Removal of minority status will not improve Indian universities

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Students of Women's College at the Career Counseling session

By Aparna Kalra,

Cancelling minority status of two universities will do little to help regulate institutions or improve the quality of higher education in India, when the problem lies with the regulatory system–consisting of at least eight central-level bodies, some of which are inefficient while others have been investigated for corruption.

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The union government is opposing the minority status of two universities funded by the taxpayer: It indicated it will soon withdraw its support for Jamia Millia Islamia’s minority status (the case is ongoing in the Delhi High Court), as it did for Aligarh Muslim University(AMU) in the Supreme Court in July 2016, arguing that these universities were established by Acts of Parliament and not by Muslims.

The government has chosen to cancel the minority status of these two universities, even though these are not the only ones that have minority status. The government’s stance on Jamia and AMU, instead of underscoring ideology, should have opened up the debate on the larger regulatory mess in higher education, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, vice chancellor of Haryana-based Ashoka University, wrote in the Indian Express on August 8, 2017.

 Mehta further argued that a minority college such as St Stephen’s has an autonomy over admissions that a college such as Shri Ram College of Commerce lacks, despite both colleges being part of Delhi University. “It does create situations where institutions that are identical in purpose face differential regulation merely on account of who started it,” he wrote.

Minority-status institutions are allowed to set aside half their seats for a particular community, such as Muslim or Sikh, and not reserve any seats for Dalits. A minority institute can also decide who will be part of their governing council, but so can most other universities. Minority-status institutions also follow regulations binding on other publicly-funded universities, such as rules on teacher employment and salaries.

For instance, minority institutions “can’t say that for vice-chancellor we will have other qualifications (different from other institutions)”, said Irfan Habib, historian and professor emeritus at AMU.

These rules were formed as part of the St Stephen’s College judgement, which upheld the Christian-minority college’s right to function as a minority institution even though it is part of Delhi University. The ruling said the college will be subject to regulation.

Even after the cancellation of minority status of two universities, the University Grants Commission (UGC) would still preside over universities and colleges that fall into several categories: Private universities, those funded by the union government, those funded by state governments, and those deemed-to-be universities (which are institutions considered to hold the highest standards in a field, and labelled as “universities” by the central government. These can include private universities).

 

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Kalra is a Delhi School of Economics alumnus and freelance journalist who writes on education, impact of government policy, and, of late, politics.)

(Published in arrangement with IndiaSpend)

(Indiaspend.org is a data-driven, public-interest journalism non-profit/FactChecker.in is fact-checking initiative, scrutinising for veracity and context statements made by individuals and organisations in public life.)

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