The Viplav Sharma case was in response to the post-2004 ‘charitable deemed university conferment syndrome’. The deemed university guidelines strictly enforced till 2004 was grossly diluted and since 2005, the government of India notified 108 institutions as deemed universities, and in Tamil Nadu alone the number of private deemed universities increased from 18 in 2005 to 35 in 2008. Despite the Supreme Court issuing a notice in 2006 on a PIL filed by Viplav Sharma opposing the manner in which the Centre granted deemed university status, between May 2006 and March 2009 over 50 institutions were granted this status.
Pursuant to this, the Tandon Committee was the Ministry of Human Resource Development’s (MHRD) response to a sting operation on the ‘much known but least bothered’ issue of capitation fee. It became a double-barrelled response with the University Grants Commission (UGC) also exercising its power under Section 13 of the UGC Act to review all the deemed universities. The UGC appointed different committees consisting of former vice chancellors, senior IIT professors and nominees from relevant statutory bodies. While the Tandon Committee review was done in an armchair manner based on 20-minute presentations, the UGC review was based on physical visits to all deemed universities, comprehensive analysis and detailed reports on each varsity. The inspection reports were accepted in the UGC’s meetings in October and November 2009 with copies sent to the varsities concerned for follow-up action and compliance within three months. The joint secretary of the MHRD represents the ministry at the UGC meetings and is party to all the proceedings.
The double barrelled gun—Tandon and UGC review—was fired in 2009. Tandon victimised the deemed university system through its arbitrary and faulty ranking methodology, which was pointed out by the Supreme Court-appointed Thakur Committee but conveniently ignored. The UGC committee doesn’t know where its bullet landed. The SC has recorded the government of India’s intention to comprehensively lay down a review policy after getting inputs from AICTE, NBA, NAAC, UGC, etc. When the matter came up for hearing again on April 6, 2015, the role of NAAC was pointed out and hopefully on August 18, when this case comes up before Supreme Court NAAC may get its ‘punar janma’.
The process of assessment followed by NAAC is in accordance with internationally accepted practices with certain modifications to suit the Indian context, drawing expertise from senior academics of undoubted integrity. The NAAC review covers performance related to the educational processes and outcomes, curriculum, teaching-learning, evaluation, faculty, research, infrastructure, learning resources, governance, financial strength and student services. The Supreme Court has also reinforced the spirit of such review processes and was categorically against the Tandon-type review through photos and video camera recordings. The SC clearly said: “In our considered opinion, inspection would mean, in all its connotative expanse, physical inspection from all scores and spectrums. Neither the petitioners can have a restrictive or constricted meaning on the same nor the UGC can put a gloss over it. A physical inspection is fundamentally a physical inspection and we so repeat at the cost of repetition.”
In all fairness, all universities—public and private—should be reviewed by NAAC periodically and policy decisions must be based on NAAC gradings. This will not only encourage progressive universities to further their academic pursuits but also restore confidence in government agencies like NAAC and not on extra-constitutional committees and their arbitrary findings. Will the MHRD feed policy power to UGC’s own baby, NAAC, or bequeath statutory power to foster baby, Tandon Committee? The answer is simple: Own baby.
The writer is Dean, Planning & Development, SASTRA University