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Monday Musings: Who will fix the rot in higher education?

Like the previous governments, the BJP too has failed to stem the rot in higher education.

pune Updated: Feb 11, 2018 22:51 IST
Abhay Vaidya
Abhay Vaidya
Hindustan Times, Pune
Pune,Monday Musings,higher education
One of the prominent, privately-run educational trusts in the state, the Sinhgad Technical Education Society (STES) has nearly a hundred institutes under its umbrella.(HT FILE PHOTO)

Governments come and governments go, but do they make a difference to the rot in the privatised higher education in the country?

The latest case in point in Maharashtra is the Sinhgad Institutes. One of the prominent, privately-run educational trusts in the state, the Sinhgad Technical Education Society (STES) has nearly a hundred institutes under its umbrella, ranging from schools, arts, science and commerce colleges; medical, nursing and pharmacy colleges, law and engineering colleges, management institutes and other specialised institutes. The institutes’ website boasts of at least 70,000 students and a faculty and non-teaching staff of at least 8,000.

At the helm of affairs is its president MN Navale, a professor of engineering who was once very close to former Maharashtra minister, Patangrao Kadam, an ‘education baron’ in his own right. Navale is assisted in running the Sinhgad Institutes by his wife Sunanda (founder-secretary), son Rohit (vice president, HR) and daughter Rachana Navale-Asthekar (vice president, Admin).

As reported extensively by this newspaper, a large number of students at this institute have been suffering for more than a year due to frequent strikes and unrest on campus on account of non-payment or partial payment of staff salaries. The students on their part have not defaulted on fees, which for professional courses, easily run upwards of a few lakh rupees per year. Why then should the quality of education that they receive suffer?

Responding to the financial crisis at Sinhgad, the AICTE (All India Council for Technical Education), last week, imposed a ban on fresh admissions at 22 Sinhgad institutes. While the Bombay High Court has issued a stay order on this decision, the crisis is far from over.

In April 2017, the CBI had conducted searches on campus in connection with a case against Central Bank of India officials, the STES and Navale himself, for allegedly entering into a criminal conspiracy and causing a loss of approximately Rs 58.04 crore by misappropriating money received as a loan from the bank.

When we asked Sinhgad Institutes the reason for the financial crisis, the reply itself was quite revealing: It highlighted the hundreds of crores of rupees at the disposal of educational trusts in India today. The STES replied that the financial crisis was caused by delays in getting grants of Rs. 138 crore from the Social Welfare Department and fee arrears of Rs. 150 crores from students. On its part, Rs. 80 crore had been paid towards electricity charges and other overheads; Rs. 160 crore to banks and another Rs. 55 crore towards liquidating creditors.

These astounding numbers give an idea of why higher education in the country is a lucrative business today. These are nothing short of business empires first. Given their record, one wonders about the quality of education they impart.

There is no reason why higher education in the country should be expensive, especially as there is a huge ‘market’ with lakhs of students desirous of good quality education. There is also no dearth of good quality teachers in the country. But certainly, there is an acute paucity of committed administrators and trustees who conduct themselves with ethics and morality. They have fallen in our esteem and the common man is ashamed to call them teachers and professors.

Like the previous Congress-NCP government, the incumbent BJP government too has been ineffective, as of date, in stemming the rot in higher education, largely because many politicians themselves run educational empires. The continuing crisis at Sinhgad Institutes will hopefully stir our society into demanding a revolutionary change in the dispensation of higher education.

First Published: Feb 11, 2018 22:50 IST