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There is understandable concern among students and their parents about the Union Human Resource Development Ministry's proposal, made to the Supreme Court, to strip 44 institutions of higher learning of their status as 'deemed universities'. While little is known about the criteria that have been used to prepare the list of these institutions — presumably there was a pattern to selecting them from the many that exist — the move has come as a surprise to students who have already enrolled for courses and paid sizeable fees. It is only natural that they should be apprehensive about their future, though Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal has been categorical in assuring them that they will not suffer. It remains to be known how exactly he proposes to keep his promise. Be that as it may, there is merit in the argument that many institutions which were given the status of 'deemed universities', allowing them to function without the constraints imposed by affiliation to a university and issue certificates to their students after successfully completing their courses, have failed to deliver quality education: They have neither adequate infrastructure nor teaching resources. The move to set up 'deemed universities' was initiated by the NDA regime, primarily with the objective of cutting down on bureaucracy, reducing the load on existing universities and giving a fillip to private sector investment in higher education. These good intentions were used as a convenient cover by Mr Arjun Singh and his team to legitimise fly-by-night operations as 'deemed universities' for reasons that do not require elaboration. To that extent, the proposed crack-down is justified, but not without pointing out that many of the institutions that face de-recognition are being unfairly targeted. The idea of setting up 'deemed universities' was, and remains, good; it serves nobody's purpose to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The Human Resource Development Ministry would do well not to act in haste, be more transparent in deciding which institutions have failed to meet the commitments that were made while being given the status of 'deemed universities', and explain why the regulatory system has failed to monitor their performance.

A second point that has added to the confusion is the Minister's statement that the system of 'deemed universities' will be done away with in its entirety. This is most astounding, not least because this would involve annulling a law enacted by Parliament. Has the Government decided to scrap the law? Has an alternative law been drafted? And, more important, is the Government planning to revert to the decrepit and discredited system of letting universities that can barely manage their own affairs and, for all practical purposes, are in a shambles, call the shots for institutions that are far better equipped and offer quality education? This is not reform, but grotesquely antediluvian. It makes little sense to force institutions of academic excellence, for instance St Xavier's College and Presidency College in Kolkata, to remain captives of a slothful, corrupt and unimaginative bureaucracy that runs India's UGC-recognised universities where academics are treated with utter disdain if not contempt by both teachers and administrators. India needs more universities, more colleges, more schools. The Government is clearly incapable of setting them up. It shouldn't raise obstacles for those who are willing to invest their money and effort. Of course, bucket shops should be shut down immediately.

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Category Students, Other Articles by - Raj Kumar Makkad