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Doomed varsities and demented VCs
Are temples of learning turning out dens of corruption, right at the top?

The role of a vice-chancellor (VC) in the growth and development of a university is immeasurable. He is its public face in interacting with the various stakeholders. He cannot afford to be corrupt. 

Since independence, there have been several commissions articulating the condition of higher education system in the country and advocating measures for strengthening it.  These include the role of VCs. 

The Education Commission (1966) headed by 

Dr D S Kothari described the desirable qualities of VCs: the vice-chancellor should be a distinguished educationist or eminent scholar in any of the disciplines or professions, with a high standing in his field and adequate administrative experience. This advice has become crucial in the current context. In the earlier decades, the university system was enriched and dignified by the services of many great scholars and administrators who strove hard to preserve the autonomy and quality of the universities. 

There are 22 state funded universities under the direct control of the Tamil Nadu government. In respect of these the Governor is the Chancellor. There are 11 university-level institutions in the state and are Centrally funded. These (with their own governance systems) are outside  the purview of Tamil Nadu government. In addition there are 25 purely private deemed-to-be universities over which  the Tamil Nadu government has no influence.

Role of the chancellor

The chancellor of the state university bears the primary responsibility in choosing the VCs of State-funded universities. For more than a decade the role of the chancellor in Tamil Nadu has been anything but clean. It was an open secret that in the appointment of vice-chancellors to these universities, touts operated freely in influencing the Raj Bhavan, of course, for a price ranging from five crore to fifty crore rupees depending on the university.  Some very competent persons refused to pay the bribes and opted out of consideration. Even members of search committees for vice-chancellors were appointed on payment of bribes. 

 

Corruption institutionalised

The corrupt system has been neatly institutionalised at every stage of the selection process, beginning with the advertisement prescribing the qualifications, to the constitution of the search committee, to the final approval process with illicit gratification at prescribed rates that go up in successive years. 

As is to be expected, this disease infected every level of the institutions. The appointment of teaching faculty was based on grafts both to the political leaders and to high-level university officials. Naturally competent persons did not wish to enter into this slush resulting in under-qualified persons handling the classes with disastrous fall in the quality of graduates.  Most students were left to fend for themselves.

Fortunately the Centrally-funded institutions are so far free from such maladies. Many of the privately funded deemed universities indulge in hidden forms of malpractices in appointing VCs and admission of students. Thus competent persons do not opt for teaching or administrative positions in them.

 

Fall out of corruption

High level corruption in the appointment of VCs has led to rampant malpractices in all other functions of University such as appointment and promotion of faculty and staff, award of contracts, purchases, procedures in doctoral degree awards and so on. No state university in Tamil Nadu is presently free from such evils. Under such circumstances, no decent and reputed academic is willing to take up teaching or research positions in our state universities. Good universities in other parts of India and abroad stay away from our universities. None of the senior faculty and the Vice-Chancellors of our universities are considered for any respectable national role in committees or policy making bodies. The graduates of our universities, for no fault of theirs,  are unable to secure respectable positions  in other premier institutions or corporate bodies leading to untold degree of frustrations. 

 

Way forward

There are three important considerations that should be spelt out unambiguously in the appointment of vice-chancellors. First and foremost the person being considered should possess the essential attributes to be able to provide academic, administrative and community leadership. Secondly, the composition of the search committees should inspire confidence in their choice of candidates. Finally, the manner in which the final selection is made by the appointing authority from out of the panel recommended by the search committee must be free of political bias and appearance of malpractices.

The UGC Regulations 2010 mandated that “Persons of the highest level of competence, integrity, morals and institutional commitment are to be appointed as Vice-Chancellors. The Vice-Chancellor to be appointed should be a distinguished academician, with a minimum of ten years of experience as Professor in a University system or ten years of experience in an equivalent position in a reputed research and / or academic administrative organisation.”

It also provided that “The members of the search committee shall be persons of eminence in the sphere of higher education and shall not be connected in any manner with the university concerned or its colleges. While preparing the panel, the search committee must give proper weightage to academic excellence, exposure to the higher education system in the country and abroad and adequate experience in academic and administrative governance to be given in writing along with the panel to be submitted to the Visitor/Chancellor.”

It is imperative that the chancellor’s nominees on the search committees must be persons of high academic calibre and exemplary personal qualities. The names of persons suggested by the search committee must fulfill the minimum qualifications prescribed by the University Grants Commission for the vice-chancellors.  The chancellor should pick one of the names from the panel without any consultation with the minister of the state.  The chancellor should provide the support and guidance to the VCs when faced with harassments and inducements to indulge in corrupt practices.

It is time that the reputation of the State and credibility of our higher education system are restored to its past glory. 

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