It is not just strange but puzzling to see that the government, despite all kinds of threats and warnings it regularly issues, is not at all in a position to rein in the unruliness of the private universities.
One of the preconditions for setting up a private university requires that the campus has to be moved to its own land within seven years of the commencement of its academic activities. Although as many as four deadlines have already elapsed, only a dozen private universities have so far complied by shifting their activities to campuses built on their own lands.
According to the University Grants Commission (UGC), the designated regulatory body of the country's both public and private universities, a large number of the private universities which have been running their academic activities in rented houses missed the fourth deadline that expired on January 31. At present, there are reportedly 95 private universities of which 51 were set up between 1992 and 2003, allegedly on political considerations. As per the Private Universities ACT 1992, provisional permission for establishing private universities in hired places was for five years, on expiry of which a private university could apply for recognition as a permanent set-up, subject to fulfilment of specified conditions that, among others, included self-owned campus, 3.0 per cent quota for free tuition for the children of freedom fighters and another 3.0 per cent for meritorious and poor students from backward areas, adequate funds to undertake research, etc. The transition period was subsequently extended to seven years in the revised Act of 2010.
The increasing number of private universities in the big cities and also in the divisional headquarters, has for some time been a cause for worry. Although initially, say in the early nineties, when private universities began to be housed in residential and hired commercial buildings, there were not many to raise eyebrows as the public universities were not at all able to keep up with the increasing demand for higher education. Over and above, there was no choice but to accept the temporary arrangement as a transition phase.
Although things did not look pleasant, it was expected that in course of time the makeshift arrangement would turn into a well-developed channel for higher leaning in the country. The UGC allowed these universities to be provisionally operated by trustee boards as non-profit institutions, and to continue in hired accommodation for a stipulated period.
It is commonly alleged that the private universities, with the exception of a few, have also flouted other rules and provisions under which they were established. These, among others, include the non-profit provision. Appallingly, majority of these universities have allegedly turned into profit-making commercial enterprises.
The entire scenario is chaotic. More than a dozen of these universities are operating in gross violation of the guidelines of the UGC, backed by court injunctions. It is thus with temporary injunctions that they are operating in campuses not authorised by the UGC.
It is obvious that the extremely demand-driven higher education scene in the country has lured some unscrupulous and street-smart elements to become enterprising curators of higher learning. There were occasional drives on the part of the Ministry of Education and the UGC to bring some semblance of correction to the system, but despite efforts, much of the moves bounced back as the university authorities held their students as shields. After all, it is ultimately the students aspiring for higher education in these universities who are to pay the most in case penal action results in closure of some of these universities. But the pretext does not hold good as it is the responsibility of the education ministry to ensure that things don't turn too bad before corrective steps are taken.
That the errant private universities are totally undeterred in the way they conduct themselves has been shockingly revealed by none other than the education minister himself. The minister told parliament few days ago that private universities were charging their students tuition and other fees in total violation of the provisions of the Private University Act. Apparently, the minister himself did not have any clear clue on how to go about, and this, no doubt, is too frustrating to seek recourse to any mechanism capable of disciplining the private universities -- the supposedly higher seat of learning.
There were plenty of reports in the media about the unruly behaviour, including corrupt practices of some these institutions. But neither the education ministry nor the UGC seems strong enough to rein in the utter disorderliness that chatacterises majority of the private universities.