Mumbai University: Think big back home before Dubai

Mumbai city news: There may be a market in Dubai to tap but it cannot be reason enough to establish an off shore campus when the need of the hour is to restore the credentials of the institution back home

mumbai Updated: Jul 03, 2017 10:30 IST
Smruti Kopikar
Smruti Kopikar
Mumbai, Hindustan Times
Mumbai city news,Mumbai university,Dubai
Mumbai varsity vice chancellor, Dr Sanjay Deshmukh, wants to open a campus in Dubai. (HT file )

There is no doubt that Dr Sanjay Deshmukh, vice chancellor (VC) of the 160-year-old University of Mumbai (MU), is an ambitious man. His plans for the university which, by all accounts, had fallen on bad days, revolve around modernising its systems and processes, and introducing ideas ranging from purchasing aircraft for commercial pilot training courses to setting up offshore campuses.

Some of his plans, such as holding first-year exams simultaneously across colleges with a common schedule, making exam schedules realistic, using Quick Recognition Codes on convocation certificates to prevent fake copies have been welcomed. These contributed, to some extent, to streamlining the administration and examination aspects of the university. But major problems persist: Question papers continue to be leaked, the online or on-screen assessment of answer papers of all exams is proving to be unwieldy, to name only two. Besides, the academic architecture needs an urgent renewal.

Dr Deshmukh inherited a broken university, its past glory lost amidst scandals and slipping standards. The last decade was perhaps the worst in its life, given the reputation, or not, of its then vice-chancellor whose very qualification to occupy the post was challenged in the Bombay high court. Time passed by as he struggled to save his position. There were hardly any new ideas or projects. The university was starved of intellectual nourishment and ambition, its systems fell apart.

In the second round of national rankings earlier this year by the union Human Resources Development ministry, the university embarrassingly did not even make it to the top 150 across India. With hundreds of colleges affiliated to it and lakhs of students enrolled in the university, Dr Deshmukh has an unenviable task during the three remaining years of his term.

His agenda ought to be to rationalise all basic functions of the university, instil academic spark and rigour into its colleges and departments once known for their sterling work, recreate the environment to nurture scholars across disciplines, and renew the university as a voice of intellectual reason and thought in Mumbai’s public life. The decline of the university has a great deal to do with the waning intellectual environment in the city.

Instead, Dr Deshmukh pursues grandiose – and ill-advised – plans such as starting offshore campuses. He began the year with a plan to take the University of Mumbai to the United States and identified possible venues in Manhattan in New York, and in Ohio and Texas states. However, it was difficult to find investors and the plan was shelved.

Now, he is steering the university to open a campus in Dubai from academic year 2018-19. The university’s academic council approved the plan, allotted initial funds and some investors have shown willingness to partner the university. But this should not be Dr Deshmukh’s priority.

Dubai is already home to a number of offshore campuses of universities from across the world, some of them legacy universities with robust reputations. A few Indian private ones have set up campuses there and appear to be successful in attracting students. Pune’s Savitribai Phule University too has a presence in Dubai. What will the University of Mumbai offer so different and exclusive to students there others do not?

There may be a market in Dubai to tap but it cannot be reason enough to establish an off shore campus when the need of the hour is to restore the credentials of the institution back home. This is India’s second oldest university, it used to be a vibrant and valued institution, and its voice was respected till even 25 years ago. The vice chancellor would do well to re-establish the university’s pre-eminent position before expanding it.

First Published: Jun 08, 2017 00:03 IST