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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 45 November 4, 2023

Need to amend the Karnataka State Universities Act 2000 | P S Jayaramu

Saturday 4 November 2023


(12th October, 2023)

Interestingly, considerable discussion is taking place in Karnataka at the governmental and academic levels about the need for reinventing higher education. The same is evident from the constitution of the State Education Commission with Prof. Sukhdev Thorat , former Chairman of the UGC as the Chairman and well known national level academicians like Prof. Yogendra Yadav, Prof. Janaki Nair, Prof. Furquan Qamar and others as members to recommend afresh an education policy for tbe State. This is a sequel to the State Government’s decision to reject the NEP 2020.

While it is true that bringing about qualitative changes in higher education remains largely with the academicians, there is no denying the fact that the changes also need to be anchored broadly within the framework of the legislation prevailing in the State, i, e, the Karnataka State Universities Act, 2000. It is worth remembering that the Act was passed when the Congress Party was in power. That being the case, the present Government may not think in terms of replacing it. It may at best bring about some changes through amendments. Here is an attempt to suggest some changes in the Act which has 14 chapters dealing with issues like the establishment and incorporation of Universities, key officers of the University, authorities of the University like the Syndicate, the Academic Council, different boards like the Board of Studies, Planning Monitoring and Evaluation Board, Finance and Accounts, Affiliation of Colleges etc.
While it is impossible ( not necessary also) to cover all the aspects contained in the Act in an article like this, it is necessary to highlight the areas where the Act needs amendments in order to improve the functioning of Karnataka’s Public Universities better to in turn strengthen the higher education ecosystem .

Let me start by referring to the need for the creation of the office of Pro-Vice Chancellor in the university’s organisational structure. Of course, this calls for amending the existing Act. While there are arguments both in favour and against creating such a position on the ground that it may create an additional power centre, I am am of the opinion that the position be created and the holder of the office , an educational administrator, preferably from within the concerned university, be entrusted with the task of ensuring proper coordination in the field of administration, leaving the Vice Chancellor to concentrate totally on academic matters to provide the necessary leadership for promoting quality in teaching and research in the university and the affiliated colleges. The Vice Chancellor should also be in charge of raising resources from different quarters, including guiding the faculty to bring prestigious projects, as universities are short of funds and are being asked to raise resources on their own from as many sources as possible, including alumni and industry.

Keeping in mind the onerous responsibilities of the Vice Chancellors, it is very necessary that extraordinary care be taken in the selection and appointment of VCs. The government is likely to continue with the existing procedures outlined in the Act. But, it is also imperative that governmental interference and the role of ‘extraneous considerations’ be kept out strictly in the appointment of Vice Chancellors. The Search Committees constituted must consist of well known academicians, who are above board, are able to withstand pressures and recommend really meritorious persons keeping in mind considerations of social justice.

As regards the constitution of the Syndicate, tbe highest decision making body in the university system, though the existing practice of the government and the Chancellor nominating members may continue, it is useful to bring in persons with expertise in the field of higher education, industry and civil society into the Syndicate. The practice of nominating politicians belonging to the ruling party as Syndicate members must be discontinued. The Chancellor too should appoint educational administrators of impeccable integrity as his nominees, who will add value to the university.

As for Boards of Studies whose main function is to prepare the curriculum, there is need for greater interaction between the post graduate departments, affiliated colleges, including industry representatives. Representation be ensured either by formally making them members or by co-opting them as special invitees. In any case, curriculum design and development should reflect quality with adequate opportunities for ensuring skiling, reskilling and upskilling of the students.

The system of affiliation of Colleges will continue in all probability. Here again, the VCs need to ensure that the committees are composed strictly of academicians with an industry representative, in case of need, to evaluate the preparedness of the colleges to run courses with optimum facilities for the benefit of students. Colleges which secure A+ grade from NAAC can be subjected to affiliation exercise once in five years only and not annually. Necessary amendments to the Act are to be carried out in this regard.

Chapter twelve of the KSU Act is about the University Review Commission and the Inter-university Board. The members of tbe Review Commission are appointed by the Chancellor on the recommendation of the state government. Universities must be mandatorily subjected to review once in five year. Highest standards of transparency be maintained in the constitution of the Commission and its functioning. Its report should be put in public domain for stakeholders’ perusal. In reality however, such a Commission is constituted generally when an enquiry is to be conducted against a VC or against a University.

As regards the InterUniversity Board, its composition is loaded in favour of government officers, with the Minister for Higher Education being its Chairman and Vice Chancellors of all the public universities. There is need to bring in academic experts as members to get the benefit of their advice. The Board, according to the Act is a coordinating agency to administrative and financial purpose. The recommendations of regardthe Board are to be approved by tbe Government for implementation. The Board also reviews government policies regarding reservation regarding admission and appointments. While these provisions are natural, the Act needs to be amended to bring in experts from outside and to extend to review of academic programmes to make them student-friendly.

It is hoped the Government of Karnataka would accord importance to amending the Act to ensure qualitative functioning of the public universities.

(Author: P S Jayaramu is former Dean, Faculty of Arts, Bangalore University and former Senior Fellow, ICSSR, Bew Delhi)

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