Teaching and non-teaching staff of Gujarat University (GU) and other universities in the state on Sunday held a discussion over the controversial Gujarat State Higher Education Council Bill, 2016, which was passed by the Assembly in the Budget Session. They demanded rollback of the Bill, alleging it was an attempt by the BJP government to “snatch” autonomy of universities.
The discussion was also attended by former vice-chancellor of Gujarat University and advisor to the government on higher education A U Patel, who was chairperson of the committee tasked with drafting of the Bill. In his address, Patel assured the audience that their apprehensions and grievances would be addressed once the government frames rules for the proposed Act.
The function was organised at the hall of Knowledge Consortium of Gujarat (KCG) by various teaching and non-teaching staff associations of GU and other universities. The organising associations included Gujarat State Professors Association, Gujarat University Area Teachers’ Association, Gujarat State SC/ST Professors’ Association, Gujarat State Tribal Professors’ Association and Gujarat State Non-teaching Association, Gujarat State Principals’ Association.
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Among noted educationists who addressed or participated in the function were Sanjay Bhave, Rohit Shukla, Bharat Mehta, Hemantkumar Shah, Jayesh Patel, Bhavik Raja, Rimmi Vaghela, Manish Doshi and Pankaj Shrimali.
The Bill proposed to bring all universities in Gujarat under the ambit of a higher education council, which would be chaired by the chief minister. One of the objectives of the Bill was “to carry out effective monitoring of the academic/administrative/financial performance of the Universities and affiliated colleges and to recommend remedial measures for better performance”.
According to the Bill, the chief minister would be president of the council, while education minister would be its vice-president and MoS for education co-vice-president. Five vice-chancellors of state universities would be the other members.
The Bill was passed unanimously on the last day of the Budget session of Assembly on March 31, in the absence of Opposition Congress.
One of the organisers of the programme and president of Gujarat State SC/ST Professors’ Association, Pankaj Shrimali, said the motive to organise the programme was to bring to light the consequences once the council came into existence.
“Also, the Bill is lacking in so many aspects. Reservation for example; there is no provision of reservation in formation of the Council. The issue of social welfare is not there at all in the objects of the Bill and even in the formation of the Council, the Secretary of Social Welfare department does not find place,” Shrimali said.
During the programme, the speakers opined that through the latest Bill, the Gujarat government was trying to come in the role of a regulator from that of a facilitator. Former senate member of GU Manish Doshi said for diversity of education, autonomy of universities is important.
Talking to The Indian Express, A U Patel said: “Yes I have listened them today. And they have many apprehensions regarding the Bill on issues like autonomy of the universities, transfer of staff from one university to another, and the council taking away universities’ land… I have assured them that almost all of it will be quelled once the rules and regulations for the (proposed) Act are formulated.”
“The council is not going to take any decision that will supersede the university Act. Also, if the state government is giving hundreds of acres of land for universities, can it take back from the universities?”
“Under the guidelines of University Grants Commission and Rashtriya Uchchhatar Shiksha Abhiyan, UGC will be giving grants through the council. And we could have lost significant grants, if the council Bill was not passed by April 1,” Patel said. “VCs were consulted when the Bill was being conceptualised,” he added.