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Private varsity bill this session

The state government has decided to introduce a bill that would facilitate the setting up of private universities in Bihar, a move that would herald a new era in the higher education sector.

“We are working to bring the legislation paving the way for the establishment of private universities in the current session itself,” education minister P.K. Shahi announced in the Assembly during the budget session on Wednesday.

He added that many top private institutions, including Manipal and Amity, have evinced interest in setting up their “shops” in the state.

Shahi was replying to the debate on the budgetary demand of his department during the post-lunch session of the House.

The idea to step up the process to set up private universities, probably, took shape at a daylong workshop on “Excellence of Higher Education in Bihar” here on Sunday. The workshop was attended by the likes of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), National Assessment and Accreditation Council, besides representatives of World Bank and several other higher education institutions.

Chief minister Nitish Kumar, at the outset, was opposed to the idea of “privatising” higher education on the grounds that the venture might encourage promotion of the corporate interests rather than serving the cause of “actual higher education and research” in keeping with his socialist upbringing.

RJD chief Lalu Prasad and Leader of Opposition Abdul Bari Siddqui, too, were opposed to inviting “private players” in the arena of research and higher education.

However, Governor Devanand Konwar, who repeatedly refused to go by the state government’s wish on the appointment of the vice-chancellors (VCs) or other academic issues, has, apparently, led the government to change its mind with regard to the higher education in Bihar. Shahi made this very clear on the floor of the House.

“The state has got a chancellor (governor) appointed by the Congress-led dispensation at the Centre, who does not find it appropriate to even consult the duly elected government in appointing the VCs and pro-VCs. Such an intransigent approach on the chancellor’s part has made it impossible for the state to execute desired correction in the higher education arena,” he said.

In an oblique “barb” on Konwar, Shahi rued how his government’s hands were tied in improving the affairs of the higher educational institutions, which had their “top functionaries appointed at the governor’s whims”, whereas the institutions free from the governor’s control were performing excellently.

“Chief Justice of India (CJI) Altamas Kabir carried out an interview of Chanakya National Law University (CNLU) students, selecting five of them to be appointed as legal assistants at the Supreme Court recently,” Shahi said, adding: “The CJI described CNLU as one of the top legal institutions of the country.”

He also said how Nalanda University, Chandragupta Institute of Management and other such institutions that are “free from the chancellor’s control” were prospering.

Even as the RJD members, led by Siddiqui, walked out in the middle of the reply, protesting the government’s move to privatise higher education and “degrade” the atmosphere in the premier colleges, Shahi announced the sanctioning of 92,000 posts for the Plus Two-level teachers, which would be filled in the next five years. The education minister reiterated the government decision to open secondary schools in all the panchayats by the next financial year.