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Published : Jul 17, 2009 00:00 IST

The Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore. It took several decades and many achievements for institutions like this to get deemed university status.-K. GOPINATHAN

The Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore. It took several decades and many achievements for institutions like this to get deemed university status.-K. GOPINATHAN

By Ravi Sharma in Bangalore

IT is no surprise that as many as 17 educational institutions in Karnataka were, as on March 31, waiting for the University Grants Commission (UGC) to grant them deemed to be university status. Karnataka, after all, is the cradle of private, capitation fee-based educational institutions, with a large number of them many lacking even basic infrastructure mushrooming in the State in the early 1990s, thanks to benign State governments.

While some managements have provided yeomen service to higher education, most have used their institutions as instruments to make easy money, making a mockery of educational norms. A semblance of order was brought in during the tenure of M. Veerappa Moily, who as Chief Minister introduced the Common Entrance Test (CET) for admission in professional colleges. This forced colleges to surrender a number of their seats to the government for allotment as merit and reservation seats.

But the Supreme Courts judgment in the T.M.A. Pai case in 2002 (which gave the managements sufficient discretion in admitting students) emboldened unscrupulous colleges to sell seats and resort to admission malpractices. Subsequent judgments, most notably the P.A. Inamdar case (2005), and the patchy monitoring by bodies such as the medical councils have not had the desired effect. What seem to hold the colleges back are the market forces, which have resulted in a number of seats going vacant in a number of institutions; some managements even thought of shutting down their colleges.

In Karnataka, private managements, especially those running medical, dental and engineering colleges, have used deemed-to-be university status not just to admit students on their own terms, but also to take all decisions in matters such as appointing teachers, fixing fees, designing curricula, conducting examinations and awarding certificates. Deemed status also enables them to open their doors to students on an all-India basis, independent of the States rules and regulations. Colleges that have hardly been autonomous for three years have been given deemed university status.

Private managements are of the view that since the government cannot afford to fund quality higher education, there must be a total liberalisation of education, with private players being allowed to operate but with restrictions.

Said R. Jalappa, a politician-turned-educationalist: Managements should be vigilant. We should ourselves select the best students on merit and give good results, only then our institutes name will bring in more students. Deemed university status means minimum intervention and interference by State governments. We are answerable to the UGC and the Ministry of Human Resource Development.

Karnataka has 15 deemed universities. They include the Indian Institute of Science, the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences and the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Scientific Research and 12 institutions run by private managements. A number of deemed universities have sprung up since 2006: the KLE Academy of Higher Education and Research, the Sri Devaraj Urs Academy of Higher Education and Research, Yenepoya University, BLDE University, the Sri Siddhartha Academy of Higher Education, Nitte University, JSS University, Christ University and Jain University.

Curiously, the State governments efforts since 2007 to stop the granting of deemed university status has not been respected by the UGC. For instance, in connection with the conferment of deemed status to Christ College (Autonomous), the Principal Secretary, Higher Education, in a letter dated April 15, 2008, wrote to the Secretary, UGC: The Christ College (Autonomous), Bangalore, has requested for issue of No Objection Certificate from the State government for confirmation of deemed university status. On this issue, the State government has arrived at a decision not to recommend any institution for conferment of deemed university status. Hence, the State government does not recommend the case of Christ College for conferment of deemed university status. I request that the opinion of the State government may be placed before the commission.

For the State government, deemed university status to a professional college means fewer seats for allotment to students who have taken the CET. It wants the UGC and the Union government to include a precondition that at least 40 per cent of the seats be left to the discretion of the government of the State where the university is located.

These deemed colleges are not answerable to anyone. They dont want to work under anyone, said N. Prabhu Dev, Vice-Chancellor, Bangalore University. The UGC should ask the State government before conferring deemed status.

Private managements that have applied for deemed university status for their colleges are obviously all for it. Said M.R. Doreswamy, founder of the Peoples Education Society, which has over 8,000 students in its professional as well as degree courses: Managements who seek excellence and want to expand their academic and administrative activities see deemed university status as a helping factor. We can have our own academic council consisting of experts from both academia and industry and who can shape our curriculum; we can conduct examinations, put out the results on time and immediately address the grievances of our students. This is not happening in traditional universities, which have become overcrowded, unwieldy examination boards.

Even while praising the deemed university concept, Doreswamy stresses that the UGC or the government has to regulate the system effectively. While giving deemed status, the UGC should ensure that the colleges satisfy even the smallest of the specified parameters. The deemed university concept is a good opportunity but is being abused, he said.

Veerappa Moily, now Union Law Minister, said there was nothing wrong with the deemed university concept, but the monitoring systems had to be revamped. The regulatory mechanisms are so weak that objectivity has been lost. After the Supreme Courts judgment in the T.M.A. Pai case the Centre ought to have done a lot more, but the ruling NDA [National Democratic Alliance] kept quiet. The judgment gave a big boost to capitation fees and anarchy set in in education.

He is of the view that the time has come to take a relook at the T.M.A. Pai judgment. He said that as part of the Second Administrative Reforms Commissions report on Social Capital, he had recommended a relook at regulatory bodies such as the UGC, the Medical Council of India and the Dental Council of India. These bodies are very weak and not in a position to take a firm view.

According to Prabhakar Basaprabhu Kore, chairman of the KLE Society and Chancellor of KLE University, it is not the laws governing deemed universities but it is how the laws are being used that is defective. There is not much scope for improvement under the autonomous college route. Deemed status gives us the freedom to start new courses. A total liberalisation of the admission process will result in market forces operating and students applying according to employment prospects. Today, dental, engineering, especially information-based subjects, have seen a fall in demand. Last year 800 seats were vacant in Karnataka in the States 40 dental colleges. We are even thinking of shutting down two of our dental colleges. In one of them out of 50 seats only 12 were filled. Maintaining each one costs Rs.30 crore to Rs.40 crore. Only good deemed universities or colleges will survive.

By S. Viswanathan in Chennai

THE corrupt and non-transparent admission system pursued by many of the self-financing institutions that offer engineering and medical courses in Tamil Nadu has come centre stage once again, thanks to a sting operation by a private television channel. It exposed the managements of two self-financing deemed medical universities in Chennai, one of which is reportedly owned by a Union Minister, demanding huge sums as capitation fees from seat-aspirants in violation a Supreme Court judgment.

Twenty-nine deemed universities are now functioning in the State and applications for the status from 39 institutions are pending with the UGC. Ever since the governments at the Centre and in the States started abandoning their responsibilities in respect of education, particularly higher/professional education, in the 1980s, Tamil Nadu has become the hunting ground of greedy, profit-seeking private investors in education.

The State today accounts for a significant percentage of the thousands of self-financing professional colleges that have mushroomed in the country in the past two decades. Many of these are ill-equipped and under-staffed, offering substandard education. For instance, of the over 2,000 engineering colleges in India today, 354 are in Tamil Nadu, and 333 of these are self-financing institutions. (The remaining 21 are government-run or government-aided colleges.) Many of these engineering colleges and a number of medical colleges and paramedical colleges that emerged subsequently as self-financing institutions were conferred with the deemed university status by the UGC in the past 10 years. The managements of these relatively well-run institutions used their influence with the UGC to get this status, which gives them a competitive edge. It was, in a way, an image-building exercise. More than anything else, the status enabled them to wriggle out of government controls and the supervision of monitoring agencies. They could also increase the number of seats and the courses of study at will. In short, deemed university status brought to the managements of these institutions unfettered freedom to exploit gullible parents. All this they could do flouting UGC guidelines and the regulations of the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE). This is not to say that all these recently chosen deemed universities are bad. There are among them institutions that, though small in number, boast adequate infrastructure, efficient faculty and fair financial dealings.

This is in contrast to what happened when similar status was conferred on distinguished institutions in the past. For instance, when the UGC conferred deemed university status on the Gandhigram Rural Institute (GRI) based at Gandhigram near Dindigul in southern Tamil Nadu, 30 years ago, educationists, economists, cooperators and Gandhian activists hailed the action, taken under Section 3 of the University Grants Commission Act, as a great honour done to the institute in appreciation of its impressive service to the cause of rural uplift since 1956. Subsequently, the GRI expanded its areas of operation and intensified its work in the field of research in the next two decades to qualify for Five-Star status awarded by the UGCs National Accreditation and Assessment Council in 2002.

In the case of self-financing engineering and medical colleges, many became deemed universities even before the first batch of their students could complete their studies. Many institutions not only degraded the honour but even represented to the Commission that the suffix deemed to be university be dropped. Assuming that the tag stood in the way of their products getting due recognition abroad, they demanded that the institutions be recognised as full-fledged universities.

If many of the deemed universities and self-financing engineering and medical colleges could throw to the wind all norms uncomfortable to them, it is mainly because they are run by influential political leaders, religious organisations or industrialists. They reportedly collect from seat-seekers hefty sums ranging from Rs.8 lakh to Rs.15 lakh, depending upon the courses opted for in engineering institutions, and between Rs.25 lakh to Rs.40 lakh in the case of medical seats. Their term fees also are more than double the amount normally paid by students of self-financing colleges. There is no transparency in their admission procedures and financial dealings. They refuse to fall in line with other self-financing institutions in admitting students under the single window system streamlined over time by Anna University, which coordinates the admission process in the State. Whenever their non-compliance is challenged, they resort to time-consuming litigation, which causes unnecessary hardships to applicants. A substantial number of the deemed universities enjoy minority (religious and linguistic) status, and they mostly admit students from other States.

The Union Territory of Puducherry is also emerging as a higher education hub. Besides Pondicherry University, a Central university, and the Kanchi Mamunivar College for postgraduate studies run by the government, the Union Territory is home to six arts and science colleges, seven engineering colleges and seven medical colleges, besides a few dental and nursing colleges. Puducherry also accounts for four deemed universities, three of which are under the control of the Vinayaka Missions Research Foundation, based in Salem in Tamil Nadu. The fourth is run by the Sri Balaji Educational and Charitable Public Trust, Chennai.

The relationship between the Union Territorys Congress-led government and the deemed universities is anything but good. Even when a couple of institutions that started functioning only a few years earlier were conferred the deemed university status in 2005, Chief Minister N. Rangasamy expressed his resentment and said that the Centre must consult the States before conferring such status on any private professional college. The Legislative Assembly passed a resolution to that effect. Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) member S.P. Sivakumar, who moved the resolution, pointed out that the deemed universities refused to admit students under government quota as self-financing colleges used to do until then. He said that was in violation of the UGC guidelines governing the award of deemed university status.

Public Works Minister M.O.H.F. Shahjahan, who is also in charge of Collegiate Education, told Frontline that when the government wanted the two universities to fill 50 per cent of their seats as usual with students chosen under the government quota based on merit-cum-reservation, they said they were not bound to do so under their new status and also as per the Supreme Court judgment in the Inamdar case. There was public resentment over the admission process in these institutions. All that the government could do was to negotiate with the institutions for as many seats as possible. They offered about 25 to 35 per cent of the seats for the government quota, but not the 50 per cent as they did in the past. Most of their seats went to students from other parts of the country. Although they enjoyed the infrastructural facilities provided by the Union Territory, the people of Puducherry could not get their due from these institutions.

Shahjahan suggested that the Union government initiate steps to provide for some state control over such institutions. Sivakumar said that deemed universities be urged to help implement the reservation system in admission. He also wanted the government to put an end to the collection of excessive fees by these institutions. Sivakumar said only the judiciary could resolve the issue through appropriate intervention.

Although every year organisations such as the Students Federation of India (SFI) and the All India Students Federation have made it a point to organise demonstrations and meetings against capitation fees and other fees charged far in excess of the prescribed amount, the response from the government as well as the affected parents has been poor. This is not surprising because the government has neither the will nor the required authority to intervene, while most of the parents who have been, willingly or otherwise, shelling out considerable amounts as donation, which increases progressively from the primary school level to professional colleges, are keen on getting seats for their children at any cost. SFI national secretary G. Selva told Frontline that the Union government, the UGC and the AICTE were all to blame for this sorry state of affairs. Unless the State government is given the necessary powers to monitor these deemed universities on a regular basis, no improvement is possible.

By Anupama Katakam in Mumbai

A PRIVATE professional college with deemed university status is a win-win proposition, at least for some. The deemed status essentially gives the institution almost complete freedom in setting the curriculum, selecting the students and the faculty and, more importantly, deciding the fee structure. For a student who can afford the fee, it is a perfect solution to get a recognised degree of choice.

Maharashtra has always provided a favourable environment for academia, say observers. However, in recent years there has been a proliferation of private colleges to cater to the growing number of students opting for higher education. In many cases the primary aim of imparting quality education has been overtaken by sheer business interests. Naturally, when Union Minister for Human Resource Development Kapil Sibal announced that the process of granting deemed status to institutions had to be put on hold until a review was done, several aspirants were disappointed.

The UGC has 24 pending applications for deemed university status from institutes in Maharashtra. The State already has 21 deemed universities, the second largest number of autonomous institutions in a State offering degrees. Ten of them were granted the status before 2000.

It is quite a mixed bag. There are several reputed establishments, such as the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics, which most people would agree deserve the status. There are also some others that do not meet the criteria.

A Mumbai University professor said Maharashtra was a good example to prove how there was no uniformity in awarding deemed university status. For instance, there are general colleges, which have at least 500 students and several courses, with deemed status along with the Deccan College Post-Graduate Research Institute in Pune, which has only 150 students and offers niche programmes such as lexicology.

Education had become a business in Maharashtra, the professor lamented. Several politicians and businessman or those connected to politicians are running colleges. The biggest incentive is the capitation fee charged under the management quota. When the cooperative sector began to flounder, they [politicians] leapt on to the education bandwagon, he said. The idea behind granting deemed university status was to encourage specialised education, which lends itself to higher learning, said Rajas Parchure, joint director of the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics in Pune, one of Indias oldest economic research centres. This focus seems to have been forgotten. The UGC has to improve its selection criteria and method, he said.

Tapati Mukhopadaya, general secretary, Bombay University College Teachers Union, said she would partly blame the national body for this. Deemed university status was given by the UGC so that the institution would enjoy higher academic freedom and, therefore, expand higher education. While the UGC committees earlier were very strict in their reviews in granting this status, they have now become quite lax and there is no doubt corruption has entered here, she said.

The so-called expert committees hardly consisted of any experts and were hand in glove with the college managements, she alleged. Unless there are proper reviews and qualified people, how can you ensure that UGC regulations are met? she asked.

Furthermore, areas like education and health are soft targets when the state wants to reduce its financial burden. In Maharashtra, the privatisation of education has only been increasing. The government appears to have absolved itself of the responsibility to provide education. Obviously, we now have so many applications for deemed universities. This gives these institutions freedom from many types of restrictions, she said.

Tapati Mukhopadaya said that in the 1950s, several education centres were started by genuine philanthropists. The Tatas were one such group. These days, however, many see education as a commercial venture.

I believe there needs to be a much more stringent form of assessing who is eligible for this status. After all, awarding degrees is a very serious issue and it is a national responsibility that the person getting a degree has been given quality education, said Dilip Kumar of the Central Institute of Fisheries Education (a deemed university) in Mumbai.

For instance, he said, there were several universities that offered biotechnology courses, but few of them had the resources or the expensive equipment required for practicals. In fact, some of them use our laboratories and reagents. We charge a small fee but it hardly covers the costs, he said.

K.J. Somaiya Vishwavidyalaya in Navi Mumbai is among the 24 institutes that have applied for deemed university status. The advantage is that it will give us flexibility in the curriculum, said B. Ranganathan, an official in the administration department of the K.J. Somaiya group. We are a charitable trust and do not believe in profit-making. Deemed university status makes it easier to put in good quality academic standards without going through the tedious procedure the UGC or the AICTE normally puts you through.

The Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies, one of the top business schools in the country, believes that deemed university status has helped it shape its curriculum according to the current trends and market requirement. Its public relations officer Ashish Tambe said: Certainly, there are institutes that lack basic lab facilities and study programmes, and yet have deemed status. But the Minister must not club us all together. After all, thousands of our students have benefited since we became a deemed university.

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