Memorandum from Citizens on the Gujarat State Higher Education Bill 2016
Image courtesy the Himmat Project led by Vasudha Thozhur
May 16, 2016
Dr. O. P. Kohli
His Excellency the Governor of Gujarat Raj Bhavan
Subject: Concerned citizens of Vadodara and alumni of M.S. University appeal to you not to sign the Gujarat State Higher Education Council Bill 2016
We, the undersigned concerned citizens of Vadodara and alumni of the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, Vadodara, and the members of today’s delegation are deeply concerned about the Gujarat State Higher Education Council Bill of Gujarat, recently passed by the Gujarat Legislative Assembly without any discussion. In our considered view, this Bill is a blow to the autonomy of universities in Gujarat, and to M.S. University in particular. It arms the government of Gujarat with enormous powers to control the academic community, which would jeopardize its creativity and freedom in research and teaching. Similar concern has been expressed by academicians and teaching community of universities throughout Gujarat.
Our higher education system has a well-regulated mechanism. Every university is governed by a special act, and each contains provisions for constituting bodies to deal with all relevant aspects of higher education, i.e. prescribing syllabi, curricular reforms, holding examinations, appointing teachers, etc. These statutorily constituted bodies discharge their function effectively in their specified domains, and the higher education system as a whole is functioning effectively. Further, there is the University Grants Commission to provide overall guidance in these matters, and prescribe guidelines from time to time to maintain a healthy academic atmosphere in the field of higher education.
Thus, constituting a Council of Higher Education of the kind the Gujarat government has done would promote undesirable bureaucracy and political interference in universities’ academic functioning, eventually leading to a deterioration in standards of academic excellence.
The government of Gujarat already has excessive powers to regulate universities, its exercise of which has had an adverse impact on the quality of higher education in the state. The present Bill further increases these powers, resulting in further bureaucratisation and politicisation of the already stifled higher educational institutions in the state.
Governing Council. According to Clause 4 of the bill, the governing council will be headed by the Chief Minister as its President. The Education Minister will be the Vice President, and the Minister of State for Education will be co‐Vice President. Several bureaucrats who are not at all concerned with higher education will be ex‐officio members of the council. In all, there are 10 bureaucrats in the governing council. It appears that the higher education will be controlled and monitored by the state’s bureaucrats and ministers. This will not allow academic activity to flower to its fullest potential and become world class, as may have been envisaged by the political leadership of the state.
In any democratic country, higher education should be governed by a body consisting of eminent academicians. No governing council should include any ministers or bureaucrats, except such as are strictly relevant to higher education and necessary for the smooth functioning of the council. If we want to make higher education in Gujarat a model for others to follow, we must make it free from government interference and control. The task of the government is to provide financial support and look after administrative matters.
Clause 15 of the higher education council bill is its most unacceptable provision. It states:
On the recommendation of the council, or suo moto, the State Government may direct any university, with such modification as may be necessary, to implement the reforms in such manner as may be specified therein. Notwithstanding anything contained in any law for the time being in force, it shall be obligatory on the part of the University to implement the directions given by the State Government and to report action taken to the State Government and the Council accordingly. The Council shall review from time to time the compliance by the Universities, of the direction given by the State Government.
This provision will remove all academic freedom and will be a death blow to university autonomy, without which higher education in the state can never become world class.
As your honour may be aware, the government of Gujarat had earlier proposed a Common University Bill, when the present chief minister was the education minister, and Honourable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi was chief minister. There was strong opposition from distinguished citizens and alumni of M.S. University like Shri I. G. Patel, Lord Bhikhubhai Parekh and others, which forced the then government to withdraw the Common University Act. The Gujarat government is again trying to curb the freedom and autonomy of the academic community and institutions by passing the Gujarat State Higher Education Council Bill, without any discussion at any level.
Maharaja Sayajirao University has a distinct unitary character, i.e. it is
a) a teaching institution rather than an examining university,
b) a non‐affiliating university, where all the courses are running under one campus with a 35,000-student capacity, and
c) English medium.
This has made the university unique, and a renowned one at the national and international level. This Bill is likely to bring about a high degree of uniformity in the universities, which would, in our opinion, undermine the cultivation of identity required at every university, especially M.S. University. We are especially concerned about the possibility of erosion of the healthy identity built up at the M.S. University of Baroda since its inception in 1949 – an identity based on this university attracting excellent faculty from different parts of India, and also producing a large number of distinguished scholars and artists of national and international repute. Nothing should be done to jeopardize this identity.
Maharaja Sayajirao University has a great tradition, which renowned personalities like Aurobindo Ghosh, Abanindranath Tagore, C. C. Mehta, Suresh Joshi, I.G. Patel, Lord Bhikhu Parekh, Prof. Gulam Mohammed Sheikh, Prof. Thomas Panthem were once associated with. It has produced great scholars like Sam Pitroda and Prof. Venkatraman Ramakrishnan (a Nobel Prize winner in 2009). This bill undermines and negates this very unitary character and the excellence of this university. Already, standards at this university have observed a sharp fall due to continuous and increasing political interference in university functioning – its rank has come down to 76th in the country – which is a matter of serious concern.
All renaissance thinkers of the world and also our country always stood for freedom, autonomy and democratic principles. Any democratic country envisages development of higher education on the principle of autonomy, and bestows the responsibility to renowned academicians. Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, who was the founding president of the UGC in 1948, and also a founding syndicate member of M.S. University, said:
University autonomy – freedom of individual development – is the basis of democracy. Exclusive control of education by the state has been an important factor in facilitating the maintenance of totalitarian tyrannies. In such states, institutions of higher learning controlled and managed by governmental agencies act like mercenaries, promote the political purposes of the state, make them acceptable to an increasing number of their populations, and supply them with the weapons they need. We must resist, in the interests of our own democracy, the trend towards governmental domination of the educational process…. Higher Education is, undoubtedly, an obligation of the State and is not to be confused with state control over academic policies and practices. Intellectual progress demands the maintenance of the spirit of free enquiry.
But the council to be formed by the government of Gujarat is just the opposite and dominated by polical entities and bureaucrats.
The bill as passed by the assembly does not adhere to basic democratic principles and will bring in absolute government control in higher education resulting in complete destruction of higher education in the state.
We along with all Barodians are proud of the great traditions that the late Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad has laid down. We are also proud of the democratic values and culture M.S. University has upheld throughout the decades. The bill that the government of Gujarat has brought in is a blow to the values and traditions laid down by the great personalities associated with this university. We feel that to uplift academic standards at universities anywhere and everywhere in the state, and particularly at M.S. University, we need greater democratic functioning and autonomy given to all institutes of higher education. So, we humbly request you not to sign the bill and persuade the Gujarat government not to go ahead with the bill.
Prof. Anil Kane
Prof. H.C. Dholakia
Prof. Deepak De
Prof. Veena Mistri
Prof. Rumi Mistri
Prof. K. C. Mehta
Prof. Sanjeev Vaidya
Dr. S.R. Pandya
Prof R. C. Desai
Prof. J.S. Bandookwala
Dr. Narendra Parmar
Prof. Bharat Mehta
Dr. I.I. Pandya
Kamal Pandya, Advocate
Prof. Nikul Patel
Dr. K. B. Desai
Dr. Nirlesh Kothari
Prof. Mahesh S. Deshpande
Prof. Bhavsar Prakash
Prof. Rathod S.R.
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