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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 35-36 August 26 & September 2, 2023

Appointment of VCs in Karnataka: Options before the Government | P. S. Jayaramu

Friday 25 August 2023


With the suggestion by former minister and senior Congressman Prof. B. K. Chandrashekar recently for a Standing Committee consisting of heads of premier institutions like the IISC, the IIM, Bangalore, and the National Law School of India University for the selection of Vice Chancellors to the public universities in the State, the debate over the issue of appointment of VCs should acquire prominence again. It is highly desirable that the Government of Karnataka takes a serious look at the issue in order to reinvent our public universities ( the state of private universities is no better) not only for effective governance but also to correct the popular perception of universities in the State.

Let me begin by recounting the provisions of the Karnataka State Universities Act (2020) in this regard. Chapter 3 , para 14(2) states that “the State shall constitute a Search Committee, consisting of four persons of whom, one shall be nominated by the Chancellor, one by the state government, one nominee of the Syndicate of the university concerned and a nominee of the University Grants Commission. The State Government shall appoint one of the members of the Committee as the Chairman of the Search Committee.” In reality, the State Government nominee is made the Chairman of the Search Committee.

As per the Act, the Search Committee “scrutinises the application of candidates who apply to the post of VC, and as per para 14(4) submits to the State Government a panel of three names who are eminent academicians, in the alphabetical order”. The Act further states: “the state government forwards the panel to the Chancellor, who appoints one of the members from the panel, keeping in mind merit, equity and social justice, with the concurrence of the State Government, as Vice Chancellor”.

Unfortunately, reports keep appearing in the media frequently that persons who are ‘palatable’ to the authorities are being appointed as VCs, leading to the imperative need for overhauling the selection process . In this regard, it is useful to look at the provisions of the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 in the matter of appointment of heads of HEIs. The NEP Document expresses the need for removing the role of the governments ( central and state) in the appointment of VCs. In the chapter dealing with effective governance and leadership in higher education, the Document favours “the establishment in higher educational institutions of Board of Governors (BOGs) consisting of highly qualified, competent and dedicated individuals having proven capabilities and a strong sense of committment, who shall make all appointments, including that of the head of HEIs free of external interference and take all decisions regarding governance.”(page 49, para 19.2 to 4). It recommends necessary legislations in this regard by the central/state governments to remove HEIs from the shackles of external interference.” It states explicitly that “the leaders of HEIs (meaning VCs) will have to demonstrate strong alignment to Constitutional values, Pluralism and social committment”. (emphasis added) An idea, worth emulating in the appointment of VCs.

The NEP Document further states that the selection of heads of institutions “shall be carried out in a rigorous, impartial, merit and competency-based process led by an Eminent Expert Committee, constituted by the BOG”. (not the government). Thus, NEP envisages a fair mechanism for selecting VCs. Sadly, Karnataka which first implemented the NEP did not adhere to this NEP provisions.

It may be remembered that the Aatre Committee set up by the erstwhile BJP Government to prepare a draft legislation for changes in its higher education policy and Act retained, more or less, the ideas contained in the NEP Document.

One of the key issues that needs resolution is the practice of appointing Search Committees as and when the post of a VC falls vacant in a university. Instead, there could be a Search or Standing Committee, as Prof. B.K. Chandrashekar has suggested, with a term of five years, and such a Committee should be entrusted with the task of selecting a panel of names in a transparent manner and forward the panel of three names to the BOG for appointment.

Options before the Government:

1. The Government retains the present system of appointing a Search Committee, under which, the Search Committee will forward a panel of three names to the Givernment. The Government vets the panel and forwards it to the Chancellor for appointment. This means continuing with the statuquo, which has come under lot of criticisms. I don’t favour its continuance at all.

2. Adopt the NEP formula and allow universities to appoint their own Boards of Governors and permit the BOG to appoint a Search Committee of eminent academicians which shall submit a panel of three scholars of outstanding merit, national and international stature and experience in the administration of higher educational institution, to the BOG to appoint one of them as Vice Chancellor. This will remove the role of the Government and Chancellor, which calls for an amendment to the existing Karnataka State Universities Act, The Government and the Chancellor may not accept this option, as it means giving up their ‘control’ over appointment of VCs.

3. The Government to allow the BOG to appoint a panel of experts, call it Standing Committee or Search Committee, which should consist of two retired Professors, one from the IISC and another from an IIT, one industry representative and a reputed public intellectual, from within the State or from outside. The committee should be recommend truly capable academicians of outstanding merit, vision and administrative experience for appointment as VCs, keeping in mind considerations of social justice and gender equality. The panel can be sent to the government and the Chancellor for formal appointment. The Government and the Chancellor should not have any powers to reject the panel and ask for a fresh panel. This option also requires amending the State Universities Act to bring about the necessary changes. But, it will give the Government and the Chanellor the formal power to appoint VCs. This option is worth following as the higher education minister has said recently in an interview to a journalist that the government is thinking of performance-based tenure for VCs. The additional reason for accepting this option is the present government’s initiative to formulate its own education policy. If truly meritorious persons with vision are appointed as VCs of universities, the state’s quality of higher education will, hopefully, get a big boost. Surely, it is not asking for too much?

(Author: P. S. Jayaramu is former Dean, Faculty of Arts, Bangalore University., and former Senior Fellow, ICSSR, New Delhi)

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