New Universities Act may become obsolete in 5 years, says Dr Sanjay V Deshmukh
Reporter 1: In the last 10-15 years, Mumbai University has undergone a systematic decline. Its image has taken a toll. What are your concerns and what are the challenges?
The university as you have perceived in the last three decades is based largely on the perception of individuals. No university is in a declining stage. This view is largely in the context of television or print media and as they make an opinion. There is a communication gap between the university and the media over what work we are doing. That connect is missing in the last several years. The biggest challenge is to meet the expectations of everybody. Second challenge is that India has the youngest population but 93 per cent of our undergraduates do not get higher education despite there being 800 universities. Online education has not been regularised for the state government to take it on. While deemed institutes are earning in crores per annum through distance learning MBA program, by the time we get permission for online, it will turn obsolete. Compartmentalisation between apex bodies like the UGC, TIFR, AICTE, ICMR, DAE or IITs or private universities must not happen. Education needs to have a cohesive approach. Diminishing role of apex bodies or creating new bodies is not the solution. Their role has to be redefined.
Reporter 2: Do you think more dusting up is required to cope with the challenges of the new age, in terms of faculty, in terms of even the subjects?
I personally feel these are all peripherals, the basic foundation of your education is with basic subjects. What I’m trying to say is that technology is fast changing… none of your technology-based programs you can assure will be valid for 10 years. I’ll give you a simple example of the Maharashtra University Act. It was first written in 1974, then in 1994. Then in 2014, the current government felt it can also come up with a new version of the Act, which is already 20 years old. The Act was supposed to be implemented from last year but the draft was not complete. So the Act is being modified, it will come up for final discussion in the Assembly in December. But one of the authors of the Act, Dr Ram Takole, told me a couple of months back in a very detailed discussion that the draft which we wrote for the new Act in 2011 is now outdated. Within four years, all the innovative things that were included in the Act have become obsolete because technology has advanced so much. I cannot say the current Act which will come into force will be valid for 20 years from now, it may not be valid even for five years. We are hoping that the one which will be the final draft will be applicable in today’s context.
Reporter 3: The decline of the university is often linked to administrative failures. Do you think this is because of the more than 800 colleges affiliated to Mumbai University? Do you think bifurcation is a solution?
I would not advocate bifurcation of Mumbai University for the simple reason that we have discontinuous distribution of our colleges. If you look at only Mumbai and Thane, now Palghar included, 600 of our 748 colleges are only in these two districts. Within this 40-50 km stretch, or 100 km if you include Thane district, then more than 80 per cent of the colleges are in this part of the state. In the remaining three districts of Raigad, Sindhudurg and Ratnagiri, it is a meagre number. So if you’re talking about ‘each district a university’ or ‘each district a sub-centre’ and colleges surrounding that becoming a hub for the new university, that concept will not work in Mumbai’s case. According to me, the real solution will be, you create statutory posts at the pro-Vice Chancellor level. Instead of one pro-Vice Chancellor you have five.
Reporter 4: You mentioned earlier about empowering students and how it is important in their overall growth. Is it not important to bring back student elections and student bodies? Sometime back, students from JNU, FTII and different universities came to Mumbai and discussed how it was important to hold elections… MU has been totally out of this system. What are your views?
I personally feel elections are part of a democracy and all the leaders and peoples’ representatives you see, they have all come from students’ movements… So holding elections, I’m not averse to. I personally fully support it. The Lyngdoh Committee report had also strongly recommended the same. The reasons elections were stopped were also genuine because you don’t hold some democratic process at the cost of students’ lives. But elections are going to be part of the process of our regular activity and it will be mentioned in the Act. As you said, students from other universities came and emphasised the need for it. I think they came for their own agenda. The students of Mumbai University have a different mindset, philosophy and aspirations. Our students are able to look at things more subjectively.
Reporter 5: You are a research scientist yourself and have been a PhD guide. Where does the university stand as far as research by faculty and students is concerned? What can be done to improve it?
We have to give incentives to teachers in a way that they are identified and given financial support and freedom to do research. Secondly, the way our policies are framed currently, where academic performance is the criteria for promotion. Probably that also needs to be reviewed. So these performance indicators have to be reviewed in a different manner wherein you are judged by your student, fellow colleagues. There is another way of looking at it – 60 per cent of our colleges are unaided where after 2001, there has been no approval for teachers who work there or the people who are appointed there. For teachers appointed in that category, we have to see whether the university can give grants for research. We don’t so far give grants to teachers not approved by the university. From this year, I have taken an important decision. The budget that we have for providing financial support for research to teachers is to the tune of Rs 2 crore and, from this year, we have decided that 80 per cent of the amount will be given to approved teachers. Unapproved teachers who are permanent in their respective institutions will be eligible to apply for the fund.
Reporter 5: Your appointment as the VC has been criticised with many saying the appointment was made because you have a direct connect with Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini. Also, in January this year there was a programme held at the convocation hall in MU called ‘Express to progress’. It was said that it was held for the corporates but Nitin Gadkari and other BJP leaders were present.
I worked with a Shiv Sena-based organisation two years before Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini. Nobody talked about it. If people want to link the performance or selection of a candidate at this level, is it fair? I was chosen out of 158 candidates by a competent authority which was chaired by Justice Shrikrishna. They chose the best candidate as per their wisdom and the performance and background of the candidate.
Reporter 6: Earlier this year, there was an exam scam on the campus that involved former students, employees etc. What lessons were learnt?
We requested the police to give us a report which will help us in improving the system from the security point of view. We are also in the process of completing the construction of a new building for examinations… That will minimize the intrusion of people not required to pass through the examination building. Currently, in the examination building we have a bank and couple of departments not related to exam…
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Reporter 7: The entire examination process, right from registration of students to admit cards to paper correction, has been talked about a lot. There have been lapses at various stages. Is there a particular plan in your mind, measures to curb these?
There are different activities relating to students from their enrollment, eligibility, actual admission. The fifth and sixth semesters are university exams. But, in the first four semesters, an enrollment has to be done by the college. The student enrolls and it’s called a Permanent Registration Number. Sometimes, colleges take time to register the student and when it comes to the fifth semester, the PRN number is generated. At that time, the university may come to know that the number is not generated or that internal marks which are supposed to be relevant to the university before the theory exam is conducted have not been sent… So, for arresting these problems, we started a system in terms of enrollment up to registration in a totally revised manner. Now, we have been able to link those two things which were missing earlier. We are going towards automation, which is end-to-end software.
Another reform we were able to do this year was changing the syllabus of all the subjects. So code numbers of each subject – there are 383 subjects in which we have changed the syllabus – have to be redone. That takes time. But within a few months, we should be able to standardise that.
Reporter 8: You met Raj Thackeray and you had said you were planning to meet Uddhav. Any inputs you have received from them?
Actually, it was my desire to meet every stakeholder. I personally feel those who have been my alumni and have made it big in life can contribute to the betterment of the university. There were at least seven national-level leaders whom I met in those 17 days and after taking over. Nobody noticed it, particularly the press. I had sought appointments with everybody and Uddhavji was going to meet me. Similarly, I had sent a message to Raj Thackeray to know his views on how do we improve the university or specific institutions he was associated with, like JJ School of Arts and so on.
Reporter 9: Presently in India, universities have become ideological battlegrounds. What would be your advice to students?
Behaviour is an outcome of our thought process and it is driven by a particular objective. As a student leader you should not go overboard because leadership is not creating more followers, it is creating more leaders. There are many ‘Yuva Netas’ who continue to be leaders for the youth at the age of 50. Student leaders have aspirations but they cannot go overboard to accomplish these. There is nothing wrong in coming to the Vice Chancellor and pointing out the flaws in the system but if there is a reciprocation from the school administration, they should also understand that we are working for the same strata, the students.
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