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Deepening Crisis of Governance in University of Mumbai

Madhu S Paranjape (msparanjape@gmail.com) is the General Secretary of the Bombay University and College Teachers’ Union.

The arbitrary decision and flawed implementation of the transition to the On-screen Marking System in the University of Mumbai has jeopardised the futures of lakhs of students due to inordinate delays and discrepancies in examination results. This is one in a series of instances where established norms and statutes have been set aside in the university to cultivate an undemocratic, non-transparent and unaccountable coterie culture under the garb of structural reforms.

The author is grateful to Tapati Mukhopadhyay for her valuable inputs.

The University of Mumbai, today, faces a crisis of credibility that is unparalleled in its 160-year-old history. The results of majority of the 4.5 lakh students, who appeared for their final-year undergraduate and postgraduate examinations in March–April 2017, were delayed for a long period. As per rules, the result of every examination ought to be declared within 45 days of its completion. The delay in results declaration hit students of all faculties, mainly the arts, science and commerce streams, which together enrol about 65% of the total students.

The cause of this delay is the highly mismanaged transition to the On-screen Marking System (OSM), also known as online assessment, imposed without preparation by the university authorities in these examinations. The former Central Assessment Programme (CAP), where all examiners would assess papers in the university campus and other CAP centres, had proved to be an efficient system for timely declaration of results, for nearly three decades now. In a press conference held by the vice chancellor on 24 January 2017, one of the prime reasons cited for the switch to OSM was the reduced possibility of malpractice following the answer sheets racket that surfaced in May 2016 (Sahoo 2017). However, this is a poor justification, as this serious scam involving the tampering of engineering exam answer sheets in Mumbai had occurred despite the OSM already in place for the discipline since 2012 (Chaturvedi 2016). Thus, such malpractices are the result of lax security, not offline/online assessment, as is being suggested.

The university authority made a hurried attempt to replace the time-tested, manual (offline) evaluation mechanism with online evaluation, in a bid to fulfil the requirement of examination reforms as advocated by the Arun Nigavekar Committee report, 2011 and the Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA). The OSM entails the assessment of digitised (scanned copies of) answer scripts on a computer screen. This was sought to be done without creating the required system and technological infrastructure, without constituting a Board of Information Technology as required by the Maharashtra Public Universities Act (MPUA), 2016, and without imparting adequate training to the examiners. This attempted compromise of fitting a new system in an old environment has flopped miserably, albeit at a high social cost.

As a result, the future employment and academic careers of lakhs of students stand jeopardised. Simultaneously, the academic calendar has been completely disrupted, with nearly 30 teaching days lost, in the first semester of 2017–18. This is likely to snowball into a similar fiasco at the end-semester examinations due in October 2017.

Immediate Triggers of the Crisis

The Vice Chancellor of University of Mumbai, Sanjay Deshmukh, had proposed to introduce the OSM as approved by the academic council. However, in order to do so, all the pre-existing arrangements in the university, including the academic council, were ad hoc as the MPUA 2016 was to soon take effect. Such a significant proposal should have awaited proper deliberation by duly constituted bodies. There have been reports of opposition to the proposal in the management council (Rao 2017), apart from other boards/departments. A pilot run was necessary before full-scale implementation (Iyer 2017). In that sense, the execution of the above decision was hasty, flawed and consequentially, disastrous. The service provider was finalised as late as 28 April 2017. Clearly, the technical infrastructure for the online assessment of nearly 18 lakh answer scripts in total was sought to be installed well after the major examinations were completed. Digitised answer scripts for most of the subjects were not ready for assessment until the last week of May—a major loss of up to 40 days of assessment time (Qazi and Bhandary 2017).

The entire OSM system depends on internet-based virtual networks. Instead of providing the required technical infrastructure, for exigency, the university displaced the entire responsibility onto hundreds of colleges in Mumbai city and adjoining districts under the jurisdiction of the university, without checking their existing infrastructural set-ups. Displaying utter callousness, the crucial prerequisite of dedicated computers with sufficient internet bandwidth, that is, a minimum download speed of 100 megabyte per second (mbps) and good-quality connections to sustain 50–60 simultaneous downloads in a centre, has been ignored. Furthermore, colleges have had to utilise computers meant for students for their practicals. Download speeds of 10 mbps are being shared by examiners and college administrations simultaneously.

The much-delayed assessment process has also been painfully slow because of repeated logins required due to intermittent connections, slow downloading, servers being down, examiners getting wrong papers and an unending wait for the university help desk to respond. The examiners have ended up spending several hours and assessing barely eight to ten answer scripts in a day as compared to the average 30–35 per day, which they ordinarily did offline. The new semester of the academic year 2017–18 began on 5 June 2017. Assessment work has, thus, clashed with regular teaching and other administrative duties of teachers. To comply with the chancellor’s instructions to declare all results by 31 July 2017, the university declared one week as non-instructional to ensure all teachers would concentrate on assessments. University authorities have failed to seriously handle the related issues of infrastructure and assessment speeds. To camouflage this, they began pressurising examiners to assess 30 papers a day or face disciplinary action. As a result, the university could not make much progress and missed not only the 31 July, but two more deadlines by 15 August 2017.

Subversion of Democracy

The present crisis comes on the back of several efforts to subvert established processes and practices in the university. In February 2015, the Government of Maharashtra set up a five-member committee to frame the MPUA based on the Nigavekar Committee report. The new act was to supersede the Maharashtra Universities Act (MUA), 1994. The government displayed extreme haste when by the writ of an ordinance, it postponed elections to all the universities’ bodies that were due after the completion of their five-year term (Law and Judiciary Department 2015). The postponement till 31 August 2016 was later extended to 31 August 2017. This step inflicted an irreparable damage to the democratic academic governance and examination management of universities by curtailing the participation of the democratically elected representatives of teachers, registered graduates, principals and managements in the decision-making of the university. The elected members on various authorities and bodies of the university are accountable to stakeholders, whose interests they represent. They remain vigilant against violation of rules, as experience shows, and exercise some social control on a public university.

Now, with all the powers vested in the vice chancellor and his team—the registrar, the director of the Board of College and University Development (BCUD), and a group of hand-picked persons nominated by the vice chancellor in various positions—a coterie culture has developed in the university. The vice chancellor constituted ad hoc Boards of Studies (BOS), also called Special Task Forces, for every subject in May 2016 by nominating five persons of his choice in each BOS (Rao 2016). He also nominated persons as ad hoc deans (coordinators) (University of Mumbai 2016a). Not surprisingly, undemo­cratic and ad hoc decision-making has become the norm in the university’s governance, since the last two years. A spate of arbitrary decisions has led to the deterioration of academic and administrative standards. The present crisis of delayed results is the latest manifestation of this autocratic functioning of the university.

Arbitrary and Unethical Decisions

Changes in the course structure and syllabi have a long-term and widespread impact. Therefore, approval for such changes requires a consultative process defined by statutes and norms. There have been multiple instances of bypassing these rules. The structure of examination for all courses was suddenly changed at the beginning of the semester in 2016–17 from 75 (external): 25 (internal) pattern to 100 (external) marks pattern (University of Mumbai 2016c). This created chaos as teachers were amidst planning internal tests. At the same time, the structure of some BSc courses was arbitrarily changed in the academic year 2016–17 (University of Mumbai 2016d), adversely affecting the workload of several allied departments. Nearly 50% of the staff in most colleges is on contractual basis,1 and are discontinued if the workload reduces. The real impact of workload change on account of this move remains camouflaged.

In the past two years, the syllabus revision has been a mess. The ad hoc BOS, formed in May 2016, were instructed to revise the syllabi for 2016–17 (University of Mumbai 2016b), with less than a month’s time to complete the task. The consequence of this hasty and bureaucratic approach led to a superficial revision of syllabus in most subjects, sometimes by merely transferring a topic/paper from one semester to another. This defeated the purpose of improvement in the curriculum. The worst victims were the first-year students of 2016–17. Colleges received the revised syllabus only midway through the semester (University of Mumbai 2016e). With insufficient time for study, majority of the first-year students fared miserably in the first semester (Qazi 2017).

In a serious violation of the provisions of the 1994 act, chairpersons of all ad hoc BOS were informed by a circular on 14 February 2017 that the vice chancellor decided to incorporate the inclusion of an entire paper on live projects/fieldwork in the final year of graduate courses. This was an unprecedented decision, as the vice chancellor is not authorised, whether by the MUA, 1994 or MPUA, 2016 (effective from 1 March 2017), to introduce major changes to the syllabi. Chairpersons were orally instructed to revise the syllabi within four to five days, before 1 March 2017. A strong representation from the Bombay University and College Teachers’ Union (BUCTU), dated 26 February 2017 and regarding “Illegal and Unethical Attempts to Hurriedly Frame Syllabi before the Coming into Force of the Maharashtra Public Universities Act, 2016,” compelled the university to postpone the exercise (Vernekar 2017).

Recently, a circular was issued (University of Mumbai 2017), almost three weeks after the lectures of the new semester had commenced, announcing a change of curricular structure and elective papers for the second-year BSc courses and asking the respective BOS to revise the syllabus accordingly. This change was proposed by the ad hoc dean for science and disturbingly, it was accepted by the truncated academic council. It caused confusion and panic in the colleges, which were already reeling under the burden of the online assessment mess. The BUCTU wrote to the chancellor on 4 July 2017, regarding the “Disruption of Academic Calendar due to Ad Hoc and Hasty Decisions of University of Mumbai,” for his intervention to prevent another mess following which the said circular was hurriedly withdrawn (Tripathy 2017).

Violations

Apart from academic disorder, the admini­strative governance is also in serious disarray. In the last two years, the university authority has consistently turned a blind eye to the violation of statutes and norms by certain managements as well as the harassment and victimisation of staff in these colleges. Reports of inquiry committees appointed by the university have brought these instances in some colleges on record, when they were raised, discussed and minuted in meetings of the management council. The grievance committee of the university has become defunct. Most grievances remain pending. Even in cases where decisions are taken, there is no implementation of the same. Instead of initiating punitive action, there are shocking instances of the vice chancellor patronising some of the erring principals. Details of pending grievances are available in the written replies provided in senate meetings during 2013–15.

Nowhere is the disarray more evident than in the inaction of the university against non-compliance of All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) norms by self-financing engineering colleges, especially in the matters of teachers’ regular appointment, regular payment of salaries and service conditions as per the university’s affiliation conditions. Failure on the part of the university to implement its own statutes has led to the AICTE stepping in and disallowing admissions in several colleges (Rao 2015). This will lead to the closure of colleges, putting already deprived and harassed staff and students into further jeopardy.

Larger Reform Agenda

The present all-round crisis of the University of Mumbai cannot be viewed in isolation from the policy decisions being taken in the field of higher education by the central and state governments. The decisions of the Government of India are in accordance with the conditionalities imposed by the World Bank in exchange for its bailout package to tide over India’s liquidity crisis in 1990. The credit came on the condition that India would subsequently withdraw subsidies on essential social services, including education, which was achieved through the plank of “reforms” (Mukhopadhyay 2017). The components of the reform agenda include governance reform, academic reform, examination reform, centralisation of power, hiring external agencies for quality assurance, distance education, internationalisation of higher education market, faculty development, research innovation and new knowledge, and education finance.

The twelfth plan document explicitly advocated “strategic central funding based on state higher education plans” and state funding to be linked to academic and governance reforms. In September 2013, the Ministry of Human Resource Development unfolded its new scheme RUSA which seeks to operationalise the structural reforms introduced in the twelfth plan. It is stated in RUSA that the availability of funds will be related to fulfilment of certain conditions. Thus, the “need-based” funding principle is getting replaced by “norm-based” funding. The state governments will have to establish State Higher Education Councils (SHECs) as the first prerequisite followed by implementation of governance, academic, examination and administrative reforms. The academic reforms include introduction of the semester system, choice-based credit system and curriculum development.

Maharashtra Public Universities Act, 2016

The report of the Arun Nigavekar committee (set up by the Government of Maharashtra), submitted in 2011, prepared a legal framework, namely the MPUA, 2016 to implement the aforesaid structural reforms. The first plank of the act pertains to the strengthening of the Maharashtra State Council for Higher Education and Development (MAHED), which will spell out the reform mandate to be driven by the BOS’ and academic councils. The second plank concerns reforming the existing model of financial support to higher education institutions (HEIs) in favour of recovering the complete cost of degree (including salaries of staff and cost of infrastructure/books, etc) from students after assessment by the fee fixation committee, with due concessions to the socially and economically backward students. In fact, the suggestion was to set up a higher education funding corporation tasked with the disbursement of loans to students and HEIs. The third plank seeks to restructure the composition of various bodies of the university by replacing elected representation in favour of nominated appointments.

The draft bill of the proposed MPUA faced profuse criticism from all sections for drastic reduction in the proportion of elected representatives on various bodies of universities (Srivastava 2015). The bill was amended three times but in a non-transparent manner. Thereafter, it was referred to a joint select committee of 21 legislators. Some components of elected representatives were introduced but the main policy framework of the act was left intact. The state legislature passed the new MPUA on 8 December 2016, paving the way for wide-ranging and fundamental reforms in the functioning of public universities in Maharashtra.

The overarching role of MAHED will lead to excessive centralisation of the university system, adversely affecting the autonomy and democratic governance of universities. The financial model will completely dismantle the grant-in-aid system, pushing the cost of higher education entirely onto students and will convert the university into a corporate body with a highly centralised authority.

The Impasse Must End

The attempts of the vice chancellor and his team to introduce the OSM and to bring changes to the syllabus are unmistakably identical. The common objective is the implementation of structural reforms. However, while doing so, the university authority tries to push a new half-baked system within the old system, without making the required investment for the new system. There is, thus, a structural failure resulting in a grand mess each time.

The chancellor has remained indifferent to the growing ad hocism in the university despite several representations from the teaching community. More than 10,000 students signed a memorandum to the vice chancellor last year against sudden changes to the syllabi (Qazi 2017). But there was no response. However, this time teachers and students held joint protests, demanding stronger intervention by the chancellor. Teachers and students have filed petitions in the Bombay High Court seeking directions for the university. Even the state legislature of Maharashtra, which was in session, reprimanded the government and demanded effective intervention into the OSM fiasco (Phadke 2017). The combined social pressure compelled the chancellor to send the vice chancellor on a long leave with additional charge handed to the vice chancellor of Shivaji University, Kolhapur.

The lesson that has emerged from the present crisis is that it is necessary to build a wider unity of teachers, students and parents around a sustained campaign to: (i) strengthen the democratic structure of higher education and the auto­nomy of universities, and (ii) to defend the public-funded education system.

Note

1 A list of more than 10,000 teachers was put up on the university’s website for imparting training in OSM. The number of ad hoc/contractual/temporary teachers in that list was about 5,000. This list has now been withdrawn from the website.

References

Chaturvedi, Aditya (2016): “Mumbai University Scam: Evaluators Didn’t Notice Tampering, Say Varsity Officials,” Hindu, 25 May, http: // www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai /mumbai-university-scam-evaluators-didnt-notice-tampering-say-varsity-officials/article8643312.ece.

Government of India (2011): An Approach to the Twelfth Five Year Plan, Planning Commission, New Delhi.

— (2013): Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan, Ministry of Human Resources Development, New Delhi.

Government of Maharashtra (2011): The Maharashtra Public Universities Act, 2011, Report of Committee No 2, Ministry for Higher and Technical Education, Mumbai.

Iyer, Aishwarya R (2017): “No Pilot Trial Doomed OSM System: MU Source,” Asian Age, 21 August, http://www.asianage.com/metros/mumbai/210817/no-pilot-trial-doomed-osm-s....

Law and Judiciary Department (2015): “Maharashtra Universities (Temporary Postponement of Elections of Members of University Authorities and Other Bodies) Act, 2015 (Maharashtra Act No XXIX of 2015),” 17 August, Government of Maharashtra, Mumbai.

Mukhopadhyay, Tapati (2017): “Towards an Alternative Democratic Education Policy,” People’s Democracy, Vol 41, No 37, http://peoplesdemocracy.in/2017/0820_pd/maharashtra-towards-alternative-....

Phadke, Manasi (2017): “Mumbai University Results Delay: Vinod Tawde Says Maharashtra Government Will Conduct Inquiry,” 27 July, http://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/mumbai-university-results-dela....

Qazi, Musab and Shreya Bhandary (2017): “Delayed Results, Overworked Teachers: Evaluating Mumbai University’s Assessment System,” Hindustan Times, 3 July, http://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/delayed-results-overworked-tea....

Qazi, Musab (2017): “Mumbai University First-year Exam Results: 85% Fail, Syllabus Change to Blame, Say Teachers,” Hindustan Times, 3 July, http://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/mumbai-university-first-year-e... fail-students-blame-syllabus-change/story-Jd0CLsXfq6pu9XOtLzGZ0N.html.

Rao, Yogita (2015): “15 Engineering, Management Colleges Cannot Conduct Admissions,” Times of India, 2 May, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/education/news/15-engineering-ma....

— (2016): “Mumbai University to Appoint Ad Hoc Boards, Deans as Stop-gap Arrangement,” Times of India, 19 April, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/Mumbai-University-to-appo....

— (2017): “Maharashtra opposes Mumbai University’s online Assessment, Cites Lack of Readiness,” Times of India, 29 April, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/state-opposes-mumbai-univ....

Sahoo, Priyanka (2017): “4.2 Lakh Careers Could Be on the Line: What’s Wrong at Mumbai University?” Indian Express, 4 August, http://indianexpress.com/article/explained/unprecedented-delay-in-result....

Srivastava, Kanchan (2015): “BJP Government to Fulfill the Congress–NCP’s Government Wish of New Maharashtra Universities Act,” 4 February, http://www.dnaindia.com/mumbai/report-bjp-government-to-fulfil-the-congr....

Tripathy, Pritimaya (2017): “MU Won’t Meet Results Deadline: Say Students, Teachers,” Hindu, 8 July, http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/mu-wont-meet-results-deadline....

University of Mumbai (2016a): List of the Faculties (Co-ordinator), http://mu.ac.in/portal/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/co-ordinator-list.pdf.

— (2016b): “Emergent Meeting Regarding New Syllabus,” Notice of Meeting, Ref No AA/ICD/ 2016–17/52, 3 June, http://mu.ac.in/portal/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/aaicd52201617.pdf.

— (2016c): Circular No UG/15 of 2016, 15 June, http://mu.ac.in/portal/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/ug15201617.pdf.

— (2016d): Circular No UG/16 of 2016, 16 June, http://mu.ac.in/portal/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/ug162016.pdf.

— (2016e): Circular No UG/69 of 2016–17, 21 September, http://mu.ac.in/portal/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/4.50-F.Y.B.Sc-Physics.pdf.

— (2017): Circular No UG/15 of 2017–18, 28 June, http://mu.ac.in/portal/wp-content/uploads/ 2014/06/Item-no-4.5-S.Y.B.Sc_.-will-have-two-core-subjects-Sem.III-IV-a.y.2017-18.pdf.

Vernekar, Raju (2017): “Teachers Object to Change in Syllabus,” Afternoon Despatch and Courier, 6 March, http://www.afternoondc.in/city-news/teachers-object-to-change-in-college....

Updated On : 18th Oct, 2017

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