‘Draconian’: Why academics in Gujarat are decrying the Public Universities Bill
The academic community protesting against the Gujarat Public Universities Bill. Photo: The Federal

‘Draconian’: Why academics in Gujarat are decrying the Public Universities Bill

The Bill, recently passed by the assembly, proposes to end student politics on campus and concentrate powers of administering varsities in the hands of the state government

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The Gujarat Public Universities Bill, which was recently passed by the state legislature, has been dubbed “draconian” by the academic community as it, among a slew of other changes, proposes to end student politics on campus by removing the senate and syndicate system and concentrate powers of administering varsities in the hands of the state government.

‘VCs, academic councils will become redundant’

On Sunday (September 17), students and senate members of the MS University, Vadodara, burnt copies of the Bill as a mark of protest a day after it was passed by the Gujarat assembly.

“It is simply on the basis of the majority in the assembly that the ruling government has passed the draconian Bill despite protests and concerns raised by academicians,” Kapil Doshi, a senate member in MS University told The Federal.

“The Bill’s intent is to gag the academic community. Under the new law, all VCs, Pro-VCs, academic councils, executive councils, boards of studies and other institutions in government-aided universities and colleges will become titular entities. Even the governor will become redundant. The Bill violates the Constitution which guarantees the right to free thought, speech and expression,” Manishi Jani, an activist and a former senate member of Gujarat University, who was associated with the Navnirman movement of the 1970s in Gujarat, told The Federal.

“There has been crisis in higher education in Gujarat and now the government legally pushed it back in time. It’s a black day in the history of the state,” added Jani.

Law will help in efficient implementation of NEP: Govt

The Bill, that was initially named ‘Gujarat Common University Bill 2023’, was tabled by state Education Minister Rushikesh Patel in the assembly session after the term ‘common’ was replaced by ‘public’ and three more government-run universities were added to the initial list of eight.

The government claims the new law will help in an efficient implementation of the 2020 National Education Policy (NEP) and smoothen governance in 11 universities of the state to ensure better quality education.

“The proposed Bill aims to implement the recommendations of NEP-2020 while assuring smooth functioning of universities with better coordination, cooperation and proper utilisation of higher education facilities of universities. The Bill will also assure a better finance control and better-quality higher education and measures to create excellent quality standards in the face of global competition,” Patel said while tabling the Bill in the assembly.

Law to eliminate student representation, feedback on governance

Hermant Shah, a former associate professor at HK Arts College, Ahmedabad, says by the Bill seeks to remove students from the administration process and would turn universities into government offices by slapping the same set of rules on them.

“With the passage of this Bill, universities will become government offices. Universities are places where young citizens are shaped and hence the Gujarat University Act, 1949 had the provision for students to have a representation in the senate. They were chosen from all classes of society through election. Article 20 of the Act also has a provision where the university board can give its feedback on any academic programme. Almost all government universities across Gujarat have been following these provisions but under their own laws. But now all this is going to change and one common law is being slapped on all the 11 universities,” Shah said.

With the passage of the Bill, 11 different Acts governing the 11 public universities of Gujarat will stand repealed and all of them will be brought under a common law.

The Governor will serve as the Chancellor of 10 universities barring the Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad University in Vadodara, where a member of the erstwhile royal family of Baroda (or the Gaekwad dynasty) shall continue as Chancellor.

The 10 universities to be brought under the proposed Act are – Gujarat University in Ahmedabad, Sardar Patel University in Anand, Veer Narmad South Gujarat University in Surat, Saurashtra University in Rajkot, Maharaja Krishnakumarsinhji Bhavnagar University in Bhavnagar, Hemchandra Acharya North Gujarat University in Patan, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Open University in Ahmedabad, Krantiguru Shyamji Krishna Verma Kachchh University in Bhuj, Bhakta Kavi Narsinh Mehta University in Junagadh and Shri Govind Guru University in Godhra district.

While the Bill proposes to make the Governor the Chancellor of these universities, earlier the state government acted as the Chancellor as per Gujarat Act No.13 of 2015.

State government to be more powerful?

The Bill also proposes to change the terms of the Vice-Chancellor and members of the Board of Management. The government has added the clause of “working against the government” in the proposed Act as a provision under which the Vice-Chancellor can be removed of his/her post after an investigation done by a committee set by the state government.

“The Vice-Chancellor may be removed from his office if he or she is a member of or is otherwise associated with any political party or any organisation which takes part in politics or is taking part in or subscribing in aid of any political movement or activity or working against the government or interest of education,” the Bill says.

Commenting on the said clause, Shah says the Bill empowers the state government to have a role in the appointment of Vice-Chancellors.

“The proposed law is effectively empowering the state government to have a role in appointment of the V-C. Now the representation and participation of teachers and students in everyday functioning of a university will come to an end. Matters like promotion, transfer, new appointment all will be done by the state government,” says Shah.

Student politics to be banned

The implementation of the proposed Act will also replace the senates and syndicates with a ‘board of management’ that will be the principal executive and highest decision making and policy making authority of a state university. The board of management, that will have a tenure of two and half years, will also have the responsibility of administering all its affairs barring any student body elections or any political activity by the students wings of any political party within the campus. The state government will have the power to specify eligibility conditions for being nominated as a member of any of these authorities.

Noticeably, the state government’s decision shall be final to assess whether anybody is politically inclined or whether any organisation that takes part in politics, or any movement falls within the scope of ‘anti-government’ and ‘anti-NEP' activity.

The state government will be empowered to prescribe uniform statutes for all the universities as per the new Act and the all the state universities will be required to enact model statutes. Any changes to them will also be subject to the government’s approval.

Further, the Bill debars state universities from disqualifying a teacher or non-teaching employee on the ground of becoming a member of the legislative assembly or Parliament (MLA or MP). The period of membership of Assembly or Parliament is to be treated as leave without pay under the provisions of the Act.

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