by Kancha Ilaiah
(The writer is director, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad)

Surprisingly, there’s a vast difference between the standards of education in institutions run by the Central government and those run by the state governments. The Central institutions fare better and have better facilities, whereas the state-run institutions, including universities, are suffering because of mismanagement. This scenario is getting uglier by the day.

I have the experience of working in both state and Central universities, and have a first-hand understanding of what’s been happening in this sector over the past several years. On the positive side, there has been huge expansion of both state and Central universities. These universities now produce graduates and post-graduates who don’t just improve their own lives, but also help the nation in its forward march. That’s also why the impact of a steady fall in the standards of state-run universities is all too clear and bothers me immensely.

The scenario is so scary that it is likely to aggravate socio-psychological trauma among the youth. In several state universities, rackets begin operating with the appointment of vice-chancellors. Take the case of a leading university in Andhra Pradesh.

A professor who was rejected once by the selection committee of a university for organising a massive recommendation campaign in favour of his candidature (these campaigns are common these days) got selected. Within just five years of becoming a professor, and without showing any academic improvement whatsoever, he became the vice-chancellor of the same university. This was during YSR’s era.

The same VC then tampered with the seniority list of teachers of his own department — while he was third in the list when he became the VC, he became number one by the time his tenure ended. By doing this, he managed to become the dean, as he had some time left for retirement. While sitting on the admission committee in the capacity of dean, he admitted hundreds of students in the university’s Ph.D programme, which created a problem because there were not enough teachers to guide them.

This is not just one case. The tragedy of our times is that only such self-seekers get to become vice-chancellors in many of our state universities.

The endeavour of vice-chancellors who head universities should be to create an inspiring academic atmosphere, with quality staff. That, however, is usually the last item on their list of priorities. Instead, aspects like how to make money from appointments, how to please ministers and the high and mighty — be it through the recruitment of teaching staff, or the awards of contracts — take precedence over other (worthy) pursuits.

Such vice-chancellors hardly spend their energies in academic pursuit, but stay devoted to the construction of new buildings and repair of old buildings because this is where the money is. So, during their three-year tenure, their main job is accounting.

The result: academics suffer. Teaching and research in many universities becomes a casualty because the academic abilities or competence of the faculty don’t matter, nor do scholarly pursuits. The collusion between the political class and such academic administrators is all too pervasive.

Such VCs breathe politics and are likely to be very active in, say, the Telangana or Samikhyandhra agitations. For such situations come in handy for them to justify the academic anarchy and financial chaos they create in the institutions they head. Disruptive activities can be an effective cover for them to get away with their acts of omission and commission.
Is it any wonder then that those teachers who concentrate on teaching and learning are dismissed as idiots? Teachers who try to engage in academic pursuits are often sidelined and become demoralised, while students mostly learn by themselves to pass the exams.

These are not the only reasons for the total collapse of the education system in our state-run institutions.
State-run universities draw students versed in regional languages, but in colleges teaching takes place in English. In some universities, the option is given to students to write his/her examination in English or in the regional language, while Central universities uniformly adopt teaching and examination in English only. The dual language system in state universities has led to a sharp decline in standards. Even if teachers are serious about and capable of teaching in English, students do not have the language skills to understand what is being taught.

A random selection of students’ answer sheets by an independent committee will prove that there is a huge disconnect between what is written in the answer books and the marks awarded to the candidates.

A good many teachers hang around the administration offices and survive through manipulation of marks in the examination. There is an inbuilt understanding that irrespective of what is written in the script, marks should start from 60 per cent. For students, this works, at least in the short-term, and for teachers this is perfect because it does not force them to read and write, leaving enough time for other activities.

That is why most teachers prefer a VC who has political clout and can get things done easily.

What is the way out? Since this is corruption that hits at the very root of our country’s present and future, a mechanism must be evolved to investigate administrative corruption in universities. The present method of selection of VCs in state universities must also change. The job of appointing VCs in state universities cannot be left entirely to the state’s whims. A national-level mechanism is a must if the overall standards of India’s higher education sector are to improve

Courtesy: The Asian Age, April 12, 2013




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