With the recent approval of two more private universities by the government, their number is now one short of reaching the magical figure of one hundred. In addition, eight more are in the queue for getting government nod, mostly sponsored by high-profile MPs and ministers. It would have been commendable if the increase in quantity was accompanied by commensurate improvement in quality of education and operational standards. But regrettably, the situation is far from satisfactory. As many as 33 private universities have failed to shift to permanent campuses as required by law, despite repeated reminders and breach of deadlines. Allegations are rife about sub-standard education, excessive fees, and inadequate facilities. Therefore, merely increasing their numbers without catering to the qualitative aspects of private universities does not make any sense.
When the Private University Act was first promulgated in 1992, there was a provision for framing of statute by the entities. But until now, not a single private university has been able to do that, often due to non-cooperation from the government side. As a result, although public universities have statutes that provide guidelines on their operations, no such guideline is available for the private universities. Absence of statutes also results in operational variations among private universities and adversely affects their transparency, accountability and uniformity.
The revised Private University Act of 2010 clearly mentioned that any surplus money generated by the universities must be reinvested. However, there are allegations that unaccounted-for money is siphoned off by the authorities in many private universities. It would be pertinent here to note that many among the sponsors or so-called founders of the private universities held the belief, at the time of setting up their institutions, that owning those entities or bodies would largely be akin to running their 'private businesses.' And most among them thought that they would get some attractive returns, in different forms, as they had invested the money. The 2010 Act attempted to change that outlook of university sponsors. But these so-called founders are still alleged to be continuing pilfering money that is meant for reinvestment in the concerned institutions, in the absence of a rigorous monitoring mechanism.
Under the 2010 Act, the private universities are obliged to provide tuition waiver for students coming from freedom fighter families, poor students, as well pupils hailing from remote areas and disadvantaged groups. A mechanism should therefore be developed for ensuring proper implementation of this provision as well as for enhancing transparency and accountability in the matter. Research is another area where the private universities are utterly lacking in facilities, now. Absence of flexibility with regard to course options at the graduate and undergraduate levels has also been a nagging issue for many. There has not been much headway in bringing uniformity in their curricula as well as in establishment of an appropriate accreditation system. It is therefore not surprising at all that the rankings of the country's private universities, in general, remain much below par even in the regional context.
As pointed out by relevant quarters, many problems in the private universities are linked to the activities of the members of their respective board of trustees. Such trustees are often very influential, and many of them consider establishment of a university as a status symbol. Sometimes even bank-loan defaulters have been involved in setting up private universities. More problems are generated when they try to interfere in the daily workings of universities. The role of Vice Chancellors is quite limited in many institutions. Their main task often appears to be implementation of decisions taken by the board of trustees, whereas the faculty members and academicians should have been the ones to take these decisions. Transparency and accountability of the trustees, sponsors and founders of private universities, in line with relevant law, rules, regulations as well as standard norms and practices, hold the key to flourishing of private universities in the country.
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