A student-centric Act that ensures the presence of elected student representatives, who will have a say in important decision-making processes, in every important body of state universities: that was the stated aim of the state government in getting the new Maharashtra Public Universities Act passed, but reality seems far from it.
Even as the election process for graduate and management representatives on the Senate in most state universities has either started, and completed in some cases, the statutes for student elections have not been declared.
Student union members allege the delay in student elections shows that the government is not serious in its attitude towards student participation. “The government doesn’t appear to be serious about student representation. The education minister just keeps making tall claims, saying his approach is student-centric, but never acts on it. The Act may be student-centric, but if there are no student representatives on elected bodies to put forward the demands of students, then what is the point,” asked Ram Satpute, state president of the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad.
Santosh Dhore, a former Senate member, pointed out that it could take months, even after the declaration of the statute, for the actual election to be conducted. “After the declaration of the statute, the election will take place at each college, the students’ council would be formed and then these students would form the university’s student council, from which the student representatives for Senate and other bodies would be chosen. Preparing the voter list alone would take a few weeks or months, and then the actual process of elections will take place. It is unlikely that student representatives would be able to join the Senate anytime soon and it’s a shame because students’ voices need to be heard. Though the Act made provisions for it, the state government couldn’t implement it in time,” he said.
The delay in the student elections has disappointed students, unions as well as academicians, who now fear a last-minute chaos. Nandkumar Nikam, former Senate member and president of the state principals’ forum, said that it is imperative that the statutes are prepared soon and more importantly, college principals are taken into confidence, right from the planning stage. “Even if the state government declares the procedure and varsities finalise the schedules, it is the college principals who have to get elections conducted and they are apprehensive about untoward incidents… if we plan in advance, it gives us time to minimise these possibilities. Since colleges work in semester-wise patterns, from mid-November, the second semester would begin and by the end of February, we will have exams. Now, should we complete the syllabus, conduct internals and projects and then written exams, or should we concentrate on student elections? That’s why I think a last-minute decision will not help anyone, and the government needs to plan more. More importantly, in this academic year, I don’t see the possibility of student elections,” he said.
In fact, most senior academicians ruled out the possibility of student elections being held this year. Former senior senate member A P Kulkarni, president of the Vidyapeeth Vikas Manch, one of the major panels which will field candidates for Senate elections, agreed that student elections cannot take place this year.
“… I know that the statutes are ready and they have gone to the legal department for consideration. One of the hurdles is the apprehension of the principals over student elections and whether it would lead to some kind of unrest, because of which the state is considering various alternatives in the voting process. However, it is likely that student representatives will not be present for the Senate meeting in March, which is going to discuss important subjects like the university’s budgetary provisions, among other things,” he said.