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Deemed varsities: Why Arjun gets bad marks

For 125 institutes of higher learning,the drop from ‘deemed’ to doomed seems like a distinct possibility now that new Human Resource Development....

June 8, 2009 2:42:34 am

For 125 institutes of higher learning,the drop from ‘deemed’ to doomed seems like a distinct possibility now that new Human Resource Development (HRD) Minister Kapil Sibal has ordered a review of these institutes’ status. As part of his damage control measures for the ministry,Sibal has also decreed that all pending requests for ‘deemed university status’ be kept on hold. This stance is the opposite of the one taken by Sibal’s predecessor Arjun Singh,in whose tenure the maximum number of institutes were given deemed university status. Anubhuti Vishnoi explains the ABCs

The not-quite universities

Institutes are declared deemed-to-be-universities by the Central Government on the recommendation of the University Grants Commission (UGC). Under Section 3 of the UGC Act,1956,the provision for deemed university status was made to bring under the commission’s purview institutions,“which for historical reasons or for any other circumstances are not universities and yet are doing work of a high standard.” Despite such a lofty purpose,the system has degenerated into a money-making proposition for all the stake-holders involved.

The process

An institute applies to the HRD Ministry and the UGC for a deemed varsity status. In response to representations made by the institution and on the basis of a recommendation made by a committee — comprising the UGC chairperson,the chairperson of the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) and Secretary,Secondary and Higher Education — the UGC issues a notification stating that there is no objection to the institute in question using the word “university” in its name. The process also requires that a UGC team inspects the premises of the applicant institute to verify its credentials. Finally,a full University Grants Commission meeting is held before recommending that the deemed-to-be-university status be conferred.

Such institutions would,however,be required to distinguish themselves from universities created by legislation by carrying a statement in parentheses,below their name,that they were deemed universities under Section 3 of the UGC Act,1956.

UGC guidelines

UGC guidelines stipulate that the institute should be:

•engaged in teaching programmes and research that are innovative and of a very high academic standard;

•capable of enriching the university system

•competent to undertake application-oriented programmes in emerging areas of knowledge.

•generally,in existence for ten years or more; however,institutions that impart education in emerging areas with promise of excellence can be considered for a provisional status under the ‘de-novo’ category

•financially sound,and also create a corpus fund as prescribed by the UGC.

Deemed universities enjoy similar academic powers of teaching,research and examination,and conferral of degrees or other awards. However,only universities created by legislatures can affiliate colleges and institutions. Deemed universities can have their constituent units under certain conditions specified by the UGC. Since institutes are declared as deemed universities under a Central Act,regulation of fee and academic matters are under the purview of Acts of Parliament,and not under laws enacted by state Legislatures.

A burgeoning trend

Until the 1990s,deemed university status was rare. Between 1956 and 1990,in 35 years,only 29 institutions were granted this status. In the last 15 years,however,63 institutions were given this distinction,while in the last 5 years,36 institutions have been notified as deemed universities. Now there are 125 of them. The most glaring example of their recent proliferation would probably be in Tamil Nadu,where the number of deemed universities has increased from 18 in 2007 to 35 in 2008,with many others in queue.

The problem

The UGC panel on higher education headed by eminent academician Prof Yashpal explains in its draft report submitted to the HRD Ministry that despite the lofty guidelines,an indiscriminate recognition of newly established educational institutes as deemed universities has become a trend. Many of these institutes come with poor infrastructure,substandard education,poor teacher-student ratio and steep fees. The ‘deemed to be university’ status only serves to mislead students and grants undue credibility to these institutes. While funds are available to these institutes through the UGC,their fees and other academic issues remain outside the purview of state legislatures. Also,though deemed universities do not have affiliating powers,“many of them have a number of campuses spread throughout the country,” says the report.

Over the last decade,many private medical,dental and engineering institutions have used financial and political clout to be notified as deemed universities. High-profile political leaders,in fact,are associated with a large number of these deemed university status holders. Over 20 applications for this status are still pending with the UGC,but have been put on hold by Sibal.

The exceptions

The list of deemed universities on the HRD Ministry’s website include the likes of Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) in Mumbai,National Dairy Research Institute in Karnal, Bangalore’s Indian Institute of Science,Indian Institute of Mines in Dhanbad,Birla Institute of Technology & Science, Pilani,NIMHANS in Bangalore,Indian Institute of Space Science & Technology in Thiruvananthapuram, Symbiosis University in Pune,Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies in Mumbai,Vellore Institute of Technology,Indian Institute of Information Technology in Allahabad,Indian Agriculture Research Institute in Delhi,and the National School of Drama.

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