A struggle for political influence between the Treasury and Opposition benches has evaporated the pious objectives of establishing the institutions of higher education as centres with all qualities and potential, to guide and regulate the lives of individuals and society as well. The seen and unseen irregularities have weakened the entire higher education system from within with no end to the phase in near future. The downward slide of higher education is in progress not for want of pious intentions but a lack of determination at the highest political level to translate the vision into reality.
In view of recent controversy erupted in Bengal in which the state legislature has passed an act to give all powers of the state’s Governor as Chancellor to the office of the Chief Minister. The State University Law Amendment Bill 2022, was earlier approved by the state cabinet and it gave all powers of the Governor as chancellor to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Having cleared from the legislature the ball is in the Governor’s court to find his consent. Earlier to this development, in July 2021, Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar also initiated to open three universities in the state to regulate the academic and administrative activities in the spheres of medical, engineering, and sports; and as and when these universities will take concrete shape, all medical, engineering colleges and sports academy of the state will come under the purview of newly created universities, delinking them from traditional institutions of higher education. In contrast to the earlier tradition of making the Governor a Chancellor, the Chief Minister of the state will act as Chancellor. By making these, the state governments don’t seem to improve the deteriorating academic as well as the administrative environment of the universities, but it’s a side effect of extending political power or putting the whole system under one’s control. It is totally done on the basis of party lines, a clear tussle between the Governor and Chief Minister. A struggle for political influence between the Treasury and Opposition benches has evaporated the pious objectives of establishing the institutions of higher education as centres with all qualities and potential to guide and regulate the lives of individuals and society as well. Thus, it’s high time and a golden opportunity to have a look/relook at the entire process which provides the state’s higher education with a ceremonial as well as the real head in the form of a Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor. It’s a work not to be done by the dominance of a politician but supervised by them to preserve and protect the sanctity of higher education in the state/country.
Different Rules and Practices
The Governors in Indian states, being the constitutional heads of their respective states, are bound by the advice of the Council of Ministers. S/he functions as a link between the Union and State Government. While his/her functions as Chancellor are laid down in different statutes that govern the universities in a particular state, his/her role in appointing the Vice-Chancellors has often triggered disputes and so many rumours crop up in public through the print as well as electronic media from time to time. The seen and unseen irregularities have weakened the entire higher education system from within with no end to the phase in near future. Especially, in this era of globalization when everything including education has come on the universal radar, the system of higher education needs an overhauling from top to bottom in a way to make it effective, purposeful, and a model for others to imitate and move forward in the proper direction. Although outwardly, it makes no difference for students, teachers, and staff of universities who dominate the arena, it produces a rotten lot for the present day society who are the future guide and inspiration for the coming generation. At a time when there is a dire need of converting our knowledge into learning by adopting skill development programmes attached to scientific progress and innovations, universities are working in a status-quo manner with poor vision and outdated work culture, far away from modern technology and updated skill. They have the least relation with qualitative/genuine research, purposeful curriculum, and publication of quality national and international journals. On many counts, especially the universities of north India have failed miserably in making honest, efficient, academic, and administrative appointments, which resulted in continued deterioration of the sanctity and integrity of higher education in the state and the region as well.
There is no doubt in the fact that Vice-Chancellors are the real executive and academic as well as administrative heads of the university. They are appointed on the recommendation of the search-cum-selection committee, normally comprising three members – two nominated by the chancellor (chairman and an educationist) along with one representative from the state government – or search committee constituted as per guidelines of the University Grants Commission (UGC). The downward slide of higher education is in progress not for want of pious intentions but a lack of determination at the highest political level to translate the vision into reality. By law and tradition, the Chancellor is the titular head of the state universities and appoints a Vice-Chancellor on his behalf, with fruitful consultation with the state government, to handle the day-to-day affairs in a transparent way as a leader of the academic, administrative and financial arena to achieve the cherished goal of the organisation.
However, several charges are levelled and question marks are raised against the process, something which should be taken seriously by the competent authorities. Ignoring the irregularities makes the universities a certificate imparting agency rather than a place of quality research, a centre of skill development with programmes of employable courses, as well as a symbol of morality, integrity, transparency in work culture and a source of inspiration for the people who live in the surroundings.
Judicial Involvement: The Best Option
At this juncture, the best option, as I visualize it, is the involvement of the judiciary in the process without curtailing any political right of either Chancellor as the titular head of state universities or the Chief Minister to have an effective and purposeful consultation in finalising the three/five names recommended by the search-cum selection committee. In the appointment of Vice-Chancellors, the whole process – from scrutiny to the preparation of the panel – must be supervised by a retired/acting high court or supreme court judge and it must be made compulsory by the UGC/Central Government for all state universities of India to minimize the social and intelligentsia grievances prevalent in the public domain. An unsuitable appointment made anywhere in the interest of a selected few not only tarnishes the fair image of authority but produces a lot who are useless not only for themselves but for the society, state, and ultimately, the nation which we call ‘Our Lovely India’.
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