Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Central universities differ from IIMs, favour overarching council

India’s central government-funded universities are favouring the creation of an overarching body to improve coordination and share resources, although the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) have resisted a similar concept out of concern that it may undermine the autonomy of the elite business schools.

The Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) and the 42 central varsities may take a final call on the plan after a series of meetings in New Delhi starting on Tuesday. “I think there is a communication problem among central universities. We will seek to put in place a better coordination mechanism like a council,” said Somnath Dasgupta, Vice-Chancellor of Assam University.

Proponents of such a mechanism say that an overarching body can coordinate the activities of all central institutions, deal with matters of common interest, review learning outcomes and help forge stronger ties among the 42 institutions, perceived to be the best in the country’s university system. India has 612 universities in the country under the control of the central government, states and private organizations.

In spite of their national reputation, the central universities are confronting challenges on several fronts, including lack of sufficient infrastructure, a shortage of teachers, deficient curriculums and inadequate interaction with corporate houses. According to government data, these universities are facing a shortage of at least 33% in teaching staffs; none of the 16 new central universities established four years ago has a permanent campus as yet. And none of these institutes are in the top 200 of global rankings, reflecting poorly on their standards.

The top-ranked Indian institutions, as per the UK-based Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) rankings, were Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Delhi (212), IIT-Bombay (227) and IIT-Kanpur (278).

Surabhi Banerjee, Vice-Chancellor of the Central University of Orissa, said she backs the creation of an overarching council for central varsities. “A new university like ours is in favour of sharing resources and teaching staff. A council can help us learn best practices in other universities,” said Banerjee. Constant interaction will help central universities that are operating away from the cities to attain a national and even global perspective, Banerjee said.

Dasgupta of Assam University said that although the subject is not on the agenda of Tuesday’s meetings with the President and the Prime Minister, “we will take up this issue.” He said universities in the north-eastern states face a particularly tough situation—professors aren’t willing to stay long at the institutions given the region’s geographical remoteness from the rest of the country; that in turn affects their educational standards. “A coordination committee we believe can solve some of the problems. For sure, we would like exchange of faculties for a semester at a time,” he explained.

Abdul Wahid, Vice-Chancellor of the Central University of Kashmir, said he wants to incorporate innovative courses of universities elsewhere to provide his students “learning to become market-ready” for employment. “I will also like to have skill education and incorporation of grade system for students,” Wahid said.

Last month, some of the IIMs opposed a move by the MHRD to put in place a council akin to the IIT Council through a legislation and allow the institutes to impart degrees instead of diplomas. The elite B-Schools say such a move will hamper their autonomy.

A MHRD official, who requested anonymity, said that, on principle, the ministry wanted better coordination among universities, IIMs or institutes of national importance. Central universities favouring the concept is a “healthy sign and can improve quality of learning,” he said.

“The enormity of the challenges of providing equal opportunities for quality higher education to an ever-growing number of students is also a historic opportunity for correcting sectoral and social imbalances, reinvigorating institutions, crossing international benchmarks of excellence and extending the frontiers of knowledge,” said an HRD ministry document.

Source: Mint, February 5, 2013

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