Education News

Maharashtra: Overdue initiative

Maharashtra's three premier universities of Mumbai, Pune and Nagpur, will be downsized to create new universities. This decision was announced by Rajesh Tope, the state’s minister for higher and technical education, on April 7 in the legislative assembly. Describing the present structure of the three universities as “unwieldy”, Tope said that bifurcation or downsizing will facilitate efficient management of these huge universities, whose degree certificates inspire minimal enthusiasm in India Inc.

The modalities of the break-up of Maharashtra’s mega varsities, welco-med by academics as necessary, are being engineered by two government appointed committees which will prescribe their geographical/jurisdict-ional limits, and study their financial, manpower and resource requirements. Each committee will submit a report within four months of being constituted although members of the committees — and most important, their chairpersons — are yet to be appointed. According to the minister’s office, formation of the committees can be expected by mid-May. This downsizing initiative follows the Delhi-based National Knowledge Commission’s call for “appropriately scaled universities” in the interests of “ensuring academic standards and providing good governance”.

University Grants Commission (UGC) norms indicate 250 affiliated colleges per university as ideal. Against this, Maharashtra’s top three varsities are severely overloaded. Nagpur University, (estb.1923 aka Rashtrasant Tukadoji Maharaj Nagpur University) has over 750 affiliated colleges. The University of Pune (estb.1948) has 587 colleges and 161 affiliated institutions. Mumbai University (estb.1857) has over 600 colleges in Mumbai, Thane, Raigad, Sindhudurg and Ratnagiri, affiliated with it.

Under the classic affiliation model, universities are expected to prescribe the syllabus, mentor undergrad colleges, lightly supervise their examination processes and award their prestigious degrees to students completing undergraduate education in affiliated colleges. However the prime purpose of universities is to provide high-quality postgrad education and conduct research studies. “The tragedy of post-independence India’s higher education system is that because of the huge number of undergrad colleges affiliated with them, university faculty is consumed by administrative tasks, and assessment of examination papers, because universities don’t trust colleges to do honest evaluation. The conse-quence is that they have little time for mentoring postgrad students and doing research, i.e creating new knowledge. This is indicated by the fact that the number of world-class scientific research papers published by Indian academics in the decade 1996-2006 aggregated 211,063, much less than of their Chinese counterparts (422,993). Two decades ago the position was reverse. The affiliation system is dumbing down India’s 450 universities,” says a disgruntled university professor who preferred to remain anonymous.

Another perverse outcome of the affiliation system is that all over the country, some colleges which have also begun to offer postgrad programmes, have better reputations than their parent universities. A case in point is St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, whose degree carries more weight in India Inc than Mumbai University certification. The college’s application for autonomous status, which would enable it to prescribe its own syllabus and award degrees, has been pending for several years.

Therefore the proposal to break up and downsize Maharashtra’s mega varsities is welcomed by St. Xavier’s. “Even though the case for bifurcation or even trifurcation of Mumbai, Nagpur and Pune universities is overwhelming, it is being resisted by vested interests whose powers of patronage will be reduced. But this proposal must be pushed through because it will raise academic standards in colleges as well as their affiliating universities,” says Dr. Sam Taraporevala, associate professor of sociology at St. Xavier’s College.

Against the backdrop of rapid and continuing devaluation of certification awarded by Maharashtra’s once respected universities, downsizing can’t happen too soon.

Nisha Khiani (Mumbai)