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Maharashtra: Dangerous invitation

A government resolution (GR) of the Maharashtra government dated March 4, prohibiting private unaided schools across the state from raising tuition fees without permission from the deputy director of education and/or school Parent-Teacher Associations, has created a major rift between private school managements and parents’ representative bodies. The managements of private schools are insistent upon raising tuition fees to meet rising costs, while some parent bodies have the asked the state government to freeze tuition fees for the same reason.

Following the GR, managements of 16 upscale schools under the banners of the Association of International Schools and Principals’ Foundation, and the Unaided Schools’ Forum have filed a joint petition challenging the GR describing it a “gross violation of the guarantee under the Constitution to establish and run private schools”. According to the petition admitted by the Bombay high court on November 30 last year, under Article 30(1) of the Constitution, as interpreted by a full bench judgement of the Supreme Court in T.M.A. Pai vs. Union of India (2002), every citizen has the right to establish and administer educational institutions of her choice, and the right to administer includes the right to determine tuition fees.

The roots of the current conflict in Maharashtra’s 8,640 private unaided schools, which has pitted parents against managements, can be traced back to April 2009 when a petition was filed by some parents protesting a tuition fee hike by the management of the Balbharti Public School, Kharghar, in suburban Mumbai. Admitting the petition on the ground that the Supreme Court’s judgement in the Islamic Academy Case (2003) permits the establishment of expert committees to regulate admissions and tuition fees of private unaided education institutions to ensure that they are merit-based and reasonable, the court ordered the state government to constitute a panel to regulate fee increases. In June, a 21-member committee under retired IAS officer Kumud Bansal, was constituted to frame broad principles according to which private unaided schools should determine their tuition fee structures.

In October the committee submitted its report banning capitation fees, but allowing schools the autonomy to structure their own fees, subject to institutional profit not exceeding 15 percent. But the Bansal Committee’s formula has attracted fierce criticism for being “management friendly” by parents grouped under the banners of the Mumbai-based Forum for Fairness in Education and the All India Federation of PTAs, who have jointly proposed an alternative tuition fees fixation formula for unaided schools.

Citing a judgement of the Supreme Court delivered in Modern School vs. Union of India (2009) in which the court allowed a fee increase of 15 percent to cover the period 1999-2003, Jayant Jain, president of the Forum for Fairness in Education, suggests that annual tuition fees increase should not exceed 4-5 percent per year and should be formulated transparently subject to approval of the state government’s education ministry and/or a fees regulation committee appointed by government. “Every district or zone should have an expert committee to review tuition fees and admission processes. These committees should be independent and comprise retired high court judges, chartered accountants, parents, school managements, teachers and auditors,” says Jain.

Ironically, parents who are pressing for state government intervention to hold down tuition fees in unaided schools seem oblivious of the danger of inviting government intervention in the administration of private schools. Instead of negotiating tuition fee increases bilaterally between PTAs (Parent Teacher Associations) and institutional managements, they are naively inviting the government’s Trojan horse into their clean and green campuses.

Nisha Khiani (Mumbai)

Research hub drive

After having got into the bad books of the University Grants Commission (UGC) which reprimanded it two years ago for tardy utilisation of grant funds for establishment of research facilities, the University of Pune (UoP) is now hell-bent upon establishing a reputation as a research varsity. The first step towards attaining this status has been by way of its latest acquisition — a high-end Rs.2.5 crore transmission electron microscope, which will aid research in material sciences as well as other disciplines. But that’s just the beginning of the story.

Under Phase II of the UGC’s ‘University with Potential for Excellence’ (UPE) scheme, the UoP management has mooted a Rs.100 crore proposal to establish a centre for novel materials; a research facility in computational studies and new facilities for social science studies. “We are confident of getting at least Rs.60 crore from UGC, which will be double the funding we received under UPE Phase I in 2003,” says Pandit Vidyasagar, director, UoP’s Board of College and University Development. According to Vidyasagar, the Phase I UGC grant of Rs.30 crore was used to establish new facilities such as the Institute of Bioinformatics and Biotech-nology; the Centre for Modelling and Simulation, the Centre for Censor Studies and the Centre for Nano Science and Quantum Systems.

But since it took the UoP manage-ment more than three years to utilise the Phase I funds, it had prompted a show-down with UGC. But recently a UGC review team reportedly visited UoP for an on-site inspection of utilisation of funds under Phase I. “The review committee members seemed quite satisfied with our accomplishments and therefore we are expecting the release of fresh funds very soon,” says Vidyasagar.

UoP administrators are inclined to interpret UGC’s release of development funds for its Phase II projects as evidence that the spat between UGC and UoP over delayed utilisation of Phase I funds is now history. Quite obviously the commission has given the green signal to the Union government’s Department of Science and Technology (DST), which has financed import of the wonder electron transmission micro-scope from the Netherlands under its FIST (funds for improvement in science and technology) infrastructure develop-ment programme.

Since the inception of the FIST scheme nine years ago, DST has disbursed Rs.880 crore to 1,264 depart-ments of 329 academic institutions. “Under FIST, University of Pune was granted Rs.2 crore for basic science infrastructure and another Rs.5 crore, which enabled it to acquire the microscope. An additional Rs.1 crore was spent on new facilities in the M.Sc laboratory,” says M.A. More, associate professor and reader in the department of physics.

Now back in the good books of the UGC, UoP is determined to transform its science and technology faculties into major research profit centres. Already its commissioned research clients list includes the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research; Department of Atomic Energy; Department of Biotechnology; Indian Space Research Organisation and the Defence Research and Development Organisation.

Often touted as the world’s largest university with more than 500,000 students in 269 colleges and 129 research institutes affiliated with it, UoP which attracts students from 20 countries, seems determined to establish itself as a major R&D hub. Whether it succeeds is not merely a matter of the funds it raises, but also of how efficiently it utilises them.

Huned Contractor (Pune)

1868 Views  | Posted on: 6 Apr,2010 Add Comment  Show Comments (2)