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Opinion » Comment

Posted at: Mar 14, 2018, 12:49 AM; last updated: Mar 14, 2018, 12:49 AM (IST)

Who owns Panjab University?

It is the public that owns PU. Let it decide on the central university issue.

Jayanti Dutta Roy

Deputy Director, Human Resource Development Centre, Panjab University, Chandigarh

Geographically situated in a Union Territory, Panjab University (PU) cannot be a state university. Logically, it should be a central university. But it has not been granted that status and, at present, it is an interstate corporate body receiving funding from the Centre as well as the state of Punjab. This tag has not proved to be very helpful since PU does not get to avail itself of the benefits of either the state university or the central university. The issue of central university status for PU has been raised many times.

In 2007, with the announcement of the setting up of 30 central universities in the country, it was planned that PU would be upgraded to central university. Getting the status was a natural decision for PU due to its rich heritage, consistently good academics and peaceful, clean history. Chandigarh being a union territory, it was a valid and administratively wise claim, too. The Central government was already paying a substantial amount of PU budget and it would not be an added burden. 

Suprisingly, though Punjab was interested in having central universities in the state, there was resistance to the upgradation of PU. In 2007, the Panjab University Teachers Association (PUTA), through a signature campaign, tried to persuade the Punjab Government to grant no-objection to the declaration of the central status. A chain strike for 143 days joined by teachers, students, non-teaching staff and even Members of Parliament, finally succeeded in making the Punjab government concede and issue the no-objection letter. However, it was immediately withdrawn. Though no reason was given, rumours had it that Punjab was reluctant to facilitate PU's transition into a Central university because of apprehension that it would make Punjab lose its claim over Chandigarh, thus linking the university status with the long-standing territorial dispute. 

The issue was aired again in 2017 when PU found itself in the throes of a financial trouble and Punjab reluctant to pay its share and the UGC delaying the release of funds. It is said not only was Punjab resisting central status but also the Senate, non-teaching staff and colleges affiliated to PU. The arguments of each group are different. Everyone has an axe to grind.

Arguments over central varsity status

  • The affiliated colleges are anxious on the assumption that PU's central status would lead to their disaffiliation. 
  • The PU governing body of more than 100 members — the Senate — is worried about its own existence in the central university structure.
  • The non-teaching employees are of the opinion that it would lead to retrenchment of posts and imposition of employee-unfriendly service conditions. 
  • It is also being said that the faculty which is championing for the central status, is interested only in the 65 years of retirement age benefit for the central university teachers.

The crucial questions

Since these claims are not explicitly uttered, fighting the ghosts becomes impossible. This rumour-mongering has made the water muddy and the issue is once again at the risk of becoming contentious beyond retrieval. It seems that we have forgotten to ask crucial questions: 

  • Who owns PU? 
  • Who decides the fate of PU? 
  • Whose interests should be protected?
Obviously, the central status issue can neither be scuttled to save the interests of a section of employees nor can it be allowed for the benefit of another section. That the Senate, as reported, should be worried about its survival rather than the betterment of the institute is not in public interest. It is possible to retain the present structure with minor modifications in the new administrative set-up on the pattern of such central universities as Allahabad University. The apprehension of affiliated colleges has no real basis as there are at least seven central universities with affiliated colleges. Even if the nod of the Senate is needed for PU to become a central university, the existence, cutback or continuation of the Senate or unsubstantiated assumptions cannot be the deciding factor of the fate of PU.

Advantages of central varsity status

  • Central status will ensure adequate funds to PU and increase its efficiency and quality. 
  • Money saved by Punjab from not having to finance PU can be utilised in funding other state institutes. 
  • All central schemes for students' welfare will be available to PU students. 
  • The issue is not linked to the territorial claim. 
Then, why block central status? The authority to ask this question lies only with an aware and alert citizenry. 

It is the public that owns PU. It is the students, their parents, their employers, all beneficiaries, all stakeholders and each member of the larger society that owns PU and is the final arbiter. The Senate as well as the government is the representative of the public, but the public is not the handmaiden of the governing bodies.

We have heard of many stakeholders, but the most significant one. Media and social media platforms are available for the public to air voices. Other democratic forums can be opened; TV polls, public discussions, debates can thrash out the issue. Bring the PU central university debate into public consciousness, make it a poll issue and let us hear the public’s mandate.

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