Amendment to Odisha Universities Act 1989: A Paradigm Shift

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The Odisha Government’s decision to amend the Odisha Universities Act 1989 is a much-needed reform initiative to bring a paradigm shift the way the state-run universities in the State are functioning.

The promulgation of “The Odisha Universities (Amendment) Ordinance 2020” is a pragmatic step in the right direction in ensuring quality education, efficient faculty staff and quality research in the universities.

The Ordinance, which has already received the nod of Governor Prof Ganeshi Lal, seeks to abolish the Senate of a university and further suggests that recruitments would be done through Odisha Public Service Commission (OPSC) for teaching faculty and the search committee for VC appointments will have a State Government nominee.

While a group of so-called social intellectuals, political parties and some academicians are opposing the move for their vested interests, the rationale behind the proposed amendments to the Odisha Universities Act, 1989 is to bring a structural change in the state universities with more professional and transparent approaches.

Clearing all the apprehensions and sharing his views on the Odisha University Act 1989(Amendment Ordinance 2020), Prof. Jayant Kumar Mohapatra, Former Vice Chancellor, Berhampur University has welcomed the Odisha Government’s reform initiatives as the need of the hour.

The University Act has been amended after 30 years. The Ordinance of 2020 has taken only consideration of the hard realities of the university system of Odisha as it stands today, he said.

Major criticisms, which have come from certain quarters including academics and other stakeholders, are – university autonomy has been compromised, political interference in university system may be apprehended and appointment of teachers through OPSC will be illegal and OPSC may not select suitable candidates who are competent to conduct research and offer teaching in specialized areas.

Mohapatra, who himself is a renowned educationist, has however advocated for the reforms denying all the apprehensions.

“So far as my opinions are concerned on these above issues, I don’t find any major difference regarding the autonomy of the universities under the Act of 1989 or the Amended Act by the Ordinance 2020.The Universities were never having financial autonomy and in the absence of financial autonomy, it is wrong on our part to expect the Universities to have real autonomy. The second aspect of autonomy is administrative autonomy. In the Ordinance of 2020, virtually there is no encroachment on this aspect, rather the Vice Chancellors have been given more powers and the Syndicate has been made more powerful. The third aspect of autonomy is academic autonomy”, Prof. Mohapatra said.

The Ordinance maintains that the VC search committee will include a Chancellor’s nominee who should be a superannuated officer of the Odisha Government and has worked as a chief secretary to the State Government or as a secretary to the Government of India; a UGC nominee and the nominee of State Government who shall be an eminent academician of State or national repute.

The amendment also clearly mentions that the OPSC shall constitute a selection committee for recruitment of teachers for different subjects and for the purpose. It will invite at least two subject experts as members of the committee as per the UGC guidelines. The Commission shall conduct written examination and interview of candidates strictly adhering to the guidelines prescribed by the UGC. On the basis of the written examination and interview results, the OPSC will select the candidates and forward their names to the VC for appointment.

All decisions pertaining to the teacher appointments shall be consistent with the UGC regulations. The selected candidates will also be provided their choice of posting as per merit which leaves very little in the hands of OPSC.

“Another criticism against the Ordinance is that by replacing the nominee of the Syndicate in the selection of committee of VC, the government has opened the door for political interference in the appointment of VCs. I don’t really agree that this will give scope to government for any vital say in the appointment of VCs and there is nothing wrong in it because it is the government which is accountable to the people in general and the Odisha Legislative Assembly in particular for all acts of omission and commission of the Universities. Hence the government should have some role in the appointment of the Chief Executive- VC of the University. This is very much in law and practice followed in other States. In Odisha since Sh. Naveen Patnaik became Chief Minister there is zero political interference from the side of the State Govt or his party in any matter of Universities, forget the appointment of VCs”, Prof. Mohapatra said.

“I have a simple question to the critics of the Ordinance 2020 – can they convincingly claim that there was no political interference at some other level in the appointment of the VCs before the Ordinance of 2020? Can they stop Political interference in way? What is happening in other states or in Central Universities? Appointment of VCs has become a Political appointment. If anyone disagrees, than I will say he is betraying himself and misleading others”, he further stated.

The Ordinance of 2020 has not amended any provision of the Act of 1989 relating to the composition and functioning of Academic council of the Universities. If the Universities have lost any academic autonomy or freedom, it is because of the UGC regulations, directions and instructions on the academic matters in the name of maintaining standard in higher education. Even the State Council of Higher Education of Odisha has injured the academic autonomy of the universities to some extent by insisting on common syllabus for all Universities at the Undergraduate level & few other measures, Prof. Mohapatra said.

With centrally recruitment of teaching and non-teaching staff, collective wastage of time and resources can be logically avoided. Besides, it will check nepotism in the recruitment process.

Over the years, it is being noticed that most of the vacant posts in the universities could not be fulfilled because of internal conflicts and favoritism. As a result of which, some deserving candidates often become the soft victims of nepotism.

There are also instances of large scale allegations of irregularities in the conduct of interview and selection process by the universities leading to cancellation of the entire process.

Perhaps, it is one the major reasons why more than 800 teaching posts are lying vacant in the 10 state universities out of the 1,424 sanctioned posts by February 2020.

“Another important issue is the appointment of teachers of the Universities on the recommendation of OPSC. There is no doubt this is an encroachment on the powers of the Syndicate and VC, but this is perhaps necessary because there were many complaint of irregularities, maybe baseless, the Universities failed to fill up the teaching posts for years, which hampered the teaching and research activities of the Universities. Students also suffer due to this. So the decision of the government to give responsibility to OPSC (in some other states also University teachers are appointed on the recommendation of independent agencies) is welcome. The opinion that OPSC has no mandate to make selection and recommend names for appointment of Universities is not well founded. If I remember under Article 321 of the Constitution this is permissible and the Higher Education department must have received same opinion of the Law Department”, the former Berhampur University VC said.

The other argument that OPSC is an appropriate body to select teachers – Asso Prof & Prof more so in specialized fields is not convincing because OPSC will constitute Selection Committee’s with Experts to recommend suitable candidates.
There are few other issues like composition of the Syndicate, abolition of Senate etc which needs attention of Govt, he added.

Coming to the Senate, no doubt, it is the highest authority of a University, but over the years it has become dysfunctional. Therefore, the State Government has rightfully considered doing away with the concept of Senate and empowering the Syndicate as the highest authority of a University.

The Cabinet has also called for restructuring in constitution of the Syndicate to make it more functional and professional. In the restructured Syndicate, there will be adequate representation of Chancellor as well as the State Government.
While the Odisha Government under the leadership of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik envisages to address the lacunae in the higher education system through the amendment in Odisha Universities Act 1989, mindless and unconstructive criticisms by the academicians backed by political parties are unfortunate.

University stands for new ideas and questioning. And the Ordinance in no way compromises with these lofty ideals. The Government of Odisha under the dynamic leadership of Naveen Patnaik is committed to bring in excellence in higher education. The innovative and progressive legislation by the Naveen Government would see the blossoming of hundred flowers in days to come in our universities.

Dr. Gopabandhu Dash is OSD to the Chief Minister of Odisha.

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