Political Interference Mars University Education

Syed Tajamul Imran
For many decades since the introduction of the university system in India in mid-19th century, the position of vice-chancellors was adorned by eminent scholars and distinguished statesmen who had commendable stature in society. Such personalities were identified and persuaded by search committees consisting of highly renowned academicians, scientists and administrators of impeccable credentials.
It is only during the last two or three decades that political interference — bordering on scandals — has dominated the selection of VCs particularly in state universities. Seriously concerned with this growing menace affecting the university system, the UGC brought out a regulation in 2010 prescribing the minimum qualifications for teachers in universities and colleges and for VCs. The clause 7.3.0 pertaining to VCs states: “Persons of the highest level of competence, integrity, morals and institutional commitment are to be appointed as vice-chancellors. The vice-chancellor to be appointed should be a distinguished academician, with a minimum of ten years of experience as professor in a university system or ten years of experience in an equivalent position in a reputed research and academic administrative organization.”
Thus, academic freedom is primary because universities are places for raising doubts and asking questions about everything. Exploring ideas, debating issues and thinking independently are essential in the quest for excellence. It would enable universities to be the conscience-keepers of economy, polity and society. Hence, the autonomy of this space is sacrosanct. Of course, this cannot suffice where quality is poor or standards are low. That needs reform and change within universities.
Alas! The political process, parties and governments alike, meddle in universities. In Kashmir, this has become more and more intrusive with the passage of time. Micromanagement by governments is widespread. Interventions are purposive and partisan. These can be direct, or indirect, through the University Grants Commission and pliant VCs.
The motives are political. Such interventions are characteristic of all governments, whether at the Centre or in the states, and every political party, irrespective of ideology. There are no exceptions. The cadre-based parties are worse: the Communist Party of India (Marxist), mostly in the past, and the BJP, on the rise, at present. Of course, the state party is almost the same, much experienced through long practice. The irony of double standards is striking. The same political parties when in government invoke public interest and when in opposition wax eloquent about autonomy and freedom for universities. Every government laments the absence of world-class universities, without realizing that it is attributable in part to their interventions and the growing intrusion of political processes. 
The quality of leadership at universities has declined rapidly, in part because of partisan appointments by governments of VCs who are simply not good enough as academics or administrators, and in part because most VCs simply do not have the courage and the integrity to stand up to governments but have an eye on the next job they might get. The professoriate is mostly either complicit, as part of the political process in teachers’ unions, or just silent, preferring to look the other way, engaged in their narrow academic pursuits. Those who stand up are too few. The students are either caught up in the same party-political unions or opt out to concentrate on their academic tasks.
 Some of the VCs occupy the chair only because of the support of communal and political factions. Since the state education portfolio becomes the monopoly of a particular political/communal section of the state, the standard of education shoots down.
State and Central Governments should accept the fact that the quality in higher education and research output from Universities have gone down beyond the levels No Indian Universities are found in the Top 200 Universities in the World. Small countries like Singapore, Japan are able to find places in the list. Already we have very substandard Universities presided over by politically motivated VCs and now if you further reduce the standards for appointments of such high academic posts, our higher education systems will go to hell.
It is difficult to make a remark, but till public perception will remain as a general reflection that appointment of VCs in Indian University is made on Political Persuasion and on considerations of Caste, Creed, Region and Religion etc., the political interference will be counted and VCs can’t be expected to be accountable for desired improvements in our higher education system to make it comparable to world class system. The insistence on the minimum qualifications of a VC is meant to ensure visionary leadership to the university in taking it forward to newer heights. An eminently qualified VC would have the moral power to advise the faculty on their role in teaching and research. He or she will be able to keep out undue external influences. VCs should be able to take bold decisions, without obligations and bias which means the VCs should be appointed freely without the intervention of Political parties or communal forces. Hope the UGC will decide wisely.
In the hope of a ‘RICH and Prosperous’ life, SYED TAJAMUL IMRAN is a story teller, an MBA, Student activist, Founder at All J&K Students Union (AJKSU), living with the dream of breaking the status quo. He can be reached at syedtajamul09@gmail.com
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