Prof. Suranjan: "Gap between elite & popular education"

Q. Today state universities appear crippled. What about Calcutta University?

A. I feel input-output ratio should be the most important parameter for judging quality. If you look at the list of 14 universities, which UGC have identified as Centres of Learning, the majority of them are from state universities. The major issue is that state universities are not getting the deal that it should get from the central funding agencies. Sixty-five percent of UGC budget goes to 40 central universities. Unfortunately state universities are more than 400 in number. Another is student-teacher intake. In my university, any major department consists of 300 students with 15 faculty members. This is not the way to develop higher education. 


Q. Can we improve the situation?

A. If I need to go for fundamental expansion, then I need space, which is tough to get in Calcutta. The number of affiliated colleges under Calcutta University is about 174. The time has come to set limit to number of colleges. Recently, under UGC’s initiative a new scheme called RashtriyaUchuShikshaAbhigyan was introduced. It says  state universities will be directly funded by central government. If that happens then we can make a remarkable difference.   


Q. Private colleges are expanding while state universities fail miserably. Your opinion?

A. There is a strong divide between elite and popular education. The setting up of private colleges doesn’t mean dispensing the social corporate responsibility. What has happened at Gujarat is privatization of education. Most of the higher education in Gujarat is run by trusts, which cost a bomb as tuition fee. In the US, most of the Ivy League universities are privately owned. But there is a strong philanthropic background for universities like Harvard and MIT. In India, private institutions are not essentially motivated by philanthropic philosophy, barring some missionary institutes.

If you look at the list of 14 universities, which UGC have identified as Centres of Learning, majority of them are from state universities. The issue is that state universities are not getting the deal that it should get from the central funding agencies 

Q. Your take on new teaching- evaluation mechanisms? 

A. I feel semester system is a modern cliché. If semester system is created without meeting proper infrastructure, then the benefits of such a system are enjoyed only by a microscopic minority of students. I will not create a system where the fruits only go to the privileged lot. We believe in expansion in tune with equitable distribution of education. The focus should be on qualitative growth but not at the cost of forsaking the principle of social empowerment.  


Q. Has lack of enabling environment for industry affected your university?  

A. I think we should critically look at industry’s role in higher education sector. I am not against public-private partnership, but there should be qualitative difference between such partnership and commercialization of higher education. Unfortunately, in the name of encouraging private capital, there is a threat of commercialization of education. The collaboration should involve the true spirit of social responsibility.  


Q. Finally, what keeps you motivated as a VC? 

A. I look at my work as job of public servant. I get the salary from the society, so I have social responsibility. I cannot satisfy every stakeholder, but if I can satisfy one stakeholder, a student, teacher or office staff then I am contributing to the common good. I need to repay my debt to the society. Calcutta is the poorest, but the brightest university. 


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