Ideas and Action for a Better India
By Sayli Udas Mankikar
While the prospect of Mumbai University having a foreign campus sounds like an interesting move, it is perplexing to fathom how it will pan out considering how it is struggling to put its house in order back home.
Last month, Vice Chancellor of Mumbai University Sanjay Deshmukh and his team have reportedly visited United States to set up a local campus office there and have been scouting for locations in Manhattan and Texas. The team is said to have almost agreed to strike an understanding with the University of Akron, Ohio, as a partner for few courses.
Akron ranks 1018 of 1647 of Best Colleges in America according to the ranking done by the Department of Education, USA. Its acceptance rate of students is 87% according to the Princeton review, which means the college is low on priority.
While Mumbai University itself doesn’t feature among the top 100 Universities in the world (it ranks 701(+) in the QS rankings), if it wants to seek partnerships to improve its quality of education and systems, it should aim at seeking out the best on foreign shores. Also with the growing role of information technology, it might want to first venture into setting up virtual campuses.
This brings us to the point that is setting up international branches for the university the need of the hour? There could be an argument that establishing centres on foreign shores is part of the provision of the new Maharashtra Public Universities Act 2016, and is also part of Mumbai University’s global vision. However, with the urgent need for both administrative and infrastructure reforms, it is only necessary that the university should reconsider its priorities and first focus on stemming the increasing rot.
Students have been constantly complaining about its crumbling infrastructure including run-down buildings and classrooms at the 150-acre Kalina campus. A decaying library, inadequate and poorly-maintained hostels and staff accommodation, unkempt open spaces, unhospitable canteens and lack of internal transport and even total absence of signage in the Kalina campus are common grievances on the hardware side. Funds need to be invested into upgrading the facilities for current students rather than buying or renting a facility abroad.
Dearth of teachers, outdated coursework, a languishing distance learning institute, no audits of its affiliated colleges and administrative inefficiency has become the hallmark of the university. Over the past year, the university’s reputation has taken a further beating with the corruption scam expose in its examination system. Other critical issues like academic, financial and administrative autonomy, also needs to be discussed on priority.
In his book ‘The Cloisters Pale: A Biography of the University of Mumbai’, written to commemorate 150 years of the Mumbai University in 2006-07, late scholar and journalist Shri Aroon Tikekar wrote: “ The times have really changed! A University which lets itself bogged down by the fretters of constrains, financial or other, shall fail to deliver the goods, thereby losing the role”. These thoughts have become more relevant in the current context.
The book listed out several plans that were announced for the Kalina campus development for the sesquicentennial year. This included creation of a media centre, a non-conventional energy park, a community radio studio, a multi-cultural centre, an IT Park, a school of languages and a health centre. It is over a decade now, but all of these ambitious projects have remained on paper.
It is essential that now in its 160th year, the university strives even harder to make itself great again. The Mumbai University which has stalwarts like Mahatma Gandhi, Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar, Mahadeo Govind Ranade and doctors like Bhau Daji Lad on its alumni list, had humble beginnings but rose to glory as the city of Mumbai grew.
Formed in 1857, with only four faculties of Arts (which included science), law, medicine and engineering, the university initially worked on the concept of affiliation. Students came from as far as Karachi and Sindh, which are now a part of Pakistan. There was no teaching that took place at its first office which was accommodated in the precincts of the Town Hall building in South Mumbai.
From a meagre 8 students who received degrees during its first convocation, today, the university has 2 university campuses, and over 5.5 lakh students studying in 750 affiliated colleges from Mumbai to Konkan. Its annual budget of Rs 640 crore needs to be used judiciously for the right purpose.
It is time that the university does some soul searching and listens it the voice from within- of its students. There have been positive steps like making the campus a free-wifi zone that has been done, but more concrete changes in the education and examination system are the need of the hour.
The words of American academic administrator Clark Kerr cannot be more apt in this context. Kerr says: “To the academics, conservative by nature, the sound made by the new generation often resembles the howl of a mob. To the politician, it is a signal to be obeyed. To the administrator, it is a warning that we are in changed times…”
(The writer is a Research Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Mumbai. Views expressed in this commentary are personal. Twitter handle: @saylitweets)
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This article has been partly used by Asian Age. Please find the link here: Asian Age ( March 5, 2017) Mumbai University needs to clean its rot, seek foreign shores later