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Karnataka: Rank pulling circular

EducationWorld August 2023 | Education News Magazine
Reshma Ravishanker (Bengaluru)

Karnataka’s newly elected congress government is cracking the whip on the state’s 24 private universities, many of them established during the rule (2019-2023) of its predecessor BJP government. On July 17, the Under Secretary, Higher Education Department, shot off letters to registrars of private universities lambasting them for not inviting government representatives to meetings of their boards of governors (BoGs). Under special legislation of the state’s legislative assembly, by which they have been established, all private universities are obliged to invite principal-secretary, higher ed department, or secretary of the state government to BoG meetings. Among the varsities served notice are top-ranked institutions such as St. Joseph’s, CMR, Jain, Reva, Azim Premji and Presidency universities.

“The fact that Board of Governors is the statutory authority of private universities established in the State by the Acts enacted by the State Legislature and the Principal Secretary/Secretary to the Government, Higher Education Department, Government of Karnataka are ex-officio members of the Board of Governors as provided in relevant sections of every such Act… The Government has no tolerance towards discourtesy shown by not inviting the Principal Secretary/Secretary to the Government, Higher Education Department to meetings of Board of Governors and such Private Universities are hereby admonished for violation of statutory provisions of the Acts establishing them,” says a circular signed by Nandakumar B, under-secretary to the government, higher education department. Moreover, private universities have been asked to “scrupulously adhere to the hard and fast provisions of the Acts establishing them”, and warned of “zero tolerance” for non-compliance.

BoGs are the highest decision-making authority conferred with the powers to decide the university’s financial, admissions, fees policies.

During the past decade, private universities in Karnataka have multiplied at fast pace. During the first term in office of the BJP government (2008-2013), three private universities were approved. Subsequently when BJP strongman B.S. Yeddyurappa was chief minister (2019-2021), a record six private universities were approved by the state legislative assembly followed by another six during the 21-month chief ministership of Basavaraj Bommai. In sum, 15 of the 25 private universities operational statewide have been sanctioned by the BJP government.

THimme Gowda

B. Thimme Gowda

“State government legislation under which private universities are established mandates inclusion of representatives from the higher education department in BoGs. Whenever there is a BoG meeting, it’s an unsaid mandate that all members of the board are to be invited. The Acts clearly empower government representatives to monitor the functioning of private universities through representation on BoGs,” says Prof. B. Thimme Gowda, former chairman of the Karnataka State Higher Education Council.

However, private university managements claim that government members of BoGs don’t respond to board meeting invitations despite being reminded several times. “We have no qualms about inviting representatives of government to our BoG meetings. For all previous meetings, we have a record of communications sent to the principal-secretary. But there’s seldom any response from the higher education department. One of the major challenges private universities face is that there is no response to communications sent to government. Secondly, we are not kept in the loop about new appointments, promotions or transfers which makes it challenging for us to keep track of who to invite. Unlike the other members of the board, there is a constant change in government representatives,” says an official spokesperson of St. Joseph’s University, Bengaluru (estb.2022).

Clearly, the intent of the circular admonishing private universities for failing to include government representatives in their BoGs is to pull rank on them. With student enrollment in Karnataka’s private universities rising rapidly, many of them have quickly established national reputations. The state government’s complaint against private universities which are already grappling with rules and regulations of an alphabet soup of government regulators including the UGC, AICTE — and more to come under the National Education Policy 2020 — is to find fault and remind them who’s the boss.

Instead the priority of the newly elected Congress government should be upgradation of state government universities, rather than nit-pick about private universities which according to all reports, are doing fine without government representatives attending their board meetings.

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