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Merger of five universities of Technology in Tamilnadu

The Chief Minister of Tamilnadu, earlier this week, has finally ordered notification of the date for merger of the five Anna Universities of Technology-located at Chennai, Tiruchy, Coimbatore, Madurai and Tirunelveli- with Anna University, Chennai. By the unique measure of wiping out five universities at one stroke - first of its kind in India- with effect from 1st August 2012, Tamilnadu will have a mega university with 535 affiliated Engineering Colleges and around 12 constituent colleges sprinkled across the entire state.

It appears that for the Tamilnadu Government, it is not at all a matter for any consideration that the country’s apex body in the realm of higher education, the University Grants Commission (UGC) and several National Commissions and Committees of Academic experts on higher education have, up to recently, been consistently and strongly expressing themselves in favour of smaller universities with a maximum number of affiliated colleges ranging between 30 and  at the most 100 for each university to function effectively. Of course, the forecast of the tsunami that will wipe out the five Anna Universities of Technology, brought into being by the previous Government, was already aired right from day one of the present Government. That the present Government was not in any way convinced about the usefulness of the previous regime’s creation of five Anna Universities of Technology was reflected, in unambiguous manner, in the very first Governor’s Address to the newly constituted Assembly. It was emphatically declared therein that “the creation of new technical universities has resulted in the creation of unviable institutions and such a measure has not improved the quality of education.” The Governor’s Address went further with the assessment that “the creation of new Anna Universities in different places has weakened Anna University - Chennai.” 

Due to lack of clarity in policy, space, funding and administrative deficiencies, the five entities created by the previous Government, have mostly been functioning from temporary premises and were mainly acting like extension centres -focussing on affiliation and conduct of examinations- than as real universities in the sphere  of Technical Education. The complaints of the Academics about the failure on the part of the earlier government for not providing adequate infrastructure and indulging in poor choice of Vice-Chancellors have been filling the air. Perhaps the inability of these universities to ensure quality may be due to such major reasons. 

The present move, wading against UGC stipulations, to merge five universities and make Anna University, Chennai as an affiliating university is certainly bound to cause several ramifications. It is true that the number of colleges affiliated to any university has a significant bearing on the latter's ability to administer them. Anil Kakodar, former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC),who headed a recent high level national committee for Academic reforms, has in his report observed that ‘most state universities in India are burdened with managing affiliated colleges, conducting their exams and declaring results, so much so that there is hardly any time for universities to undertake good quality research.’ The new mega entity, after the merger of five AUTs, with its current cargo of around 550 colleges in its belly will certainly face such challenges to a greater extent It is therefore, prudent to plan wisely and implement faithfully lasting measures to overcome problems in management, credible conduct of examinations, timely declaration of results and issue of mark/degree certificates.

To overcome the hurdles in the above mentioned areas, efficient deployment and full, benevolent exploitation of the use of Information Communication Technology (ICT) in all conceivable spheres of university administration and examination should be made to come in place immediately. Paperless, e-governance mode can be made as the operating system of Anna University, Chennai. By networking the Head Quarters of the University in Chennai with all the affiliated and constituent colleges, together with the regional centres (at Tiruchy, Coimbatore, Madurai and Tirunelveli), timely flow of information and communication between the university and colleges (and vice versa) can be made smooth. Right from admission of students in colleges, all required information including community, economic status of students, registration of students for examinations from each institution etc shall be made available by the colleges to the university on a day to day basis, besides updating their own individual websites constantly.

The syllabi for various courses are now going to be uniform for all Engineering Colleges throughout the state. Though the syllabus is uniform, delivery of instructions by faculty in all colleges and the effectiveness of the same can never be uniform. In order to facilitate and enable all learners have uniform access to standard learning/course materials, complete course content and materials thereto shall be made freely available on line. Such a provision of e-content will serve as complimentary to the regular, class room instructions provided by the faculties in colleges. Already the National Mission for ICT in education is engaged in making e-content available on a nationwide basis. Anna University can beneficially link itself with the mission in this regard.

In the sphere of examinations, the university can right away adopt the present mode of registration of candidates, payment of fee and issue of hall tickets etc, successfully being implemented by the Tamilnadu Public Service Commission (TNPSC). There could be on line Examinations for Continuous Internal Assessment (C.I.A) at all colleges. This would ensure uniformity and eradicate complaints about the reliability of C.I.A scores and teacher-student fall-outs on that count. Even the university end-semester examinations can be split as parts having questions with objective types and essay types. The objective type parts for all papers shall be taken on line. The best practices of conduct of examinations with ICT enabled mode that were implemented by the erstwhile Anna University of Technology, Coimbatore and Visvesvaraiya Technological University, can be studied and perfected for further use. Unswerving adherence to schedules for conduct, evaluation and declaration of results should become the hallmark of the university. Even in the event of unexpected happenings resulting in the postponement of conduct of examinations, the university should always be ready with contingency plans and arrangements to complete the process without much delay.

The Chief Minister’s desire is to make Anna University, Chennai ‘regain its glory’ and also turn it as ‘a world class university’. To strive for reaching such goals, requirement of funds will be on top of major concerns. Anna University, Chennai should immediately initiate measures to get necessary recognition from the UGC and become eligible for wide variety of UGC funding. Industry majors in Tamilnadu shall be encouraged to institute endowments for research, chairs for specialized studies and scholarships to students. It would do good to work out possibilities of offering certain parts of the programmes on shop-floor, in Industries. The industry –Institution linkages, much talked about, can be brought active both at the University and Colleges level to provide hands-on experience to learners in all institutions. 

It will be also be appropriate if Anna University could turn its focus in the sphere of Agriculture Engineering. In order to make tangible contributions in designing, production and maintenance of modern implements/devices that would help enhanced agricultural productivity, it will be worthwhile to consider bringing the existing Agricultural Engineering Colleges, now under Tamilnadu Agricultural University to the Anna University fold. 

Transparent mode of apolitical selection of real talent for the stewardship of the university with a five year tenure; compact constitution of decision making bodies without much scope for representation of bureaucracy; adequate representation for faculty, students and other stake holders in managing university affairs; freeing academics from administrative burdens and encouraging them to concentrate on quality and research; outsourcing  of experts for affiliation, inspection and quality checks are among measures aimed to bring in effective functioning of the mega university brought into being by the merger of five universities in Tamilnadu. Last, but not the least, a moratorium on f new engineering colleges in the state will have to be declared, at least for next three years. Within the three year period, a statewide, need-survey for Engineering colleges can be made. Only on the basis of the findings of such a survey, further number of Engineering colleges should be allowed to sprout up in areas/regions requiring such institutions.  


More by :  Prof. Raja Mutthirulandi

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