PU only university following the 1904 Act, says V-C Grover

As his six-year term draws to a close, outgoing Panjab University vice-chancellor Prof AK Grover spoke to HT about his journey.

punjab Updated: Jul 05, 2018 13:02 IST
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Panjab University vice-chancellor,Panjab,Chandigarh
Prof Arun Kumar Grover outgoing vice-chancellor Panjab University talks to HT on a myriad of issues.(Ravi Kumar/Hindustan Times)

As his tumultuous six-year term draws to a close, outgoing Panjab University vice-chancellor Prof AK Grover spoke to HT about his efforts to steer the varsity out of its financial mess, his frequent run-ins with the Senate over governance reforms, and the vision he has for the university.

You have been at the helm of Panjab University for six eventful years. Now as you near the end of your term, what would you consider as your high point?

I have tried to introduce interdisciplinary approach I learnt at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai. All the departments at PU are within a radius of 200 metres. Like at MITs, here too all the disciplines can learn from each other.

You once called PU an orphan institution.

It was not born an orphan but it became one after the reorganisation of the state, which led to distribution of its responsibility. Haryana took away its affiliated colleges even though all its good students continue to come to PU; its officials also educate their children here. But Haryana will not give one rupee to the varsity. Once Punjab ran out of money, it also froze the funds for the varsity. The Centre has never really understood PU. The university is part of its non-plan budget, a recurring budget, which has a limit, a ridiculous limit. If we go by it, either the salaries have to be frozen or the development needs will have to be abandoned.

What is the financial status of the varsity?

In my last meeting 10 days ago, R Subramanian, financial secretary of Ministry of Human Resource Development, agreed with me that the university cannot be told that it will be given only 6% increase a year. He said, fill up 27 positions, come back and articulate the need for more positions and the 6% condition will be given up.

Is there any permanent solution to this financial mess?

There should be a PU-specific budget line in MHRD budget. This is what former PM Manmohan Singh had proposed to the fact finding committee in 2010. He had said that cabinet committee on economic affairs should accept that PU is a unique national institution and it should find its name in the union government budget. This did not happen.

Instead, Kapil Sibal created an alternate way by embedding PU in the budget head of the University Grants Commission (UGC). The commission should have assessed PU’s needs every year but it did not do the job.

What about the central university status for the varsity?

It will never happen. For Punjab, PU is a heritage institution. It was created for Ranjit Singh’s Punjab. It was created as a university of Punjab.

It carries the name of Punjab, it does not carry the name of a city. It is Punjab’s university.

Unless all Punjab politicians agree that it should become a central university, it will not become one. They cannot agree because they feel if they let it happen, they are diluting their claim on Chandigarh as the capital of Punjab. Unless the status of Chandigarh is determined, nothing will happen.

Can PU make itself financially sustainable?

No state university of India is financially viable. Most states in the country pay only 20%-30% of the needs of the state universities. State universities survive on the income they generate from conducting examinations in affiliated colleges or by charging a high fees. To sustain, a university has to do these two.

The Centre will not give more money than what it is giving now, the only additional support it has promised is that it will allow you to fill up positions. We have 1,000 teachers, though we are allowed a strength of 1,400. The Centre is ready to pay for some additional teachers but the rest of the Rs 500-crore budget has to be met by the university. The Centre is giving Rs 230 crore, Punjab is giving Rs 27 crore plus Rs 6 crore this year.

How about raising the fees?

The fees has to be raised. If it doesn’t keep pace with inflation, you won’t be able to pay the salaries of the employees. This realisation is slowly coming.

What about the violence that rocked the campus following the proposed fees hike?

Violence is instigated. The fees hike was passed by the Senate, 15 days later it was reversed. Why did people who voted in favour of a hike reverse it? It is all electoral politics. They felt they would lose in the next Senate elections.

What about the governance reforms. Why now?

The reforms were needed for the past 30 years, but no one set the ball rolling. It is the financial crisis which permitted that to happen.

It is the only university of India which is still governed by the 1904 Act, which was brought for five universities in India. When India became independent, three of the five universities were converted into state universities, while Allahabad’s became a central university. PU Lahore has changed the Act nine times. We are the only university, which continues to follow the 1904 Act.

This Act was brought in when there were no teachers on rolls and no teaching departments.

Today out of 93 members of the Senate, 49 are elected, 36 are nominated, the rest are ex-officio. Every Senate member is allowed to be a member of four faculties. In every faculty, 3/4th of the members are those who do not know the subject. Then there are ‘added members’ who are supposed to be subject experts. But senators choose those members who they know will vote for them as ‘added members’.

Every faculty chooses a Senate member when the term of a Senate ends. The dons of the university stack up things in such a manner that they get elected in the next Senate. That’s the start of this gangsterism in this university.

It took me time to understand, I made all the calculations. I can prove how these people strangulate the varsity.

Should the Syndicate and Senate be dissolved?

No, there is no need to dissolve these bodies. Every university has a governance structure. You need academics to be a part of this governance structure.Universities are supposed to be autonomous bodies. Otherwise, the politicians will control it. Let Senators be decided by the faculty as a whole, not by the Senate members.

How is the gangsterism strangulating the university?

When I joined the university, I was told to remove DSW Amrik Singh Ahluwalia. I was told he is Chatrath’s (late senator Gopal Krishan Chatrath) man. But I refused to do that. Soon the Syndicate replaced him with Navdeep Goyal. Then there was another split. Earlier it was Chatrath versus Goyal, now it is Goyal versus Goyal. What is the role of a Syndicate or Senate member? Tell me a solution given by any member about the financial matter. What do they do?

What do you want when you say governance reforms?

A senator will not become a member of four faculties, he will only choose to be a member of one faculty. When it comes to choosing the syndicate members, the entire faculty will decide. The deans of faculties will not be elected; the dean will be one of the senior-most faculty members on the campus.There is no need of an added member. These reforms have been suggested by teachers themselves.

Why are these reforms being opposed by senators?

Because it will finish their stranglehold. People who belong to bank unions get elected to the Senate. It needs only 1500 votes to be elected from a graduate constituency.

Are the student elections meaningful?

As long as India is a democracy, you have to provide for ways to encourage democracy. There is no harm in having student elections if done meaningfully.

The reforms committee has even suggested making the president of Panjab University Student Council a member of the Senate. What is your take?

It is there in most universities. Maharashtra University has two representatives. It should be there. After all what does a university do? University produces human resource and pushes the frontiers of knowledge. There should be a student representative and research scholars’ representative in the senate. There should be someone who is a student receiving knowledge and someone who is pushing the frontiers of knowledge.

Where do you see PU five years from now? Does it have a future?

Yes, it has a future. So long as Chandigarh is an urban area in India, PU has a future. What does this city produce? We are not a manufacturing base for anything. Its only output is the human resource pushing the frontiers of knowledge. So long as students want to come and enrol in PU, it has a future.

How can PU improve itself academically? How do we maintain the citation index?

Every teacher has to see herself/himself as part-teacher and part-researcher. Teachers have to be enabled to do research. We cannot give them that heavy a teaching as the UGC demands. If you ask a teacher to give three lectures a day, he/she cannot do any research. The number of classroom lectures must not be more than six a week.

How can that happen? Do we need more teachers?

Yes, we need to have all 1,400 teachers on the campus.

There is a perception that private universities around Chandigarh are thriving but PU is stagnating in terms of number of students and infrastructure?

We are not able to give infrastructure because we are dependent on the government for it. If we give up this notion, there is no issue at all.

There is something called Higher Education Funding Agency (HEFA) by the central government that provides interest-free loans. I am submitting a proposal for building a girls’ hostel by taking a loan. If we give a hostel room to two persons for 4,000 rupees each, one room will generate a revenue of ₹8,000, and we will be able to repay the loan.

We will build this hostel as a pilot project. We want all the students staying in unsecured PGs to be on the campus. Then we will build residential accommodation for teachers. Let teachers and students spend more time on campus. If they are living and working together for more hours, we will emerge as a research university.

Provide jobs that students can do on part-time basis so that you don’t need support staff. And then we will become a top university of the world.

No V-C before you has had so much conflict with the Syndicate and Senate. Why?

Prof MM Puri tried it but he did not get a second term. I got one, and the problem started. Prof RC Sobti did face financial problems but the then PM Manmohan Singh came to his rescue. There was no Manmohan Singh to rescue me.

Why didn’t you go in for the third term?

I am 67 years of age. Typically, a V-C ceases to be a V-C at 65 years of age. I have served my two terms. To serve the university, I don’t have to be a V-C. I am going to stay in Sector 16 and work for all institutes in Chandigarh.

How would you like to be remembered in the history of PU?

I was a student here. I was a teacher here. I was a V-C here. I did my best at every stage.

First Published: Jul 05, 2018 12:10 IST