New Delhi: In the last four years of the United Progressive Alliance government, as legislation to both regulate private colleges and open the education sector to foreign investment have stalled, a record 34 institutions have been granted “deemed university” status. Only six are government-run, while the rest are private institutions.
The deemed status is generally a coveted one in higher education and allows institutes to largely act free of government interference.
Big league: The National School of Drama in New Delhi, which got the deemed university status in 2005. (Photo: Rajeev Dabral / Mint)
Conferred by the University Grants Commission (UGC), a regulatory body under the Indian government’s ministry of human resource development, it used to be awarded only to institutes that have been in operation for 25 years.
The number of deemed institutions, thus, becomes significant as it represents a way that the government has enabled private players to flourish, even as the The Private Professional Educational Institutions (Regulation of Admission and Fixation of Fee) Bill, 2005, which would regulate admissions and fees, crawls through government corridors.
But some observers say the government is allowing many unworthy institutes to become deemed and that the new players are not adhering to the UGC guidelines in regard to course offerings. They point to the coincidence of many of the universities receiving the status being backed by politicians or big businesses.
“With such relaxed guidelines, UGC is only providing opportunity for commercialization of education. We have objected to this mushrooming of deemed universities each time we have met UGC officials,” said Thomas Joseph, president of the All India Federation of University Teachers’ Organisations (Aifucto), a teachers’ union.
But under intense demand for higher education across India and backed by Planning Commission recommendations in favour of financial assistance to deemed universities, UGC is defending its actions.
UGC chairman Prof Sukhdeo Thorat doesn’t see the mushrooming of deemed universities a cause of concern.
“There are only 104 deemed universities and I would call the growth quite steady,” Thorat said. “This has happened over a period of time. As far as regulation is concerned, we are strict with defaulters.”
Of the 28 newly deemed universities, nine were recognized as such through the “de novo” clause introduced by UGC in 2001 to benefit institutes barely a few years old, subject to revision after five years.
The list includes technical universities, such as the LNM Institute of Information Technology (LNMIIT) in Jaipur, backed by steel tycoon Lakshmi N. Mittal, and the Jaypee Institute of Information Technology in Noida, backed by the Jaypee Group. Both were awarded deemed status on 3 February 2006 and 1 November 2004, respectively.
At LNMIIT, set up as part of a private-public partnership between the Rajasthan government and Mittal, Raka Sharan, one of 20 regular faculty members, said the status reflects the promise of the programme.
“The de novo deemed universities need to be engaged in teaching programmes and research in chosen fields of specialization, which are innovative and of very high academic standards at the master’s and research levels,” he said. “We are open to periodic inspection by the UGC and offer BTech degrees in electronics and communication, computer science and communication, and computer science, niche areas in technical education.”
After amending the original requirement to be in existence for 25 years, the government changed the requirement for deemed status to be only for institutions open for a decade. Even so, by 1991, only 29 total institutions boasted of deemed status 35 years after the UGC Act was passed in 1956. They included reputed institutions as Birla Institute of Technology and Science in Pilani, and the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore.
In the 1990s, few received the status but the trend picked up again in 2002, as the number of deemed universities in India reached 52. During the six years of the previous National Democratic Alliance government, 31 were granted deemed status.
Deemed universities grew by 100% during the last five years, says a Planning Commission paper on higher education. This, despite the fact that the number of state-run universities saw slower growth, from 178 in 2002 to 217 in 2006. Central universities fared even worse—from 18 to 20 in the last four years, according to the paper.
The recent spurt in the number of deemed universities in India indicates a clear shift towards a pro-private sector policy by the UGC, which so far has been prescribing stringent guidelines for the universities seeking deemed status. Encouraged by the trend, as many as 177 more institutes have approached the UGC seeking deemed university status, most of them private players. Out of these, 38 institutes are less than five years old, seeking the status under the de novo category.
Aifucto’s Joseph says this is particularly worrisome.
“Under de novo, you only make a promise of performance. From our experience, promises are being broken,” he said.
Not surprisingly, the UGC issued a letter to all deemed varsities in May asking them to observe guidelines regarding new courses, study centres and offshore campuses. “We have received several complaints about deemed universities launching new courses and affiliating institutions in their name without seeking our permission, particularly in states like Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. Not only has it confused students, it has also led to several court cases across the country,” a UGC official requesting anonymity said.
The maximum number of applications has also come from the institutes concentrated in the states the official names. Tamil Nadu leads with 30 applications, and Maharashtra and Karnataka with 19 applications each. Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra currently boast the largest concentration of deemed universities.