Delays show up all the talk of giving varsities autonomy
While the National Education Policy 2020 envisages giving more autonomy to universities, the government is sitting on appointments of vice-chancellors (VCs) in almost half of the 40 central universities, including marquee ones like the Delhi University and Jawaharlal Nehru University. As per a report by The Economic Times, 18 of the 40 central universities do not have a full-time VC, and by this month’s end, the number will rise to 19 as the VC of BHU completes his term. While the procedure requires that the process start at least six months before the completion of the incumbent’s term so that a university has a candidate to fill the position, in this case, the education ministry has been sitting on most of the appointments. In fact, in some cases, it has been over a year since the university has had a full-time vice-chancellor. The report highlights that, for 10 universities, the names were submitted many months ago but are yet to be forwarded to the president for assent.
The reasons for the government dragging its feet are not known; however, such delays point to the sorry state of affairs in India’s higher education regulation. And, it is not just VC appointments, in 2018, the government had reported that one-third of the total posts in Indian universities were lying vacant. Despite talking of autonomy, the government has been trying to exercise control over higher education institutions. The ministry of education had sent a proposal to the law ministry seeking powers to initiate inquiry against the Board of Governors (BoG) of an IIM if it is found to be acting in contravention of the IIM Act. Before this, the IIMs and UGC had gotten into a tussle regarding the executive MBA programme duration.
Apart from this, the government has been pushing IITs to implement reservation for faculty positions. It was expected that, with the University Grants Commission being replaced by the Higher Education Commission of India (HECI), a liberal regime will be ushered in and there will be greater control in the hands of the universities. However, not only is the HECI yet to see the light of day, the government has been reluctant to cede control. For instance, until last year, universities did not have the freedom to start online courses without the regulator’s permission-it took the pandemic and the ensuing disruption of education for the government to see reason. Even so, while the government did grant automatic approval to top-100 colleges, it is yet extend this to the others; allowing certain universities to give degrees through brick& mortar learning but considering them unfit to do this online presents a rather odd situation. Thanks to the lack of autonomy, universities in India are not free to function the way their peers elsewhere do, which, then, translates into poor international rankings. Last year, even those Institutions of Eminence that featured in the QS list of top global universities saw their rankings slip from the 2019 showing. If the government doesn’t free universities from stifling regulation and other interference, its goal of getting 20 IoEs in the list of top-500 globally by 2028 would be hard to meet.