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Mainstream, VOL LX No 32, New Delhi, July 30, 2022

Karnataka State Public Higher Education Institutions Bill -2022: An analysis | P. S. Jayaramu

Friday 29 July 2022

by P. S. Jayaramu

(20th July, 2022)

In April 2020, the Government of Karnataka appointed a Committee headed by Dr. Vasudev Atre, with a few high profile personalities like the Vice Chairman of the Karnataka State Higher Education Council Prof. Thimme Gowda, Prof. M K. Sridhar, Member, UGC, Dr. S. Sadagopan and a few others to prepare a draft Bill to replace the existing Karnataka State Universities Act. The Committee’s work gathered momentum as the Government of Karnataka took the decision subsequently to implement the New Education Policy 2020. The Atre Committee recently submitted the draft Karnataka State Public Higher Education Institutions (KSPHEI) Bill to the Government. Some of the key aspects of the draft Bill are examined here, as the Bill covers 14 chapters running to over 92 pages.

Writing about the Vision, the draft Bill refers to education as “the single greatest tool for achieving social justice and equality”, pointing out that India is moving towards a knowledge economy and society with more and more youth aspiring for higher education. It talks of ‘lifting individuals and communities stuck in cycles of disadvantages’. Laudable objectives indeed. The authors of the draft Bill rightly refer to the NEP 2020 as providing the inspiration but have ended up suggesting a Bill for Public Universities in Karnataka, which is not bold enough to overcome the existing lacunae. The Committee should have suggested a common draft Bill for both public and private universities, which are on the rise in the State.

The Bill covers aspects relating to the appointment of Vice Chancellors, Board of Governors, (BOG), Board of Management, (BOM) the Academic Senate, which will replace the hitherto existing Syndicates and Academic Councils in the universities in the State. The draft Bill also covers the constitution of Boards of Studies, the appointment of faculty, Research, Innovation and Consultancy Boards, a new body to be set up by universities, the issue of affiliation of colleges which will, however, end by 2030 as per the NEP mandate, finances of institutions and many other related questions.

The Atre Committee has drafted the Bill keeping in mind the guidelines provided in the NEP 2020 regarding the restructuring of positions and academic bodies. As is well known, in our public universities, the Vice Chancellor occupies the highest position with the responsibility of providing institutional leadership, but unfortunately, the appointment of VCs is most often dogged by controversies. The Bill envisages that the VC of a university shall be appointed from out of a panel of names recommended by a Search-cum-Selection Committee (SSC) consisting of an ‘eminent academician’, which is a vague term and can be and in reality is often misused. The SSC will also consist of an educationist, who can be a businessman- cum- educationist or administrator. This clause is likely to be misused by bringing in business operators, masquerading as educationists into the Committee. In reality, the existing inept system is likely to continue, with new nomenclatures. The draft Bill states that one of the members of the SSC shall be nominated by the Chancellor on the recommendation of the State Government, one by the BOG, and the other by the Academic Senate. The BOG shall appoint one of these members as the Chairman of the SSC. This is in a way, the old wine in new bottle as the Government/ Governor’s nominee becoming Chairperson of the Committee is very likely, a continuation of the existing practice. The only saving grace is that the recent practice of serving VCs or those connected with the affairs of the State Government or the University or any College or institution connected with the university shall not be nominated to the SSC, as per the draft Bill.. The Atre Committee had a chance to recommend the removal of the role of Governor and Government in the constitution of SSCs to avoid scope for interference/manioulation, as has been noticed in the existing eco-system.

The Board of Governors: (BOG)

The BOG, (the present Syndicate) will be the Principal governing body of the University and will decide the mission of the University. The Bill envisages that the BOG shall be the final authority and will make all appointments and takes all decisions regarding governance. It states that the Chairperson of the BOG will be from amongst eminent persons distinguished in the field of Education, Arts/ Design/ Humanities / Science / Technology etc or drawn from public life. The clause is too generic in nature. The apprehension is that the last aspect contained in the Bill—drawn from public life—may be used by the powers be to serve their own broader intersts. The existing systems under a new name will/ may continue as the appointment will be made by the Chancellor on the recommendation of the Government, giving them the ultimate powers. The Atre Committee had a golden opportunity to recommend the creation of an independent Collegium performing such a function rather than leaving it to the government. That the BOG will also have a nominee of the government or from the State Higher Education Council adds to apprehensions about Public Universities enjoying any real autonomy.

In the BOG, the VC will be an ex-officio member with four other ‘eminent’ persons drawn from different walks of life, with provision for representation for SC/ST, OBC/ minorities and a woman and experts being invited whenever necessary. All academic and administrative decisions will be taken by the BOG. Since the suggestions contained in the draft Bill sound too generic, it is hoped the there will not be any dilution in the functioning of these Authorities including that of the Board of Management ( BOM), which will be the executive body of the university. The BOM, whose composition will also be on the same lines like that of the BOG, will be empowered to take decisions on behalf of the BOG subject to its ratification subsequently.

As regards the officers who will work with the VC, the saving grace is that the VC is allowed to choose the Registrars for Administration and Evalation-cum-Assessment, which may ensure smooth coordination, as many universities have been witness to the absence of harmony and cooperation between the VC and the Registrar, affecting the smooth functioning of universities.

The Bill recommends the creation of the post of Pro-Vice Chancellor, which, strictly speaking will be an ornamental position with no real powers and functions. The occupants of such office, may see the office as a stepping stone to become VCs in future!! The Academic Senate, consisting of members drawn from diverse fields, is envisaged to be the Prncipal academic body.

As regards finances of the universities, the sources identified are :1. grants by the UGC and state governments, which are dwindling over the years, 2.donations, endowments, including from foreign institutions, which are hardly received by public universities, 3. income from fees, which also is/ will not be of any great magnitude as they cannot be raised due to student pressures. In reality, universities are starved of funds, unable to augment their physical and Human Resource infrastructure. The GDP spending on education is nowhere nearer to the promised 6 percent of the GDP, by the Central and State governments. With affiliation function ceasing in 2030 as per the NEP 2020 stipulations, another source of funding available to public universities will dry up. Clearly, an unenviable situation for our public universities!

The draft Bill has recommended the creation of Schools under different faculties, headed by respective Deans aided by the Director of Students’ welfare, the Director of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Board and the Director of Internal Quality Assurance Cell and other routine issues like the relationship of Colleges with Universities. Questions relating to the the appointment of University Review Commission are also covered by the draft Bill.

In the interests of equity and justice, the should have thought it fit to ask the Atre Committee to include the private universities too under its ambit while preparing the draft Bill, with appropriate provisions wherever necessary to exercise oversight in matters relating to admission and fee structure to establish a level playing field, speciallyy to students belonging to economically and socially disadvantaged groups who aspire to study in private universities.

The Karnataka Government should obtain detailed feedback from the different stakeholders of higher education in a transparent way, publicisise them adequately and based on their feedback enact a new Act which, when implemented will help raise popular perception and qualitative functioning of public universities. That would be a meaningful way of implementing the NEP 2020 in the State.

(Author: Dr. P. S. Jayaramu 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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