplinary research. However, after Independence, the Indian government realised creating new universities across the country will not be financially viable. As a result, they decided to affiliate individual colleges to established universities.”

The growing number of affiliated colleges -- University of Mumbai has 774 of them – made it tough for universities to carry out the academic work. “The universities were not equipped to conduct examinations. They were never got the resources to do it. The varsity’s attention to the evaluation work led to the collapse of post-graduation departments. Every university has a breaking point. The MU has already reached its threshold,” he said.

DIVIDE AND RULE

While the state appointed several committees to look into the problems faced by public universities over the past seven years, not much has been done to implement their recommendations. For instance, three expert committees (see box) appointed in 2011 suggested the administrative burden on the government be reduced by decentralising the universities.

The Ram Takwale Committee recommended dividing 10 public universities in the state into 35 district campuses. The panel suggested that the district university campus be managed by autonomous and decentralised management.

While the MU established three sub-campuses in Ratnagiri, Thane and Kalyan, it hasn’t achieved “distributed decentralisation”. “We wanted to create universities within universities, so colleges don’t have to dissociate themselves from the brand. These smaller universities were to have their own independent identity. Except for broad policy matters, they would have enjoyed academic as well as financial autonomy,” said Rajan Welukar, former vice-chancellor of MU and a member secretary of the committee.

“Implementing such a plan needs preparedness and focus, which cost a lot. The state government, which is unable to create new posts in the university, can’t afford division of universities,” said AD Sawant, former pro V-C of MU.

Experts feel creating ‘cluster colleges’ is a practical way to decentralise. “The university should empower certain prominent colleges to mentor institutes in their areas,” said Arun Nigavekar, former chairman of University Grants Commission (UGC), who headed one of the committees.

POWER TUSSLE

Mantha suggested universities delegate the responsibility of framing curricula and conducting exams to affiliated colleges, keeping its focus solely on research work in post-graduation departments. “Education is not about standardisation. Colleges need to be made autonomous, so they can educate the students according to local requirements. The university should only issue degrees to students graduating from these colleges,” he said.

The Takwale committee had suggested making all existing colleges autonomous within a fixed time-frame. Each autonomous college and even affiliated college could have a self-governance structure similar to the university, the committee had proposed. However, the MU hasn’t granted autonomy to any of its affiliated colleges.

Experts said colleges are reluctant to apply for autonomy, fearing they may lose state grants. “We can’t force colleges to do so,” said Welukar.

HI-TECH WAYS

After the delay in results and instances of paper leak, the state formed a committee, under former IT secretary Rajesh Aggarwal, to suggest technological reforms. One of its recommendations was adopting the on-screen method for assessment. The move, introduced this year to bring in transparency, faced many technical glitches.

Nigvekar said universities need to take their capacity into account before taking the plunge. “They need to bring in people who understand the economics of the assessment,” he said.

While the MU has started digital delivery of answer-sheets and online declaration of results, experts feel it’s not enough. “The processes involved in adopting technology should take less time,” said Welukar.

LEGALLY SPEAKING

The Nigavekar committee, in its report, had proposed a new draft for the Maharashtra Universities Act -- the law that governs the state’s public universities. In the draft, the committee suggested replacing university senate with a body called Society Partnership Council (SOUL). The committee also recommended strengthening the role and position of the vice-chancellor.

Five years later, the state government replaced the existing law with the Maharashtra Public Universities Act 2016. The new Act adopted several of the committee’s recommendations, but Nigavekar feels their key suggestions were ignored.

Sawant said the university is often deprived of good leadership because of “flawed” appointment process. “The search committee for the vice-chancellor should consist of academicians, who should look for people with calibre. Instead, the appointments are done based on political affiliations,” he said.