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Decentralised power

Published : Aug 13, 2010 00:00 IST

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The Anna University campus in Guindy, Chennai.-K. GAJENDRAN

The Anna University campus in Guindy, Chennai.-K. GAJENDRAN

Anna University, Chennai, which had 136 engineering colleges affiliated to it, becomes a unitary, research-oriented university.

THE Tamil Nadu government recently converted the Anna University, Chennai, into a unitary university. This, it said, was to enable teachers to concentrate on research rather than burden themselves with the supervision of admissions and examinations. The university, which had 136 engineering colleges affiliated to it, will now comprise the College of Engineering, Guindy, the Alagappa College of Technology and the School of Architecture and Planning, which are on adjoining campuses, and the Madras Institute of Technology at Chromepet, Chennai. The Tamil Nadu Assembly adopted the Bill creating the unitary Anna University on May 14. The same day, the Assembly adopted another Bill for the creation of an Anna University of Technology, Chennai, which will have more than 130 colleges in the Chennai region affiliated to it.

The Anna Universities in Tiruchi, Coimbatore and Tirunelveli were also renamed Anna University of Technology, followed by the place name. An Anna University of Technology has been created in Madurai too.

Until 2006, there were 240-odd engineering colleges in Tamil Nadu affiliated to the Anna University in Chennai. The syllabus for each discipline was the same across colleges and the university had a brand identity as a reputed technical university. In 2006, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) government created Anna Universities in Tiruchi and Coimbatore too and brought the engineering colleges in the respective regions under them. K. Ponmudi, Minister for Higher Education, said at that time that it had become near-impossible for Anna University in Chennai to manage the affairs of more than 240 affiliated engineering colleges. To ensure better and effective monitoring of the colleges, the new universities were being set up, he added. In 2007, the State government created an Anna University in Tirunelveli. Then came the demand for a university in Madurai.

The students are a confused lot they do not know which university will award them their degree certificates, the Anna University of old or the new Anna University of Technology. The creation of the Anna University of Technology in Madurai has led to a peculiar problem on account of the transfer of some of the districts under Anna University, Tirunelveli, to the Madurai region. Students in colleges in these districts were admitted under the Anna University, Tirunelveli. Who will give us the convocation certificates two years hence Anna University, Tirunelveli, or Anna University, Madurai? they ask.

In 2005, the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government headed by Jayalalithaa abolished the common entrance test for admission to engineering and medical courses. Marks in the Plus Two examination and the application of reservation criteria were made the basis for admission.

The DMK government justifies the creation of the unitary Anna University on the grounds that it will enable teachers to concentrate on research. But the teachers argue that research never took a back seat even when Anna University, Chennai, had 136 colleges affiliated to it. In 2009-10, 455 research scholars of the university earned their PhDs.

In the past few years, the number of persons who got their PhDs from Anna University went up from 200 to 300 to 455. The number of research scholars has also increased. Anna University is among the top five universities in India as far as total number of publications and cited publications are concerned. So where is the need to create a unitary Anna University in Chennai, with just four colleges affiliated to it? asked a teacher.

If Anna University in its monolithic avatar prescribed the same syllabus for all the engineering colleges under it now, the Vice-Chancellors of the Anna Universities in Tiruchi, Coimbatore and Tirunelveli have framed new syllabuses for the colleges under their control. Neither the students nor the teachers like this. The students fear that if the syllabuses differ in each Anna University, it might hurt their chances of getting jobs or going abroad for postgraduate studies.

But Professor Mannar Jawahar, Vice-Chancellor, Anna University, Chennai, argued: There will be an ease when you decentralise. So the government has decided accordingly, and we will accept its decision. He said there was an enormous increase in the number of scholars who were awarded PhDs in the past two years in Anna University, Chennai.

There were two kinds of research done in Anna University, Chennai: academic and sponsored. Under sponsored research, the faculty received grants worth Rs.350 crore in the past two years from the Government of India's Department of Science and Technology (DST), the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), the Department of Biotechnology, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), the National Institute of Ocean Technology, the Department of Information Technology and so on. We signed 75 memorandums of understanding (MoUs) in the last two years with foreign universities for collaborative research, Mannar Jawahar said. Besides, the university guides teachers of about 50 colleges in and around Chennai who are doing their PhDs.

Thangam Meganathan, chairperson, Rajalakshmi Engineering College (REC) and Rajalakshmi Institute of Technology, Thandalam, welcomed the creation of the unitary Anna University. In the earlier set-up, teachers were burdened with administrative work. So the academic fervour was less, she said.

P. Jeeva Kalyana Sundaram, Special Officer, REC, said Anna University had recognised the Departments of Electronics and Communication Engineering (ECE), Electrical and Electronics Engineering (EEE), Computer Science and Engineering (CSE), and Mechanical Engineering and Biotechnology in REC as collaborative research centres.

The MoEF had sanctioned Rs.18.12 lakh to the REC for pursuing research in automobile tyre pollution. We can extract oil from waste tyres by a process called pyrolysis and this oil can be used as an alternative fuel in internal combustion engines, he said. The DST had sanctioned a TIFAC-CORE (Technology Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council) in machine vision with an outlay of Rs.5.15 crore to the REC, said Jeeva Kalyana Sundaram.

K.N. Ramachandran, founder-chairman, Sakthi Mariamman Engineering College, Thandalam, pointed out that rural students did better research than their city counterparts. The college had established a Bhabha Research Centre and Raj Kamal, a rural student, was doing excellent research there in wheel power. The BRC was doing research on developing a tsunami warning system.

(This story was published in the print edition of Frontline magazine dated Aug 13, 2010.)

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