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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 4, New Delhi, January 9, 2021

Amending the Karnataka State Universities Act to implement NEP 2020 | P S Jayaramu

Is the Government ready to bite the bullet?

Saturday 9 January 2021

by P. S. Jayaramu

The Government of Karnataka appointed sometime ago a Committee headed by former DRDO Chairman Dr.Vasudev Atre to suggest amendments to the Karnataka State Universities Act,2000 ( KSU Act), wanting to be the first State to implement the New Education Policy 2020, with the Higher Education Minister, also the Deputy CM, Dr.Aswathnarayana keen on it. The Atre Committee is seized of the matter and will shortly submit its report. Here are some suggestions on some of the key aspects for consideration by the Committee and the Government.

Firstly, let us take up the obnoxious system of appointing persons, called, the Authorities of the University, consisting of the Vice Chancellor and the Syndicate. Their appointment is often mired in controversies with reports of aspirants for the post of Vice Chancellors and membership of the Syndicate indulging in unethical practices to gain positions. Luckily, the NEP talks of creating new structures like the Board of Governors, replacing the Syndicate. If this key recommendation is to be implemented, the Government should seize the opprtinity and bring about bold reforms by way of changes in appointment to these Authorities.

As for the Board of Governors, the existing practice of Syndicates consisting of Government and Governor/ Chancellor’s nominees should be dispensed with as it gives room for not only interference in the functioning of universities but also lobbying for nominations for memberships of Syndicate. Most often,undeserving persons get nominated with an eye on membership of Affiliation Committees and other Committess like the Building Committee, Purchase Committee etc, for obvious gains. Attractions for people seeking such positions can be removed if the above mentioned Committees are filled by academicians of the universities themselves. However, as it was suggested by the earlier Government in its amendments to KSU Act, Physical infrastructure development work may be entrusted to State or Central Public Works Departments.
My suggestion is that With the Vice Chancellor as Chairman, the BOG should consist of: 1) two former Vice Chancellors drawn from other universities, 2)two members drawn from industry,3) two from among the Alumni, 4) two eminent public intellectuals, one each from within the State and one from outside the State, 5) two Principals of affiliated Colleges on rotation and 6)one member each representing the students and non teaching staff. The BoG should meet once in a month and decisions be taken by consensus or by a majority of the members present. Proceedings of the BOG should be conducted transparently in virtual mode and available for stake holders to view it. Possibilities of corruption can be greatly removed in the process.

As regards the appointment of Vice Chancellors, there is need for a thorough restructuring of the Search Committees constituted for such purposes in which Government’s and Chancellor’s role should be completely taken away. Government’s role should be confined only to providing financial grants and ensuring the adherence of norms laid down for admission and appointments. The practice of Government nominee, Chancellor’s nominee and University nominee should be done away with and replaced by drawing an eminent former Vice Chancellor/ academician of proven integrity and administrative capability as Chairman. The other members of the Committee should be a UGC nominee, an eminent public intellectual from within the State, an industry representative, and an eminent Alumni of the University concerned.

Applications for the post of Vice Chancellors can be invited through advertisement in the university website, and newspapers. The bio data of the candidates who apply for such positions should be hosted on the website for viewing by stakeholders. The Committe should allot marks for candidates’s scholarship in terms of teaching and research, proven administrative capabilities, and capacity for fund raising. The Search Committee can have an interactive session with the candidates, ask them to present their blueprint for the development of the University, all of which can be conducted transparently for stakeholder viewership via virtual platforms.

The marks obtained by candidates in the above fields should be consolidated and whoever gets the highest marks be considered. The Search Committee should prepare a panel of three names in the order of scores obtained by the candidates keeping in mind considerations of social justice and gender equity and submit it to the Chancellor for formal appointment of a Vice Chancellor. The Chancellor should have no discretionary powers in the matter. Needless to say, such a system will ensure impartial selection of the eminent and deserving as Vice Chancellors of universities whose leadership is vital for institutional excellence. Karnataka should become a model to the rest of the country in matters of appointment of Vice Chancellors. Will the Government bite the billeted ushere in reforms?

The KSU Act should be amended to help our Universities have an Ombusman, with a retired Judge of the High Court being appointed to the position to adjudicate on matters referred to him by the VC and or brought to his/ her attention by the general public. The decision of the Ombusman should be mandatorily implemented by the University Administration. This reform would considerably remove the scope for corruption in our universities.

Recruitment of Faculty: The universities and Colleges in the State are facing accute shortage of permanent faculty, leading to them being virtually run by guest faculty who have no commitment, as they hop from one institution to another like food delivery boys! Filling up positions should be of utmost Importance as such. Appointments to faculty positions can continue to be made by the Board of Appointments as is done presently.

As for encouraging autonomous colleges, the Universities should constitute a Permanent Committee to handle questions of autonomy. Colleges which are in existence for ten years, with at least 75 percent permanent faculty having secured ‘A’ grade by the NAAC can be conferred autonomy in academic and administrative spheres including examinations. Granting of degree status can be given to Colleges which have secured autonomous status twice with continued ‘A’ grade in NAAC assessment. These autonomous Colleges can eventually become universities. Autonomous Colleges should however be made to conform to university and Government’s reservation policy on matters of admission of students to courses.

The most important issue concerns the issue of faculty accountability.The best way to ensure that is to put in place an institutional structure of Academic Audit. Faculty members must mandatorily submit and upload on university website their annual plans for research and new modes of teaching, specially for multi disciplinary courses. Their annual Self Appraisal Reports will have to be evaluated by external peers and their recommendations strictly implemented.

As for promoting excellence in teaching, research, innovation, entrepreneurship and social contribution, as outlined by the NEP, they can be done even without amending the KSU Act. NEP’s raecommendations like the introduction of Four Years Courses, with entry, exit and re-entry provisions, one or two years PG Courses, and setting up of Academic Bank of Credits for credit transfers can be implemented by universities and Colleges on their own under dynamic and visionary Vice Chancellors, supported by pro active Board of Governors, without amending the Act.

As the teacher plays a pivotal role in ushering in quality, premium ought to be on teacher training and retraining to add to their domain knowledge coupled with appropriate skill training and upskilling for those already trained for optimum adaptation of technology in teaching. However, blended teaching- combining on line and off line- is the way forward given the digital divide pervading in the State.

Finally, on the issue of Partnership between Public and Private Universities, they should not see each other as adversaries, but rather, as partners in the task of imparting higher education by fecilitating students and faculty to cooperate among themselves for excellence in teaching and research.

(The author is former Professor of Political Science and former Dean, Faculty of Arts, Bangalore University and former Senior Fellow, ICSSR, New Delhi)

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