Thursday, February 29, 2024

Privatization of Higher Education & Private Universities

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By Prof Juanita War

 Since the mid 1990s India has made it possible for private players to enter the educational sector especially in higher and professional education. This is to increase the role of the private sector so that the education and training of potential manpower is not only the burden of the state. This is understandable considering the position of India as an emerging economy which is based on knowledge and information, science and technology. Secondly, India needs a huge workforce and trained manpower to run its industries, banking institutions, armed forces etc. Being a country of over a billion, India has the third largest higher education and research sector in the world with over 300 universities, over 15,000 colleges and hundreds of national and regional research institutes. Yet all these institutions can account for only 10% of the student population in higher education, below China’s 15 %. Only about 1% are in IITs, IIMs, IISC/TIFR, Central Universities etc. Therefore there was a felt need to privatize higher and professional education. The success of private run schools, especially those run by religious bodies like Christian missions, gave much hope for privatization of higher and professional education. The University Grants Commission proposed in the IX th Plan to introduce self-financing Higher and professional education which opened the doors for private parties to enter this sector. It moved to privatize and deregulate higher education.

As a result there have been sweeping changes, mostly negative, in higher and professional education in the last two decades or more. Because of profit /economic/ political motives, private colleges, institutes, some offering even professional courses like Management, Biotechnology, Bioinformatics, IT etc, have appeared and many, disappeared in no time. Take the case of the famous Yashpal & Anr (petitioners) vs the states of Chattisgarh & Orissa case (Writ Petition (Civil) No.19 of 2009) regarding private universities. The history is as follows: the state of Chattisgarh enacted the Chattisgarh Private Sector University Act 2002, following which almost 112 private universities were set up, sometimes in dingy little buildings, like our ubiquitous paan shops in our pan- Indian culture. The state government also formed the Chattisgarh Private University Regulatory Commission to oversee that norms are fulfilled, such as having around 15 acres of land within Raipur city, or 25 acres (minimum) outside the city. Most of the ‘universities’ failed to comply with the conditions /norms required by the Regulatory Commission. However, what nipped the mushrooms in the bud is the Supreme Court Judgment on Private Universities (including Lutheran University, led by the very same players of MLCU), which struck off the universities in one blow, besides rendering the Chattisgarh Private Sector University Act 2002 null and void.

I will give only the salient points of the Hon’ble Supreme Court Judgment. It states that private universities were/ are established in an ‘indiscriminate and mechanical manner’ by state governments just by passing in the legislature and by Gazette notification. It noted that there is no control by any authority, in spite of the fact that Chattisgarh government has belatedly created a Regulatory body. Most state governments have no mechanism to verify, monitor or check the workings of private universities most of which do not fulfill even the minimum standards in terms of the number of teaching faculty (Professors, Associate Professors/ Readers, Assistant Professors/ Lecturers), non-teaching and other supporting staff, campus, classrooms, libraries, sports facilities, financial resources etc. Worst, most of the private universities did not even follow the UGC guidelines on courses being offered, and offering ‘unheard’ of courses not specified in section 22 of the UGC Act. The course content should subscribe to the standards of the UGC as provided from time to time in its guidelines to ensure some kind of homogeneity of course content throughout India. It is mandatory to obtain prior permission from statutory bodies like the AICTE, MCI, DEC etc. to run technical / professional courses. The ruling states that “In absence of requisite permission from statutory bodies, the degrees and certificate awarded by such universities would not be recognized by professional organizations,” even if the university is at liberty to grant degrees, diplomas, certificates to “gullible students”.

This means that mere conferment of degrees is not enough, but that the degree should be recognized everywhere in India. In sum, the Hon’ble Supreme Court declared almost 100 private universities ultra vires and struck them down, hence they cease to exist. In view of the dilemma of a whole generation of students and teachers, the SC ordered that steps should be taken for the affiliation of institutions of the defunct universities, to existing state universities. (Interested readers may also look up the Azeez Basha vs Union of India case.

How prepared is Meghalaya Government to set up Regulatory Bodies to monitor the functioning of the 8 or more private universities and numerous institutions, and to whom are these institutions accountable? Have the powers that be looked up UGC/ DEC/ AITC/ MCI etc guidelines to ensure that the private institutions do not suffer the fate of those in Chattisgarh and Orissa? Is the government willing to take up the burden of these institutions in case they are forced to close down, when it cannot even pay the salary of primary and college teachers, forcing them time and again to take to the streets?

Lastly, some questions which we as the public would like to ask the MLCU authorities- If the KJPA and the UELCI have no role/ ownership, then who is the owner (s)? Why is the MLCU using KJPA buildings, hospitals etc? Have all the UGC/ AICTE/ NEC/MCI etc guidelines been followed? Have the off-campuses/ (franchisees?) been closed down as required by the UGC inspection team? Have the relevant information on curriculum structure, contents, teaching, examination and evaluation, eligibility criteria etc been given to the UGC as per its Act (3.7)? If some mistakes have been inadvertently made, or some misadventure happened, perhaps the best thing for all concerned, is to work out a viable solution, if possible, in the interest of the students, the teachers, the church and the community at large. But without any personal and selfish motives! (The author is Professor Department of Linguistics, NEHU, Shillong.)

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