It was a year of new beginnings and unfulfilled promises in the higher education sector. While the State got three new universities this year, many projects announced in 2014 failed to move beyond official files. What came as the biggest help to Higher Education Department that plans to reform the sector in next five years was Central Government’s Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA).
2 New Universities
The year began on a high note with the Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD) agreeing to upgrade Rama Devi (RD) Autonomous Women’s College to RD Women’s University, giving Odisha its first women’s university. The Khallikote Autonomous College was also conferred cluster university status under RUSA.
The MHRD also sanctioned infrastructure grants of `100 crore to Utkal University, Sambalpur University, Berhampur University, Biju Patnaik University of Technology (BPUT) and Veer Surendra Sai University of Technology (VSSUT).
The Odisha Government on its part, decided to upgrade Gangadhar Meher (GM) Autonomous College to GM Unitary University. Interestingly, the decision came just ahead of the urban local body election in Sambalpur. All the three universities began their new academic session in August. Although the Government announced to begin the State Open University in Sambalpur this year, only land for the institution has been identified so far. This month, the State Government announced to establish an Odia Open University to promote the language.
The new universities, though, have their share of problems. No Vice-Chancellors and additional faculty members have been appointed in the universities which are being managed by officers on special duty (OSDs).
For the State’s premier Utkal University, the Chief Minister gave his nod for opening a rural campus at Chandikhole that would focus on providing skill-based education.
Classes in IIM-Sambalpur were started at its temporary campus at Silicon Institute of Technology (SIT) at Sason in September. A total of 49 students including nine girls took admission to the top business school’s management programme. The Central Government also announced to establish Indian IISER in Berhampur. While the State Government would provide 200 acres of land for IISER, the academic session would commence from 2016-17.
2 Recruitment & Test
The department has failed to address one of the pressing issues that it faces year after year - faculty shortage. While some universities appointed faculty members this year, recruitment was not done in Degree and Plus Two colleges that have 50 per cent of their teacher positions vacant. As a result, the teaching-learning process has been severely hit.
After a delay of three years, Utkal University finally completed recruitment of 52 faculty members as per UGC guidelines this month. On the other hand, the premier institute of Western Odisha, GM Unitary University, has around 70 per cent of teacher posts vacant. Similar is the plight of Khallikote and RD universities.
Quality wise, only a few colleges and universities got their NAAC grades renewed. According to official reports, only 72 degree colleges and one State Government-run university have a valid NAAC grade. There are 97 Government degree colleges and 2,653 private Plus Two and Plus Three colleges. Of those, only 243 degree institutions have submitted their letters of intent for NAAC accreditation and self-study reports so far. The UGC has threatened to stop grants to colleges and universities in the State functioning without a valid NAAC grade from April next year. Many of the institutions are not able to frame their self-study reports for NAAC grade due to several shortcomings including shortage of teachers.
2 Students’ Elections
The students’ election in October was a murky affair. The run-up to election in different colleges took a violent turn and many of those were closed sine die owing to student unrest. In Bhubaneswar, Dhenkanal, Puri, Rourkela, Jeypore and Balasore, students of some colleges went on a rampage after college authorities found nomination papers of aspirants invalid due to shortage of attendance. In Bhubaneswar, students’ union election was held only in BJB Autonomous College, RD Women’s University and Kamala Nehru College. Elections were cancelled in Utkal University, Ekamra College, City Women’s College, Maharshi College of Natural Law and Rajdhani College.
2 Highs & Lows
The department increased the seat count of all Plus Two colleges by 20 per cent in the wake of increasing number of students opting to study Plus Two in Odisha. In degree colleges, the hike was by 10 per cent.
In September, Government revived laptop distribution to meritorious Plus Two students under Biju Yuva Sashaktikaran Yojana, an initiative under the Odisha Youth Policy. Although the scheme was started in 2013, it was discontinued last year allegedly due to difference of opinion between IT and Higher Education departments over procurement and distribution. ‘Communication Skills in English Language’ was started for students of 25 degree colleges.
On the contrary, even as the department had announced to separate Plus Two from Plus Three colleges from 2015-16 academic year, it did not implement the decision. Choice Based Credit System could not be implemented in all autonomous colleges due to delay in faculty recruitment and there was little development on the skill training front at Plus Two level.
Ragging also raised its ugly head in OUAT with some first year students of BSc (Forestry) course being ragged by seniors. One student was rusticated for a year by the agriculture university.
2 Engineering edu
This year, 31,000 of the 46,000 BTech seats offered by Government and private colleges remained vacant. The BPUT began work on getting National Board of Accreditation (NBA) grade for engineering colleges under its fold. The NBA accreditation is necessary for engineering colleges for their degrees to be recognised outside Odisha. The State Government also decided to stick to JEE Main for students seeking admission into under-graduate engineering courses. As far as medical colleges are concerned, the Orissa High Court (HC) decision to accommodate 124 students of Kalahandi’s Sardar Rajas Medical in VIMSAR-Burla and MKCGMCH-Berhampur did not go down well with medicos of the two institutions. They are on agitation ever since the HC passed the directive on November 18.