The higher education department is mulling a uniform set of guidelines for preparing the statutes of all state universities, a move that many claim is aimed at establishing the government’s control over the institutions.
“We are planning to prepare a uniform set of guidelines for the universities to prepare their statutes,” education minister Partha Chatterjee said on Wednesday.
“We hope the universities will be better run if they prepare their statutes following the model guidelines.... Nothing has been finalised yet.”
Now each university frames its statutes based on its interpretation of the respective university act.
Soon after the Trinamul Congress came to power, the government amended the acts of the state universities in an attempt to rid higher education of politics. The universities were required to frame statutes in compliance with the amended acts.
Almost all state universities, including Calcutta, Jadavpur and Presidency, are now in the process of preparing their statutes.
If the higher education department does what it’s planning to do, it would be the first time the government would meddle in the framing of the universities’ statutes.
The statutes deal with every aspect of a university’s governance, such as teacher recruitment policies, service and leave rules, policies on taking disciplinary actions, admission and examination rules and the laws governing student union elections.
The state government has recently got a bill passed in the Assembly to ensure that it has a say in the selection of all three members of the search panels that will shortlist candidates for the post of vice-chancellor.
Many university teachers saw Chatterjee’s statement as the logical next step to the passage of the bill, aimed at gaining control over the universities.
University teachers and college principals close to Trinamul welcomed the government’s plan for a uniform set of guidelines to frame the statutes.
“We have long been fighting for uniform leave rules for the teachers of all universities. Many teachers will benefit if the government includes provisions concerning rules related to teachers in the proposed guidelines,” said Krishnakali Basu, a leader of the Trinamul-controlled West Bengal College and University Professors’ Association.
Teachers shifting from one university to another are inconvenienced because of the different service rules followed by the two institutions, another leader of the organisation said.
A large section of teachers and officials across universities, however, pointed out that a uniform set of rules would rob the institutions of the freedom to frame academic and administrative rules.
“The universities that have achieved excellence in certain areas, like the Jadavpur University has in engineering, should follow a tough screening process for recruiting teachers to the relevant departments. It would be unfair to compel a university that has achieved excellence to follow the recruitment procedure of a mediocre institution,” said a teacher at Jadavpur University.
Some teachers pointed out that every university has a uniqueness in respect of certain academic and administrative matters and the government’s attempt to force them to follow a uniform pattern might pose problems in their functioning.
“How can Presidency University, which chief minister Mamata Banerjee wants to emerge as a world-class institution, be asked to function in the way Sidho Kano Birsha or Gourbanga University does?” wondered a professor of the erstwhile Presidency College.
For example, Presidency might choose to fix a high cut-off for admitting students. “It would not be possible for Presidency to attract the best students if the government forces all universities to follow a uniform criteria,” said the teacher.
Some teachers said they were apprehending a revamp of the constitution of the college governing bodies.
“As of now the constitution of the college governing bodies is such that they are packed with loyalists of the ruling party. The governing body decisions are bound to be one-sided if there are too many party loyalists and less teacher representatives,” said a teacher of a college in south Calcutta.