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Vice in appointment of vice-chancellors

Recently, Governor Bunwarilal Purohit, chancellor of state universities in Tamil Nadu, anguished over the practice of bribery in appointing vice-chancellors. The malpractice is an open secret, but an acknowledgment by the Chancellor came as a surprise. A look at the anatomy of corruption in Higher Education.

In India, the government-funded universities consist of Central universities, some deemed universities and several state universities. In all, there are 47 Central universities and 391 state universities of which one Central university and 22 state universities are in Tamil Nadu. Of the 123 deemed universities 38 receive government funds. So far there has been no indication of corruption in the appointment of VCs in the government-funded Central and deemed universities. Among the state universities, there have been widespread malpractices only in two states, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

Roots of Corruption

In Tamil Nadu, the roots can be traced to the propensity for corruption among the politicians in power. Unfortunately, in appointing VCs, there have been Governors and their minions who were willing participants in dividing the loot. Though instances of the Chancellor-Governor indulging n such collections through intermediaries was widely known, nothing could be done.

Until recently pliable persons were chosen as chairmen of search committees. In many cases, persons paid bribes to be included in the search committees. When the panel of three names is finalised, there would be negotiations from the minister’s office as well as the Chancellor’s agent about the amount to be paid for selection. The figure ranged from Rs 5 crore for smaller universities to Rs 50 crore for Anna University.

VC aspirants accept the bids with confidence that the amount could be recovered from the affiliated colleges and from the various appointments and promotions in the university. It is not difficult to see the ripple effect of such a practice profoundly spreading to every level of the academia. Many universities are now burdened with incompetent faculty who were appointed through payment of bribes. They, in turn, collect money through questionable practices.

On 30 July 2012 a memorandum was submitted to the then Governor Rosaiah signed by a large number of educationists and citizens, stating that in the absence of transparency in the process and criteria followed in the appointment of vice chancellors, there is justifiable doubt whether the fittest persons have been appointed as VCs. They anguished that the appointments appear to be by political affiliations and that posts were openly auctioned and given to the highest bidder.

The petition listed 13 specific instances of corrupt practices relating major universities of Tamil Nadu as well as the involvement of the son of the then Governor S.S. Barnala in many scandals. Unfortunately, nothing came out of it.

Beyond the Chancellor

There are other avenues of institutional corruption outside the purview of the Chancellor. For instance, the state education ministers delay the sanction of faculty positions in aided colleges against existing vacancies till the college managements pay up the amount based on the number of jobs. The logic is the management should collect the amount from the selected teachers. The teacher, in turn, would engage in all forms of illegal practices to recoup the sum from the students and others. This is one reason for many competent persons not choosing to apply to some of the aided colleges.

Likewise, stories about demands made on Ph D scholars by research guides sound like fiction but, unfortunately, are too widespread to be ignored. Besides demanding sexual favours, thesis supervisors and examiners extract sizeable sums from the helpless students before final approval.

Another cause for concern is the corruption in granting approval for new institutions. Many worthless institutions had obtained the status of deemed universities through bribing. So is the case with many technical institutions.

Fast track courts for education corruption

It is not easy to deal with this problem unless the political interference in university appointments is eliminated. There is no assurance that persons like Bunwarilal will be chancellors of the future. It is imperative that the chancellor’s nominees on the search committees must be persons of high academic calibre and exemplary personal qualities.

Tamil Nadu needs an ombudsman specifically for issues relating to higher education institutions. All allegations of corruptions, whether against individuals or politicians and even the chancellor, should be seriously investigated and exemplary punishment should be given. Perhaps fast-track courts could be established to deal with educational corruption.

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