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Higher Education: In Which Direction?

Sudarshan Roy Chaudhuri

TMC and its followers are keeping on repetition of same catch line that the Left Front Government has done nothing in last 34 years. In Higher Education the previous Government has only cultivated 'dalatantra' (party rule) and low intellect, they further allege. The new Government is rendering their commitment to initiate education system, which is 'neutral', and cultivate 'high intellect'. A Government publicity material has also been generated to propagate success in last three months.

Let's talk on more authentic document, which is the budget speech of Higher Education Minister of the state for the financial year 2011-12. It has been circulated in the assembly and the members have deliberated on that. The first fifteen paragraphs of the said budget speech deals with Governmental activities and future directions. The last and the sixteenth paragraph sums up the speech by stating that the Higher Education department is going to initiate something new which was hitherto unknown.

What is that hitherto unknown initiative? Dear reader, you don't have to trouble yourself to read the entire sixteen-page speech. It will be clear in more or less one page! To be more specific, the fifteenth paragraph will discover the hitherto unknown initiative. It states that the applications for the scholarship scheme for poor and meritorious students initiated by the Left Front Government will be received online. Previously till 2010 the applications were received either through post offices or those had to be handed over individually. Now onwards the process will be online. Though it has not been clearly mentioned, but one can expect that the old practice will also be in use. Otherwise it can create serious problem for the rural people. You have to note that this modification has been termed as "paradigm shift" from the "classical approach''.

The hitherto unknown initiative also mentions the up gradation of the departmental website so that the Governmental documents become easy available. The word 'resurgence' has been used to describe the initiative! Though it has been acknowledged that newly constructed 'information cell' (was in operation from the tenure of the Left Front Government) is equipped with even the latest information. So this initiative is not at all hitherto unknown. Similarly it is also not unknown that the National scheme on Information, Communication Technology was initiated by the Left Front Government. But the officer who has informed the Minister that the advancement has brought maximum Universities and Higher Education Institutions of the state under National College network has merely misdirected him. Most of the Higher Education Institutions of the state are yet to achieve that status.

The twelfth paragraph speaks of another hitherto unknown initiative. The vacant seats of the private Engineering Colleges will be filled up with the students who have not appeared in the Joint Entrance Examination and have secured at least 45% mark in Science stream subject in Higher Secondary Examination. This was a common practice in some other states due to the pressure from the owners of the private Engineering Colleges. But we could resist the pressure. A TMC MLA raised the issue in the Assembly three years back lamenting that why there be repeated counseling for the admission in the Engineering Colleges? The then minister replied that the process is a checkpoint so that the vacant seats do not become instrumental for mere business. (For details the minute of the Assembly dated 25.11.2008 can be consulted.)

It's crystal clear that the new Government has to take the initiative to fill up the vacant seats of the private Engineering Colleges only due to the pressure of the owners of those private Engineering Colleges. Otherwise no way it can be the responsibility of the Government. But in the process the Government created complexities for Universities like Jadavpur and BESU. The reason I believe is the wrong information provided by irresponsible officers that maximum Universities and Higher Education Institutions of the state have already come under National College network.

But what the new Government has done till date? The publicity material as well as the budget speech of Higher Education Minister claims that the Government has appointed a thirteen-member expert committee. They were supposed to review the scenario of Higher Education especially the functioning of Universities, Colleges, Service Commissions and Higher Education Council and prescribe recommendations for development. But the Governor advised the Universities not to do anything beyond the 'routine activities' since June.

Another contribution of the new Government is creation of eight-member mentor group for Presidency University. The minister has informed that this group will be converted to the Executive Council of the University.

The rest of the success claimed in the budget speech was the initiation of the Left Front Government! The third paragraph reads that the Government has established seventeen new degree colleges under pay packet scheme in 2010-11. Further the Government has proposed to open three new degree colleges in Bhabta of Murshidabad, Rajarhat and Gaighata of North 24 Parganas. Under pay packet scheme of eleventh five-year plan 58 new degree colleges have been established in such localities where schedule caste/tribe, other backward class and minorities inhabit mostly. There is one mistake. The seventh Left Front Government sanctioned 18 new degree colleges and former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee himself laid the foundation stone of Harichand- Guruchand Thakur Government College in Gaighata.

The fourth and fifth paragraphs mention about intimating College Service Commission regarding the vacant posts, taking responsibilities of the salary of the part-time teachers, approval of three-tier salary system, fixing the retirement age to 60 with retirement benefits and leave encashment, fixing the salary of the contractual whole-time teachers to Rs. 21400/- with same benefits… all these were done by the Left Front Government. The dates mentioned in the budget speech of Higher Education Minister prove it easily.

The fifth paragraph mentions about general and honours courses in different Universities and Colleges during 2011-12 sessions. This was another initiation of the Left Front Government. The tenth paragraph mentions about scope of pursuing Santali language in Alchiki script in Siddho Kanhu Birsa University. This was also an initiation of the Left Front Government. The Council of the University has proposed three chair Professors in the name of Siddho, Kanhu and Birsa, three legendary names who led tribal revolution against British imperialist rule. The Council was formed in the tenure of the Left Front Government. The Left Front Government released more than Rs. 18 crores for the development of 205 colleges in 2007-08. During the last session the Left Front Government sanctioned Rs. 14 crores for the development of these colleges. The mention about this has been done in seventh paragraph of the budget speech of Higher Education Minister of the new Government. The new Government has not been able to sanction any further amount till date. The ninth paragraph mentions that more than 200 Colleges and Universities got the accreditation of National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC), the full amount for the land given by HIDCO for construction of own building for College Service Commission and Higher Education Council has already been sanctioned and the new pay scale prescribed by UGC has already been started. But nowhere the minister acknowledged the Left Front Government.

Mention of two things could have relieved us. It's has been known from the media that the new Government is going to investigate modalities of issuing land in Rajarhat-Newtown by the Left Front Government. What is going to be the fate of the land issued to College Service Commission and Higher Education Council? The ninth paragraph does not mention that the Left Front Government unconditionally implemented new scale of pay for the officers. This was such only incident in the country. The budget speech is also silent about the 80% arrear of the College and University teachers, which the Central Government is not releasing, and 65 years be the age of super annotation for College and University teachers. These two were TMC's demand and their education cell even organized sit-in demonstration in its favor.

The tenth paragraph mentions about teaching posts sanction and fund allocation for assistance in building construction in Siddho Kanhu Birsa University and Gourbanga University, advancement in formation of statutes for Gourbanga University and initiation of establishment of new campus for North Bengal University and Rabindra Bharati University. All these were initiated by the Left Front Government. The budget speech further mentions about sanctioning of teaching posts for other Universities. This was also initiated by the Left Front Government. But the new Government has only created obstacles in the fulfillment of those posts. That's why the last part has not been mentioned in the budget speech.

The tenth paragraph further mentions in details about Bengal Engineering and Science University's (BESU) provision of conversion into Institute of National Importance and its Indian Institute of Science Engineering and Technology (IIEST) status. But the matter once again has no mentioning of the initiative of the Left Front Government. The former Higher Education Minister of the Left Front Government wrote to the Central Government in November 2006 for BESU's IIEST status. The former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee also wrote to the Prime Minister on 22 February, 2007 to address the same issue. But the budget speech of the present Higher Education Minister will give a wrong indication that only the Central Government has took initiation for the up gradation of BESU.

Few days back it was declared from a governmental program that sanctioning of merit cum means scholarship has been stopped since 2008. But the budget statement is just opposite! They have suggested only a cosmetic improvisation that is, making the process on line.

The Left Front Government took the initiative of introducing new subjects and expanding total seats by sanctioning seven new Engineering Colleges. They also took serious initiative in introducing 2nd phase of Technical Education Quality Improvement Programme (TEQIP). All these have been mentioned in the twelfth paragraph of the budget speech of the present Higher Education Minister. Has the present Government done any substantial contribution in Higher Education? They have constituted expert committees and mentor group for Presidency and announced lofty commitments. Yes, they have sent new Government nominees to the Governing bodies of Colleges and have nominated their own people to some top positions in different bodies.

The new Government, therefore, is involved in an act of filching the contributions of the Left Front Government. But in their publicity material they are in a mood of brandishing. In black and white they have said that the standard of Higher Education has suffered in the last few decades. Just after the statement there are mentioning of activities of the Government, which was the initiation of the Left Front Government.

Even the commitments are false! Let's take the example of 'preparation of education map'. The Left Front Government has done this quite ago. One can only renew that education map. Another commitment is direct recruitment of College Principals through College Service Commission. Amazing! This procedure was already in practice for the recruitment of College Principals. The publicity material further promises about setting up model colleges in the twelfth five-year plan if UGC release fund.

The budget speech also mentions about recruitment of Registrar, initiation or framing statute and sanction of Rs. 5 crores for development and reconstruction of Chemistry laboratory, which was damaged due to fire in Presidency University. But these were also done in the tenure of the Left Front Government.

What are those initiatives, which were hitherto unknown? The only unknown part is setting up expert committees and mentor group!

Even many paragraphs of the budget statement are almost identical with the budget statement of the former Left Front Government. Then why the present Government is repeatedly uttering the story of decline in the last few decades? This budget statement is unique and departs from the legacy of Left rule in one point. The Left Front Government was always vocal against the unilateral and autocratic approach of the Central Government. It believed that education is for welfare of the common people and it was also mentioned in their budget statement. This has not been reflected in the approach of the present Government.

[The author is former Higher Education Minister of West Bengal.]
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