Thursday, May 03, 2012

Sorry State of State Universities

Two opinion pieces. Two State universities. Plenty of problems.

Exhibit A: Mumbai University (from an EPW editorial):

The appointment of the present vice chancellor (VC) in 2010 was widely criticised as an act of political favouritism overlooking his inadequate academic qualifications. However, the education lobby in the state, dominated by powerful politicians (shikshan samrats or education emperors as they are known), has for long manipulated to place amenable appointees in this post. A VC who is dependent on political-bureaucratic patronage is likely to find that he/she has to contend with “recommendations” in filling significant posts. From here it is a short journey towards the erosion of governance structures. But the patronage of politicians does not move on to planning for more funds for the institution, leading to the obvious neglect of higher education in the state. The university’s record in teaching and research in the humanities has been abysmal as is evident in the steady decline of students awarded PhD degrees. Its deteriorating image has had the twin effect of keeping away talented faculty and students not only from the state but also from other parts of the country.

Exhibit B: An unnamed university in Gujarat (from an op-ed by Ananya Vajpeyi):

... The ambience is absolutely stifling. Over and above the routine inefficiencies and mild forms of corruption that plague Indian academia, in Gujarat there is a type of state interference that actually leaves thousands of individuals who are just trying to do their job beleaguered and demoralized.

You cannot trust colleagues or students, who may turn out to be ‘informants’; you cannot speak except in very small circles of extremely close friends and people whom you have discovered to be genuinely like-minded through long association. Needless to say, the chances are abysmal that anyone is going to write great books, deliver memorable lectures or produce beautiful art in this setting, when the thought-police are everywhere. Even the possibility of having a regular, more-or-less uneventful academic career, where one can work with a degree of competence and retire with a degree of dignity, is thwarted.


  1. Rainbow Scientist said...

    Nothing new or unusual. What is described about Gujrat university is the case for every state university. I have worked in one such college/university in a central state in India. Govt exerts full control over faculty in all these places, which means faculty are basially govt servant and has to deal with transfer, promotion, state capital offices for all of their work related issues which puts pressure on them to be like Babu (and that what is left of faculty in these places, exceptions are there though). The post of VC is given to the most obedient faculty to the ruling party and local goons of the party puts pressure on the VC or heads to hire their members at various positions in the university. I can go on and on, but don't know what is the solution for cleaning up the mess which has been created.

  2. Scribbler said...

    I think this is symptomatic of all the Universities in India. There was an editorial in Current Science where it was highlighted that young researchers looking for a position tend to seek out institutes rather than teaching positions. I am not surprised given the way the University faculty are treated and the mess that the Universities are in. I work in a Central University and have observed that there is complete a lack of will to tackle the problems facing the Universities. It has infact become fashionable to moan about the state of our Universities but I do not see anybody willing to chalk out a program to revive them. Infact, the only thing happening is mushrooming of institutes.

  3. L said...

    Scribbler is right. There is no attempt to change the state of state universities.
    As long as state governments control state universities, politics will be the deciding factor in these. The VC post is a reward for various services rendered. It is important to have control of the vast body of students. The VC can decide, based on the signal from the political bosses if a particular student movement is to be started, allowed to happen, look the other way or brought under control. If the VC is not amenable to the will of the powers that be, the students can be made to start a strike gherao him and see that he is sent home. The VC of the state university is crucial because of the large body of students under his influence.
    But I do not understand why this should be so in central universities. Maybe it is not so in most central universities.

  4. Scribbler said...

    Political interference is just one aspect. Central Universities are by large, but not totally, free from political interference. But the recent regulations of UGC has ensured that an assistant professor cannot be promoted to associate professor before 12 years of service. If we want to do research, we have to raise our own funds as intramural grants are avaiable. While I have no problems in raising funds, the bureaucratic hurdles that we face makes us almost wish that we did not do any research. The scenario, needless to say, is even worse in state Universities.
    What is the incentive to join an University as a faculty?

  5. Wavefunction said...

    All this is true, but an assistant professor also should not be promoted to associate professor simply because he has spent 12 years in the university. The promotion should be based on the quality of his work. In any case, it seems that the present law stipulates not promoting an assistant professor before 12 years *even if* he or she has done high quality work, so I agree it should be revised.

  6. vikramvgarg said...

    Although, there is little to disagree with Dr. Vajpeyi's broad thesis about the decline of India's state universities, I found her article a bit biased. Are we seriously to believe that after 34 years of Left-party rule, followed a new govt not exactly keen on promoting open inquiry, universities in Bengal are only as worse off as those in any other state ? While just after 15 years of Right-dominated rule, Gujarat's universities are intellectually moribund ?

    And then to top it off, Delhi's universities, particularly the one in which she works, are 'havens of freedom and bastions of dissent' ? I, for one, found that article lacking in any real introspection.

    That aside, I would be really interesting to see a comparison of Indian universities (in terms of academic/intellectual freedom) from across the states. My feeling is that universities in states that have a stable two-party system (Kerala, TN and Punjab) would be better off in this regard than one party dominated states.

  7. jbeck said...

    Surprisingly there's nothing about universities in Tamil Nadu that for over 40 years, since the DMK takeover, have become dens of mediocrity. Beginning with the hounding out of the great GNR (for his being a Brahmin) by the illread gasbag MuKa, to the current shenanigans at the many state universities, it has been one long slide into waste and disrepair. And then what about all those private universities - actually diploma mills, several of which are run by Christian organizations - Karunya University, MG University etc?