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West Bengal: Bad days for JU

EducationWorld January 2024 | Education News Magazine
Baishali Mukherjee (Kolkata)

The long-standing face-off between the state government and the state governor over the issue of appointment of vice chancellors (VCs) in 31 state government universities has transformed into a full-blown war between the Trinamool Congress (TMC) which rules West Bengal and the governor — an appointee of the ruling BJP government at the Centre. This stand-off has also exposed the perilous state of Bengal’s higher education system. As they try to undermine each other, the future of state government universities remains in a limbo, with no permanent VCs in them for more than seven months.

Now the stand-off between TMC and the BJP has gone into a tailspin with the governor terminating the appointment of Jadavpur University (JU, estb.1955) interim vice chancellor Buddhadeb Sau on December 23, a day before the JU convocation ceremony, and the state government directing him to “continue to exercise and perform his duties and hold the convocation,” which he did.

But the twist in the tale is that Sau, professor of mathematics at JU was appointed interim VC by Governor C.V. Ananda Bose on August 17 despite his lack of ten years teaching experience which is mandatory for the post. At the time, the appointment had received heavy flak from TMC top guns.

On December 19, Ananda Bose sent a letter directing JU not to hold the function because of ongoing legal battle over the appointment of interim VCs. Curiously, Governor Bose did not oppose convocations held at Kalyani University and Vidyasagar University, also managed by interim VCs. In response, a group of senior academics under the banner of the Educationist Forum released a press statement on December 23, targeting the Governor for his doublespeak and attempts to politicise the administration of universities in West Bengal.

According to the senior academics, Ananda Bose’s JU convocation cancellation order revealed intention to carry forward the Sangh Parivar’s agenda of taking control of top-ranked higher ed institutions such as JU, JNU and Delhi University. University convocations at which degrees are conferred upon graduating students are held in high esteem by teachers and students alike the worldover. Jadavpur’s convocation traditionally staged on December 24 is a grand affair to which students and faculty look forward. Fortunately, JU’s convocation for 2022-23 graduating students was duly held on December 24 with full pomp and ceremony, Chancellor Bose’s stop order notwithstanding.

Within academia, this confrontation between Governor Ananda Bose — the Centre’s appointee and the state’s TMC government — which has been playing out for the past seven months is being interpreted as a battle for the control of JU, West Bengal’s most prestigious university.

Ranked #4 in the EducationWorld India Higher Education Rankings 2023-24 and #4 by the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) of the Union education ministry, JU has steadfastly carved out its own identity as a liberal and secular higher ed institution in which both TMC and BJP are striving to establish a firm foothold. With the political slugfest in JU attracting banner headlines in the media and arguments and counter-arguments flying thick and fast over the removal and reinstatement of Sau, the future of this prestigious university is under threat. According to Mayukh Biswas, a leader of the Students Federation of India (SFI): “Instead of providing the necessary financial aid which JU needs, the TMC and BJP are trying to ruin JU’s reputation in their attempt to acquire a bigger footprint.”

Given that university administrations in India are essentially vice-chancellor-centric with the VC, who is the principal executive and ex-officio chairman of the board of management and the academic council, required to supervise day-to-day academic and administrative activities, all important operations at JU are at a standstill. According to a report by Debesh Das, senior academic and former minister with the erstwhile CPI (M)-led Left Front government, 28 percent of teaching posts are vacant in JU. At a time when JU is busy implementing the NEP 2020, the absence of a full-time VC as well as faculty shortage is likely to be debilitating.

Meanwhile in this maelstrom, JU’s admission applications are falling. Last Year, 138 of JU’s 1,253 B.Tech seats remained vacant, with the electrical and mechanical engineering departments experiencing unprecedented vacancies of 18 seats each.

It is pertinent to note here that while some not yet operational institutes have received letter of intents as Institutes of Eminence (IOE), Jadavpur U which was proposed for IoE status by a UGC Empowered Committee in 2019, is yet to officially receive it. Conferment of IoE status entitles it to a grant of Rs.1,000 crore over a period of five years from the Centre. Simultaneously, its grant from the state government is declining. Against a budgeted Rs.32 crore it received Rs.25 crore in 2023-24.

Indeed, hard days have befallen Bengal’s show-piece university.

Also read: Bengal: Government allows Jadavpur University VC to continue

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