The Maharashtra government has decided not to grant approvals to any more private university until the policy guidelines in this regard are revised.
The state government decided to revise the guidelines permitting such educational campuses after finding that many such universities were not offering specialised courses — a key objective — and were concentrated mainly in the educational hub of Pune and the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR).
While six private varsities have so far obtained the government’s nod, the Devendra Fadnavis-led Maharashtra cabinet, which met on July 23, has decided to put on hold all other proposals to set up private universities in the state.
Senior government officials confirmed that about 19 more proposals for self-financed private universities were under various stages of consideration. The policy allowing private universities was fist unveiled by the previous Congress- NCP regime in 2013.
Confirming the move, a senior BJP minister said, “The idea behind allowing self-financed universities was mainly to offer specialised courses that are not offered in state-funded universities. That however does not appear to be happening.”
Another factor that made the government look at revision of norms was the assessment that the proposals received so far were concentrated in Pune and the MMR that are relatively well-off as far as exposure to higher education is concerned.
“There is a need to tweak the norms to encourage setting up of such campuses in backward regions where there is a dearth of such facilities,” the minister added.
Following the cabinet’s decision, an expert committee comprising senior bureaucrats and educationists would be constituted to revamp the policy. Higher and Technical Education Minister Vinod Tawde had earlier announced the government’s plans to review these guidelines.
When contacted, Dr Sanjay Chahande, principal secretary, Higher and Technical Education Department, said, “Based on our experiences so far, the department has been considering to set up an expert panel.” He, however, declined to discuss the cabinet’s decision.
Sources confirmed that one task assigned to the panel would be to map the requirement of educational facilities for every region in the state. Further approvals to private varsities would have to confirm this mapping exercise. A senior government functionary said this would ensure that such facilities are not concentrated in one or two pockets. The panel will be asked to suggest the specialised courses that can be offered too.
Another bone of contention has been the land and infrastructure requirement for such institutes. While the government’s norms require a contiguous land parcel of a minimum requirement for setting up such campuses, sources said that the government had also received proposals from some education groups seeking consideration of land and infrastructure available with them at multiple campuses they already operate to meet these norms.
For now though, the state has opted not to grant approvals to such proposals. “The original idea was to promote greenfield educational campuses,” a minister said, adding, “This was being diluted.”
Prevalent norms state that for a self-financed private varsity to come up in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, the minimum requirement of contiguous land in four hectare.
Similarly, the same requirement is 10 hectares for divisional headquarters, and 20 hectares in district headquarters and rural belts. Sources also revealed that private varsity managements have also sought amendments to certain infrastructure norms citing practical difficulties.
Incidentally on July 23, the Maharashtra cabinet gave a go ahead to two private universities – the Sandip Institute of Technology and Research Centre (Nashik), and a university in Pune by the Maharashtra Institute of Technology. While detailed project reports for these were finalised during the previous regime, sources said Tawde had put approvals to these on hold for the want of specialised courses.
The Cabinet granted clearances only after some new courses were incorporated, sources revealed. As norms require approval of the state legislature for each such university, the government will now placed before the state legislature legislations for their approval.
During the previous regime, legislative approvals had already been granted to Amity University (Panvel), Ajeenkya DY Patil University, Spicer-Adventist University, and Flame University (all Pune).
Ajeenkya Patil, President, Ajeenkya DY Patil University, which has already launched its private varsity in Pune, however, claimed that the private varsities must be allowed to choose the course they wish to offer. “It (Higher education) is a competitive industry where demand drives the need for courses,” he said.
Patil added that his university offers a unique course in automobile design but has also coupled it with traditional courses that were higher on demand among students.Also, while rooting for stringent norms to ensure that fly-by-night operators do not enter the market, Patil said that the government must not discontinue the cluster approach-the one that allows educational groups to club land and infrastructure requirements in different campuses to meet norms-and encourage existing higher educational colleges to acquire university status.