Will a common law serve all?
R. KRISHNAMOORTHY & SHASTRI V. MALLADY
The proposed common legislation for all universities in the State is expected to address and articulate the concerns of the biggest stakeholders, the students, in higher education.
STRESS ON CONSISTENCY: Will their voice be heard? Photo: Sandeep Saxena
The Government's decision to form a high-level committee to work out ways for smooth implementation of a common law for all universities in the State has stirred a debate on the issues that the new law should look at, especially to protect the interests of students and teachers.
The demand from these two sections comes at a time when privatisation of education is peaking and the Government slowly withdrawing from the higher education sector.
Academicians including former Vice-Chancellors who have been involved in the debate on a common universities law feel that the legislation, at best, can help in providing a uniform character to the university bodies such as Senate, Syndicate and the Academic or Governing councils.
However, the statutes of each university will have to reflect the character and its core activity such as medical, legal or engineering education.
While teacher unions say the Act or its implementation should ensure more democracy in the functioning of the university bodies, the Students Federation of India is demanding representation for the learners in all the bodies.
Prof. R. Ramprabhu, Dean, College of Engineering, Guindy, who is part of the high-power committee, points to some of the advantages that could accrue from the Act:
Implementation of uniform academic standards.
Introduction of a choice-based credit system in all institutions with clear definition of what constitutes a credit in different streams.
Same composition of the university bodies.
Once the credits are standardised, universities in other countries can understand relative grading of a student in a competition that is global.
"The Act can bring students the focus of all academic activities. The composition of the governing council in even private colleges can be clearly defined, with space for Central Government or industry experts in the council," Prof. Ramprabhu adds.
A former Vice-Chancellor, E. Balagurusamy feels the common Act could benefit students only if it allowed inter-university credit transfer or helps students to move across universities to take different courses within the same programme.
``May affect democracy''
Airing its objection to the Common Act, the Madurai Kamaraj-Manonmaniam Sundaranar University Teachers' Association (MUTA) says a VC should not have overriding powers since it would undermine the empowerd bodies like the Senate. ``The old draft bill of the Act that was later dropped suggested extraordinary powers to Vice-Chancellors. We oppose such a thing and any decision of a VC should be in consultation with bodies like Syndicate, Senate and Academic Council,'' says R. Murali, Zone-2 president of MUTA. Dr. Murali points out that the Act should facilitate democratising the decisions but not deriding the powers of democratic bodies. Academicians in Tiruchi say the Common Act could help in improving administration through common norms for the non-academic staff. But, pushing the Act through can be detrimental to academic activity. Only variety and innovation are the hopes for fostering healthy competition, they say. The concept can also be an obstacle for decentralised decision-making which is vital for toning up quality.
Individual competencies of faculty in inter-disciplinary areas are a strength now to the universities for introducing innovations into the curriculum. The Act should not stop this, says a senior professor at Bharathidasan University, citing the instance of Andhra Pradesh, where the common core syllabi is arrived at by the State Council for Higher Education. In that State, universities have the power to decide syllabi only for electives. It does not help in improving academic quality.
In any case, it is difficult for a Common Act to bind universities because of the local factors - infrastructure, the academic climate of the respective regions and the differing status of implementation of Choice-Based Credit System (CBCS) at the level of undergraduation. Many universities are yet to experiment with the concept at undergraduate level.
``The Common Act had been discussed seriously many times over the past decade. But each time, it never achieved fruition because the inherent impracticalities took centre-stage,'' says P.K. Ponnusamy, former Vice-Chancellor of Madras and Madurai Kamaraj Universities.
There is no point in throttling State universities, which are, as such, serving the deprived masses effectively, into adopting a common path and letting `elite' private universities chart their own courses, said Prof. Ponnusamy.
Students Federation of India-TN general secretary G. Selva says that for the past two months, his organisation has been agitating on the issue of student welfare. "Act or no Act, we want a State Education Commission that will clearly spell out how students grievances can be redressed. Today, colleges in different universities or the same university charge different fees for the same course, especially the so-called job-oriented courses which are not available in government colleges; students are ill-treated in the name of discipline. The Act or any other Commission should first look at a platform to solve these problems. We have presented memoranda highlighting this demand to all Vice-Chancellors and the Director of Collegiate Education," he adds.
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