The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Post-Biswas, education czars still reign
Autonomy phobia lies in party DNA

Calcutta, July 10: In the end, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s bid to grant autonomy to Presidency College only amounted to giving it a few additional powers while holding on to the two most vital components: academics and recruitment.

This, CPM sources said, was because of the party’s refusal to let the most reputable college under Calcutta University — that too one run by the government — slip out of its hands.

The stubborn refusal to accept Presidency’s autonomy appears to have stemmed from the party’s fear of losing its control over higher education — if it is Presidency today, it could be other colleges tomorrow.

Pressure from the teachers’ lobby, instrumental in retaining the party’s social-political power base, was also an important factor.

Officially, the leadership denied the charge that the CPM was instrumental in the denial of autonomy to Presidency. “Who is empowered to grant autonomy to Presidency — the UGC, the government or our party'” asked acting state party secretary Benoy Konar.

Insiders in the party’s education cell, however, admitted that former state secretary Anil Biswas and his successor Biman Bose as well as a majority of the cell were opposed to full autonomy for Presidency.

Former school education minister Kanti Biswas is in charge of the cell but the party chief has been monitoring it since Anil Biswas’s death, which underlines its importance.

The cell not only looks after policy matters in education but monitors major appointments and transfers in universities and colleges across the state. It also pulls the strings through powerful teachers’ bodies in academic affairs.

Anil Biswas, according to party sources, opposed autonomy on the ground that it will stop the transfer of government college teachers, leading to a lack of their mobility. “This would institutionalise elitism in Presidency College while other government colleges would suffer from the lack of quality teachers,’’ a member of the education cell recalled Biswas as saying.

The late state CPM chief also insisted that Presidency would lose its eminence if it severs its umbilical cord with Calcutta University.

The party also feels that if Presidency is asked to generate its own resources, it would cost the students more and would lead to “privatisation”.

“We are opposed to FDI and corporate control in higher education at the national level, too,’’ a state leader said.

“The expert panel was not selected by the party. But we are happy that their recommendations have reflected some of our positions,” said Haren Bhattacharya, the secretary of the Government College Teachers’ Association.

“If autonomy means a steep hike in fees and closing doors to the poor, we are opposed to it,’’ Bhattacharya said.

“We oppose academic autonomy at the undergraduate level as the absence of competition with others colleges would bring down the quality of education.”

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