Are cluster varsities the way forward for University of Mumbai?
Experts say grouping four-five colleges gives academic, financial freedom; boosts their performanceUpdated: Apr 09, 2019 01:09 IST
With 800-odd affiliated colleges spread across the island city, suburbs and the Konkan, and more than seven lakh students, University of Mumbai (MU)’s decentralisation is being regarded as the means to reduce its financial and administrative burden; improve the examination process; and boost research activities. Apart from private universities and college autonomy, the 161-year-old university has been looking at the idea of cluster universities — grouping together four to five existing colleges — as a possible solution.
In the past few years, two groups of three colleges each have been proposed to be converted into cluster universities. One of these universities, which will be located in Mumbai, will include KC College, HR College and Bombay Teachers’ Training College — all of them run by the Hyderabad (Sind) National Collegiate Board (H(S)NCB). The other cluster university, Dr Homi Bhabha University, which got the state cabinet nod in December, will be located in south Mumbai and will consist of three state-run colleges — Institute of Science, Elphinstone College and Secondary Training College. With the academic community hailing it as the means to unburden MU, a look at cluster universities in part two of our three-part series on the varsity.
Thanks to its huge size — both in terms of colleges and departments, and the number of students — MU’s centralised structure has often been linked to its poor performance in conducting examinations and research. This is where the idea of cluster universities steps in, as experts believe the smaller size will enable colleges to enhance their performance, while giving them financial and academic autonomy. The concept of cluster universities was first proposed to the state education department by Rashtriya Uchchatar Shikshan Abhiyan (RUSA), a central government funding agency for higher education, in 2013. The idea was to use an existing pool of four or five colleges to form a cluster university. One of these colleges would function as the university while the others would be affiliated to it.
According to the Centre’s guidelines, each cluster university is eligible for a grant of ₹55 crore. “All institutes that form a cluster university have to be National Accreditation and Assessment Council (NAAC)-approved, and should fulfil the conditions for autonomy,” said Pankaj Kumar, state project director, RUSA. He said this is why only those colleges, that have a high student-teacher ratio (proposed at 25:1), around 85% of faculty positions occupied, and offer inter-and multi-disciplinary courses, are selected to form cluster universities. “A good administrative staff to ensure smooth day-to-day functioning is also a key factor.”
According to Vasant Helawi, director, Institute of Science, the lead college of the Dr Homi Bhabha University, cluster universities, with their smaller size, will be able to declare results on time. “While some state universities are able to declare their results in 45 days, MU hasn’t been able to do so. This is because MU has lot of colleges under it and offers numerous complex subjects.” Moreover, Rajan Velukar, former vice chancellor of MU, pointed out that although the number of MU-affiliated colleges has been rising, the infrastructure and human resources needed have not increased proportionately.
However, there’s more to cluster universities, said Helawi. “The MU curriculum is insufficient. We will take up a need-based interdisciplinary syllabus in the cluster universities. For instance, we will allow science students to study commerce if it is relevant to their course.”
Experts have also time and again highlighted how cluster universities have an advantage over autonomous colleges as they will be both academically and financially autonomous.
Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) was among the first states in India to implement cluster universities by enacting a law to regulate these institutes in 2016. The Cluster University Srinagar (CUS) and Cluster University Jammu (CUJ) were set up after this by annexing five colleges each from the University of Kashmir and the University of Jammu. Both varsities have been functioning since the academic year 2017-18. Naeem Akhtar, who was the then J&K education minister, said, “Research has become a casualty as universities are occupied with conducting examinations. Cluster universities will definitely bring focus back on research.”
However, the implementation of the concept wasn’t without hiccups. The handful of cluster universities set up in India in J&K and Odisha, are yet to achieve many of their stated goals. For example, CUS and CUJ do not have sufficient staff members. “The state gave us very few new faculty members. We only have the controller and deputy controller to conduct exams. The constituent colleges lack the required staff,” said Anju Bhasin, vice-chancellor, CUJ. However, Akhtar, refuted these allegations, saying, they “created new positions required for CUJ and CUS.”
Bhasin also said while CUJ has been able to offer a choice-based curriculum, it is yet to start research activities. “Most of our faculty members are without tenures and are frequently transferred. The state is yet to transfer permanent teachers from University of Jammu to us. We are also unable to transfer teachers from colleges to the postgraduation schools (departments), as they don’t meet the University Grants Commission (UGC) norms.”
In Maharashtra too, it took three years for the proposal for the Dr Homi Bhabha University to take shape. Originally supposed to also consist of Government Law College, Churchgate, the university got a nod from RUSA’s project approval board in September 2015, but the state cabinet’s nod came only in 2018.
So, can states set up multiple cluster universities? Bhasin believes J&K cannot set up more such institutes without burdening its exchequer. However, Akhtar said it is quite achievable. “Cluster universities can be set up wherever possible. While some of the financial burden will have to be borne by the state, students will also have to bear some of the cost. The state can provide subsidy to those in need,” he said.
First Published: Apr 09, 2019 01:03 IST