Anna University Vice Chancellor M.K. Surappa writes to the Centre seeking ‘Institute of Eminence’ status amid fears that the university’s 69 per cent reservation is being targeted

Published : October 15, 2020 21:05 IST

M.K. Surappa, Vice-Chancellor of Anna University. Photo: G. Krishnaswamy

The ongoing spat between the Tamil Nadu Department of Higher Education and the Vice Chancellor of Anna University over the issue of the university getting the Institute of Eminence (IoE) tag has stirred a hornet’s nest. The IoE is a scheme for the higher education institutes set up by the University Grants Commission (UGC) in 2017. Such institutions are granted more administrative and academic autonomy. These institutions receive grants of up to Rs. 1,000 crore a year.

It all started when the Vice Chancellor M.K. Surappa recently wrote a letter to the Union government about granting the IoE status to the University, a demand that has been pending before the UGC for a long time. The Tamil Nadu government had already sought clarifications from the UGC on the issues of funding and reservation. The UGC had, however, reportedly informed the Vice Chancellor that it needed to consult the State government on the issue.

Reliable sources in the Department of Higher Education said that neither Higher Education Minister, K.P. Anbazhagan, nor senior officials in the Department or in the Directorate of Technical Education, were aware of such communication.

The State government is not in a hurry to get the IoE status for the university, which has been nurtured by the State as a centre of excellence to promote technical education with a firm commitment to social justice. “The entire issue and the urgency with which it is being pursued smacks of secrecy. In fact, we don’t know what is happening,” said a senior beauracrat in the State government.

This has led to an apprehension among academics and social activists in Tamil Nadu that the demand for or granting of IoE status is an attempt by the Central government to take away the university from the State’s purview and nullify its zealously guarded 69 per cent reservation.

What annoyed the State government were the Vice Chancellor’s claims in his letter that the university could generate Rs.1,570 crore in five years through internal means and that the 50 per cent matching fund from the State government, as mandated by the UGC, was not necessary. “How can he take such an arbitrary decision on such an important issue when the university is a State public university,” said an academic. State Law Minister C.Ve. Shanmugam told the media that the State government has written a letter to the Vice Chancellor asking him to clarify on the issue.

That IoE’s policy of “merit-based” admissions is the main concern of academicis who argue that it would jeopardise the State’s 69 per cent reservation in education. They point out that at a time when education is being “saffronised” and social welfare schemes and measures such as reservation were facing threats, the claims of “merit-based” admissions add to the anxiety. “It is a ruse to take over the institution itself,” said an academic.

Dismissing such fears, Surappa told the media recently that the State could conditionally accept the offer without compromising its reservation policy. He said that Tamil Nadu was the only State that had 69 per cent reservation and could safeguard its rights by insisting that reservation should not be compromised. Surprisingly, the Vice Chancellor found a lone supportive voice for his endeavour in the Anna University Teachers Association (AUTA), which has urged the Governor, the Chancellor, to expedite the process of getting IoE status.

However, Education Minister Anbalagan, who is the Pro-Chancellor, said that the State had gone through a lot of struggle to obtain 69 per cent reservation in admissions. He told media that he had sought a categorical assurance from the Centre that that the IoE status would not interfere with its reservation policy. The State, he said, needed a specific commitment from the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development on the 69 per cent reservation.

Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) president M.K. Stalin criticised the Vice Chancellor for his letter on the vital issue and said that the attempt to raise funds internally would lead to enhancement of fees. This, he said, would place immense financial strain on parents of wards aspiring to get into the university. The DMK’s youth and student wings organised Statewide protests on October 15 demanding the resignation of the Vice Chancellor over the issue.

Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran was instrumental in forming of the university in 1978. Explaining the objective behind its formation under The Anna University Chennai Act 1978 (Tamil Nadu Act 30 of 1978) in the Assembly, he said it was to help poor students “to get quality technical education”.

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