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To ensure quality – Frontline

DR. M. ANANDAKRISHNAN, noted educationalist and a former Vice-Chancellor of Anna University of Technology, Chennai, suggests that deemed universities allow themselves to be assessed for adherence to the national norms and standards lest the discontent among their students spread to other similar institutions. “Otherwise the UGC [University Grants Commission] should use its leverage to make them subject themselves to assessment for quality,” he said in an interview to Frontline on March 6.

He attributed the “high degree of discontent among students” to “the very high degree of ad hocism in managing the affairs of higher educational institutions and the authorities’ reliance on rickety policy instruments” such as the University Grants Commission Act, 1956, which could not have visualised “the many areas of concern that confront us today”.

That was why, Anandakrishnan said, many senior educationists had suggested over the years that the Act be either revised or replaced. Inasmuch as deemed universities are the “creations” of the Commission under Section 3 of the UGC Act, he said, “it is the responsibility of the UGC” to find a way out.

Anandakrishnan said that the Supreme Court in many of its judgments had pointed out that the regulatory agencies had the responsibility to enforce academic standards and quality.

“The UGC itself does not have its own arm [for ensuring standards and norms], it depends upon statutory institutions such as the MCI [Medical Council of India] and the AICTE [All India Council for Technical Education] for the purpose.” The AICTE, as a statutory authority created by a Central act, had also the responsibility of acting on the spate of complaints it had received, Anandakrishnan said.

He recalled that even at the time when many of these deemed universities, which were self-financing engineering colleges already functioning in the State, came into being a few years ago, the UGC had received a large number of complaints from their students about the level of their academic standards.

The UGC then wrote to the relevant deemed universities pointing out that they were not following the guidelines with regard to admission, fee structure, introduction of new courses and their intake of students.

According to Anandakrishnan, the letter said that many of the private deemed universities, especially in the professional disciplines, had “misused” their university status and “acted in a manner detrimental to the interests of students and lowering the reputation of the Indian university degree.”

Now, the AICTE, which has received similar complaints, has sought details from the deemed universities through a `public notice’ with a view to enforcing academic quality norms.

Stressing the need for allaying the fears of the students over the status of the degrees they would obtain from the various institutions, Anandakrishnan said that their employers would be keen to find out the credentials of the institutions that issued the certificates. He said that those seeking visas to go abroad for jobs or higher studies needed to convince the visa-issuing authorities of the validity of the certificates they carried.

Another important aspect of the problem was its relevance in the context of the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) regime, Anandakrishnan said and added, “Under Mode 3 that covers `commercial cases’, foreign universities can have their commercial presence in India. They can offer any course, any degree in this country. They have not come in yet. But the negotiations are on.” GATT clause entitled `national treatment’ provided that foreign universities be treated on a par with national institutions.

“If we do not insist on adherence to quality norms and standards, transparency and so on, by our national universities, we will have no authority to expect under GATT the same from foreign universities that choose to operate from here.”

S. Viswanathan

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