Friday, May 29, 2015

TISS flounders as government fails to bolster it with funds

Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), widely recognized as a pioneer in the area of social science education, is in the grip of a financial 'nightmare' even as the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) and the University Grants Commission (UGC) work on a new framework for government policy towards funding deemed universities in the country.

TISS, set up in 1936 by the Tatas, is among eight deemed universities funded by the government which are faced with a financial crisis as UGC and MHRD are yet to decide whether the state should continue funding them. TISS has had to take bank loans in March and April and dip into its reserves — essentially funds generated through fee collection — to pay employee salaries and keep the institute running.

Willing to Follow New Rules
"TISS has sent a representation to both UGC and MHRD and it is now up to the government to take a decision. We urgently need the money — some Rs. 65-70 crore (Rs. 650-700 million) comes to us in grants from UGC. We are a fully public-funded institution and our existence depends on this funding. While funds for 2014-15 were released to us last year, now we are facing a nightmare. Salaries, pensions, maintenance of hostels, water and electricity bills are all dependent on this funding," TISS Director S Parasuraman told ET in a telephonic interview.

He pointed out that TISS followed government norms with regard to reservation and is also willing to adhere to any new rules. "This is an 80-year-old institution with 4,600 students. We are ready to follow all government rules, but stopping the grants while new rules are yet to come into effect is like choking you to death. For social sciences, there is especially a need for financial support. We are only requesting the government to quickly release funds," Parasuraman said.

UGC Chairman Ved Prakash confirmed there were funding issues with regard to eight deemed varsities, including TISS, but said a solution would soon be found. "UGC will take a considered view keeping in mind the interests of both the institute and the students. The idea is to facilitate the growth and development of good institutions. We are exploring possibilities of helping them out from the present stalemate," the UGC chairman told ET. Higher Education Secretary Satyanarayan Mohanty did not respond to queries from ET till press time.

Insufficient Funds
In a letter dated April 29, 2015, Parasuraman told the higher education secretary that funds were insufficient even to pay salaries. "The current financial year has commenced and we are yet to receive grants even to meet the salary and pension of March and April 2015 and other critical operational costs like electricity, water, security, annual maintenance contracts, etc. It has come to a situation that we had to take loans to pay salaries and pension for these months," Parasuraman wrote.

Acknowledging that the MHRD and UGC may be working on a fresh framework for funding of deemed universities, the TISS director had sought the secretary's intervention to ensure "the institute is not crippled and the grants for salary and pension are released immediately".

The institute receives both plan and non-plan grants from UGC with the latter touching about Rs. 50 crore Rs. 500 million) in 2013-14. It has received funding from the central government since late 1940s. After it was declared a deemed varsity in 1964, it has been wholly-funded by the government. Its existing campus in Deonar, Mumbai, was inaugurated by India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

MHRD Raised Questions
Questions were raised by the MHRD in September-October 2014 about the rationale of government funding for these eight varsities. Subsequently, UGC held back funds for these varsities. While the institutes have been sending a stream of representations to the MHRD and UGC seeking release of funds, the two have yet to come to a resolution.

For about a year, TISS has been requesting that the MHRD directly fund its non-plan expenditure instead of UGC on account of delayed and irregular funding by the commission. TISS has also requested that its non-plan block grant funding be increased to Rs. 100 crore (Rs. 1 billion) per annum.

While TISS is probably the most prestigious among the deemed varsities, there are others as well who are faced with a severe cash crunch owing to the rethink in MHRD and UGC over their funding.

Among these are Agra-based Dayalbagh Educational Institute, Gujarat Vidyapith in Ahmedabad, Gandhi Gram Rural Institute in Tamil Nadu, Avinashilingam University in Coimbatore. Government-run deemed varsities namely Lal Bahadur Shastri Rashtriya Sanskrit Vidyapeeth in Delhi, Rashtriya Sanskrit Vidyapeeth in Tirupati and Gurukul Kangri University in Haridwar are also facing funds shortage.

Source: The Economic Times, May 29, 2015

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