Appointment of Vice-Chancellors: For a corruption-free system
B. ARAVIND KUMAR
FOR AUTONOMY: Union HRD Minister Kapil Sibal addressing the vice-chancellors' conference in New Delhi in March.1
Weeding out corruption in VC appointments is quite a task. Academics discuss ways to keep politics out of the process.
Vice-Chancellors are appointed at the instance of the political establishment. This must end. If we really want our system to thrive, then the academic world should be left free to its own devices in the hope that you create a future for the country — Kapil Sibal, Union Minister for Human Resources Development (MHRD).
Mr. Sibal's statement at the inauguration of the vice-chancellors' conference in New Delhi rings true in many States, including Tamil Nadu where the appointment of vice-chancellors, except in a couple of cases, raised eyebrows and bred resentment among academicians. Although the political authorities deny interference in appointments, academic circles and campuses are always abuzz with talk on the new VC's ‘background’ but rarely about his administrative abilities or research accomplishments.
A couple of the VCs in recent years were relatives of prominent politicians, a few were literally unknown names, who knew how to find their way to the top post; one was suspended following allegations of corruption, and another fell at the feet of a politician publicly. The house and office of one VC was raided by the Central Bureau of Investigation.
The university system in the State became so corrupt prompting an eminent academician like M. Anandakrishnan to openly say that the system was scandalous. He said in a public forum, echoing the thoughts of academics. “The price of a vice-chancellor is Rs.10 crore - 20 crore and touts collect money all the way from Raj Bhavan to Secretariat. Even appointment of syndicate members is a corrupt process.”
“It is not just political interference. There are all kinds of interference. The government departments should have no authority in the functioning of universities. The universities should be autonomous,” says Prof. Yash Pal.
The Yash Pal committee report ‘Renovation and Rejuvenation of Higher Education' expressed deep concern that in recent years the appointment of persons for high-level posts like vice-chancellors was becoming scandalous in several States, involving political and financial considerations, at the cost of qualification and competence.
The Kothari Commission and the Knowledge Commission reports also cautioned against erosion in autonomy of the universities by interventions from government and intrusions from political processes.
“Political interference in the appointment of vice-chancellors is unfortunately an all-India Phenomenon,” says Prof. M. Anandakrishnan. It is not just political interference or corruption involving crores of rupees. “There are also organized efforts such as by associations of private colleges to bank roll for influencing appointment of pliable persons as VCs of affiliating State universities. It is a matter of shame that in some States, persons are willing to bribe even to be appointed as members / chairpersons of search committees of VCs. Such efforts are far more vulgar and scandalous in some States than others,” he says.
“The quality of education suffers even when an unqualified faculty member gets appointed in a university. If vice-chancellors lack merit, then the system fails,” says A. Gnanam, a former vice-chancellor.
“When politicians or money helps a person become a vice-chancellor, the universities are caught in plain, open corruption. In all the State universities, posts, be it non-teaching staff, faculty or syndicate member, is being sold for a price,” says S. Krishnaswamy, convener, Tamil Nadu Federation of Universities Faculty Associations (TANFUFA).
A culture of harassment has also set in the universities. Higher education touched new lows in the past five years, he says. TANFUFA has been demanding that all vice-chancellors declare their assets and post their curriculum vitae in the respective university websites before and after their term of office. Is there a way out? Even now, the selection of vice-chancellors to universities is shrouded in secrecy. No one knows the list of applicants or the search committee's shortlist submitted to the Governor and Chancellor. Unless the CVs of the applicants or the shortlisted are made public, there is no way to know that the most competent is appointed as the VC.
For the past three years, various teachers associations have been representing to the Centre, State and nodal agencies that most of the VCs in the State lack the required qualification for the post as per the new UGC Regulations on Maintenance of Standards in Higher Education – 2010, according to which the VC should be a distinguished academician, with a minimum of 10 years of experience as professor in a university system or 10 years of experience in an equivalent position in a reputed research or academic administrative organization.
A week ago, the Madras High Court Bench in Madurai ordered notice to the State Government to reply to a writ petition filed by a Tamil professor seeking to restrain it from re-appointing R. Karpaga Kumaravel as the vice-chancellor of Madurai Kamaraj University for a second term as he did not possess the mandatory experience of 10 years as a professor to be eligible to occupy the post of vice-chancellor. The VC has been given two weeks' time to reply.
“The UGC regulations are mandatory and binding on the States. It is not simply guidelines but has the force of law. The States will have to amend their State Universities Acts,” says Prof. Anandakrishnan.
Is autonomy the way out?2
What are the ways by which corruption in vice-chancellors' appointments can be eliminated?
“There are several ways in which this could be minimized if not eliminated,” says Prof. Anandakrishnan. “For instance the NCHER Bill proposes a national database of persons whose competence and antecedents are above board from which State authorities can have an option of choice. Another method will be to have persons of impeccable credentials, sometimes even from outside the State as the chairpersons of the search committees. Another way is to declare in advance that any attempt on the part of the candidates to bring in political influence will be an automatic disqualification of the candidature,” he says.
“The universities must have autonomy. It has been proved time and again that higher educational institutions with a high degree of autonomy have earned national and international recognition. Vice chancellors should come from within a highly autonomous university system. We have to move in that direction,” says Prof. Yash Pal.
Yet another approach will be to change the Acts of the State universities to specify essential qualifications that are required of a person who is expected to play academic as well as administrative leadership besides commanding the respect of his or her colleagues and academics within and outside the State. The Acts should also prescribe the methods of selection including the composition of the search committees and minimize the discretionary roles of appointing authorities in making the choice. “Such stipulations will require enormous political will towards high probity in academic appointments and university governance, which unfortunately is now at a premium,” says Prof. Anandakrishnan.
The new UGC Regulations on Maintenance of Standards in Higher Education - 2010, states that
7.3.0. VICE CHANCELLOR:
i. Persons of the highest level of competence, integrity, morals and institutional commitment are to be appointed as vice-chancellors. The vice-chancellor to be appointed should be a distinguished academician, with a minimum of ten years of experience as professor in a university system or ten years of experience in an equivalent position in a reputed research and/or academic administrative organization.
ii. The selection of vice-chancellor should be through proper identification of a panel of 3-5 names by a Search Committee through a public notification or nomination or a talent search process or in combination. The members of the above Search Committee shall be persons of eminence in the sphere of higher education and shall not be connected in any manner with the university concerned or its colleges. While preparing the panel, the search committee must give proper weightage to academic excellence, exposure to the higher education system in the country and abroad, and adequate experience in academic and administrative governance to be given in writing along with the panel to be submitted to the Visitor/Chancellor. In respect of State and Central Universities, the following shall be the constitution of the Search Committee.
a) a nominee of the Visitor/Chancellor, who should be the Chairperson of the Committee.
b) a nominee of the Chairman, University Grants Commission.
c) a nominee of the Syndicate/ Executive Council / Board of Management of the University.
iii. The Visitor/Chancellor shall appoint the Vice-Chancellor out of the Panel of names recommended by the Search Committee.
iv. The conditions of service of the Vice-Chancellor shall be prescribed in the Statutes of the Universities concerned in conformity with these Regulations.
v. The term of office of the Vice-Chancellor shall form part of the service period of the incumbent concerned making him/her eligible for all service related benefits.
The Universities/State Governments shall modify or amend the relevant Act/Statutes of the Universities concerned within six months of adoption of these Regulations.