Education caught in governor-government tussle in TN

The state government has passed bills that would grant powers to the state to appoint vice chancellors in universities.
Image used for representational purposes only.
Image used for representational purposes only.

CHENNAI: From appointment of vice chancellors of universities to organising convocations to implementing National Education Policy, controversies are aplenty in 2023, thanks to the divergent views of the state and the governor, who is also the chancellor of universities. As a result, the higher education sector that directly influences socioeconomic development and the state’s economic prosperity is at the receiving end.

Chancellorship of universities is one of the major statutory powers vested on governor’s office by the state. Over the years, various commissions appointed by the central governments on centre-state relations like Sarkaria and Punchi panels had opined that the governor need not act on the advice of the council of ministers when he is discharging his powers as the chancellor of universities. The Supreme Court had also taken a similar view on the matter.

However, both the commissions had recommended that the state governments should refrain from appointing the governor as chancellor of the universities as it is not envisaged in the Constitution and expose the office to criticism. The state government has passed bills that would grant powers to the state to appoint vice chancellors in universities. However, these are yet to be approved by the governor. The state government has also approached the Supreme Court over the pending approval of the bills.

The legal disputes apart, delay in appointing vice chancellors for universities, including the University of Madras, Bharathiar University, and Tamil Nadu Teachers Education University, persist due to differences regarding the inclusion of a UGC nominee in the search committees, affecting the effective functioning of the universities drastically. The state also saw an unprecedented move of Raj Bhavan issuing press releases about the formation of search committees with the UGC nominees for three state universities while the government issued government orders excluding their names.

Academics expressed concern that universities without heads are ideal. SP Thiayagaran, former V-C of Madras University, emphasised the critical role of V-Cs in policy-making and undertaking educational reforms to keep these pillars of higher education relevant.  Beyond V-C appointments, university officials find themselves in the midst of the tug-of-war between the governor and the government. While the state opposes the NEP, the governor conducts review meetings with V-Cs on its implementation.

When the state introduced a common syllabus for universities, the governor asserted universities were not obliged to adhere to the suggested syllabus from the Tamil Nadu State Council for Higher Education, citing a reference from the University Grants Commission. “The governor and government should solve the differences among themselves instead of pulling the universities into the matter. Putting the universities on the line will have a long-term negative impact on the higher education of the state,” said an office-bearer of the Association of University Teachers.

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The New Indian Express