Panjab University at crossroads (2008)

The Tribune Chandigarh (Education) 26 August 20


Panjab University at crossroads

Rajesh Kochhar 

THE status of Panjab University is being animatedly discussed in official correspondences and newspaper columns. The debate reminds one of the 19th-century European fetishes for classification. First rigid categories were created and then realities were twisted out of shape to somehow fit into them.
It has been Panjab University’s luck to be governed by a legislation drawn up in haste. When the university was set up in 1947, the conditions were far from normal. The regulations of Panjab University, Lahore, which were based on the Indian Universities Act 1904, were simply copied and validated. Similarly, when the Punjab was divided, there arose a host of major problems that needed to be addressed. Panjab University was not one of them. Once again the extant regulations were revalidated with minimum possible tinkering—Vice-President as Chancellor in place of the state Governor.
The most important feature of the university is that it caters to the region as a whole. When young men and women, drawn from different cultural and social backgrounds, study together in a congenial atmosphere, their mindset becomes healthy and outlook broad, which in turn fashion their decisions and conduct when they later occupy the positions of responsibility. It should, however, be borne in mind that historically the university is older than its present campus. This important fact can be easily grasped from an examination of the terminology. The university has a post of Dean of University Instruction (DUI). The term was coined with reference to the pre-existing government post of Director of Public Instruction (DPI) who was assigned the task of looking after the colleges. The university instruction was thus seen as complementary to collegiate instruction. In fact, in the early years, the Vice-Chancellor himself doubled as DUI.
While conducting a debate, vocabulary should be chosen carefully. Sometimes, the use of terms that carry fixed connotations leads to unnecessary posturing. When we discuss the status of Panjab University, we must always keep in mind that there are two distinct issues involved: the basic character of the university and its finances. The basic character of the university is that of a state university because that is what it was when it was established. The affiliated colleges located in Punjab and Chandigarh look up to the University for the conduct of examinations, oversight, guidance and academic control. This arrangement has worked well so far. There is no pressing need to change it.
Globalisation has ushered in an era of knowledge economy. The job market today is far more demanding than ever before. At the same time, the cost of imparting skills has gone up because of technological advancements the world over. If the universities run by the government are forced to generate their own resources, they can do so only by catering to children whose parents are already well off and by offering only bookish courses. The universities may be tempted to lower their standards to draw in more students. They will be forced to bow to the fashions of the day and pander to the demands of the market rather than meet the requirements of the state. On the other hand, if the state is concerned about ensuring equitable development and meeting the nation’s manpower needs in industrial and government sectors , it must endow its universities sufficiently well, so that they can take a long-term view and plan accordingly.
Today, what Panjab University needs immediately is reworking of its financial arrangements. A high-powered committee should be appointed to apportion afresh the share of the Punjab government and the Cente. If the latter offers to foot the entire bill, the offer should be examined in depth. There can be no doubt that the university needs to be financially secured, so that it can worry about the next generation rather than the next fiscal year.

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