Why Anna University Doesn’t Want To Be An Institute Of Eminence
Politicians with vested interests want to continue milking the brand image of Anna University.
They are hoping that when the tenure of N K Surappa ends, they can install one of their confidantes and go back to the old ways.
Anna University, a premier university of Tamil Nadu for technical higher education including engineering and management, has been in the news for the past two weeks. An earlier Swarajya article by M R Subramani gives a good summary of all recent events associated with the award of the status of “institute of eminence” (IOE) to the university.
The chairman of the empowered committee of experts and former election commissioner N Gopalswami backed the decision of Vice-Chancellor N K Surappa to write to the Centre over the IOE issue.
However, the minister of higher education of Tamil Nadu seems to have decided to reject IOE status for the university.
It appears the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government wants to avoid all controversy in the run-up to the 2021 elections, and not allow Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) to hijack this as an issue of surrender of the rights of Tamil Nadu to the central government.
This appears to be a clear policy U-turn because there is no other explanation for state government’s earlier move in September to bifurcate Anna University. Isn’t it bizarre that no prominent political party in Tamil Nadu wants Anna University to be recognised with its deserving status of eminence?
This saga started with the offer from the Centre in 2019 to confer the elite IOE tag to the oldest and prestigious four campuses of the university — College of Engineering (CEG), Guindy, AC Tech College, School of Architecture and Planning (SAP), and Madras Institute of Technology (MIT), Chromepet.
The alumni association of CEG Guindy and CEG Alumni association of North America has been extremely vocal on this issue and had even written a letter to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister’s Office in May 2020 urging them to expedite the process to get IOE status for the crown jewels of engineering education in Tamil Nadu.
They said that “as the number of private affiliated colleges increased, these institutions were saddled with their administration, leading to erosion in technical quality and professional integrity of these four campuses”.
They are clearly unhappy with the plight of their alma-mater, recently embroiled in several scams and controversies.
So much so, even the elite campuses haven’t been able to recruit fresh talent since 2014. The alumni perhaps hope that by opting for IOE tag and disaffiliating from the administration of private colleges, the four campuses will be able to get back to doing what they were best at — providing high-quality technical education, and research and innovation.
However, it is now clear that politicians of all hues do not share this thought.
What is so controversial about getting the IOE tag?
Why are political parties up in arms resisting the award of IOE tag to the crown jewels of engineering education?
To understand the answer to these questions, one needs to go back about 20 years.
These four campuses of Anna University were the ones that came together to form what was the unitary Anna Technological University in 1978.
Later as private engineering colleges mushroomed, somewhere from 2001 onwards Anna University became an affiliating university.
After this move, unfortunately, Anna University got saddled with a lot of administration and associated politics that go with it. The latest move by Tamil Nadu government to bifurcate Anna University and restore ATRU is perhaps an overdue attempt to put the clock back.
Why did things come to such a sorry state?
Back in the 1990s, when private engineering colleges were growing in numbers, these colleges were still affiliated to the regional universities such as Bharathiar University, Bharathidasan University and Manonmaniam Sundaranar University.
Although this worked well at a regional level, these private colleges were getting strangled by the bureaucracy of regional universities.
This is where someone in 2001 thought of creating a technical affiliating university, which by itself is a noble idea, but decided to milk the brand image of the unitary Anna University to achieve this.
Ever since, things have not been the same, as sub-standard private engineering colleges owned by politicians belonging to all the parties of Tamil Nadu, including DMK, AIADMK and Congress started to mushroom across the state.
Many have complained that there was no proper verification of credentials, resources and facilities to grant affiliation to these colleges.
Today, nationally, Tamil Nadu has the highest number of private engineering colleges (526 as of 2018), but 177 of them have a pathetic intake capacity of not even 30 per cent.
This low capacity utilisation is a clear sign of unwanted capacity combined with the public rejection of their education quality.
Sadly, the iconic brand of Anna University had to bear the cross for the tarnishing of education quality.
But ironically, no one complained, because across party lines, politicians are happy milking the brand value of Anna University to mint money from gullible parents, who often sold assets or raised huge education loans.
Anna University has since been mired in many scams far beyond the poor quality of education offered by their affiliated private colleges. Some of the prominent scams are illegal recruitment for a bribe which has rocked multiple campuses of the university including Chennai, and Nagercoil.
Today, there is a perverse situation, where the temporary faculty exceeds permanent faculty members and their data is misrepresented even on the website.
Various courts from time to time and recently the state government have also imposed a ban on recruitment.
The other prominent scams are the marks for cash scam in evaluating answer scripts, and the mega re-evaluation scam uncovered by DVAC. It also had to cancel the affiliation of certain group colleges over exam malpractices.
The corruption in Anna University hasn’t spared even the former VC of Coimbatore Anna University who was earlier arrested for corruption and possessing disproportionate assets.
Another former VC was also arrested over corruption involving a company owned by the son of the former governor of the state, who by designation is the chancellor of all state universities.
There are strong rumours of political hands being behind the VCs, professors and administrative staff that have been suspended/terminated over all these scams.
In any case, no political party (barring the Bharatiya Janata Party) has been happy with the tenure of the current VC N K Surappa and his acts of cleaning up of the university administration.
Why are the political parties opposing the move to award IOE status then?
Things are not as black and white as stated by politicians. The letter from Ministry of Human Resources and Development had clearly stated that the state can continue to follow its reservation policy of 69 per cent and there is no requirement to remove the name of Anna from the university.
In a rare instance, even the faculty body of Anna University AUTA has also come out in support of the VC.
However, the same old Dravidian movement’s tactic of fear-mongering over threats to federalism and social justice is being raked to justify the rejection of IOE status to the university. But even to a casual observer who can connect the dots, the underlying picture becomes clearer. There are too many politicians with vested interests who want to continue to milk the brand image of Anna University to keep their sub-standard affiliated private colleges going.
There are too many bigwigs with their hands in the cookie jar when it comes to granting affiliation, recruitment, purchases, answer script evaluation, or even re-evaluation.
They are hoping that the tenure of N K Surappa finishes soon and they can install one of their confidantes and go back to the old ways.
So these vested interests have no intent to let these four premier campuses escape the rot and thrive on their own.
This is the only explanation for this perverse decision where a deserving institution of eminence rejects an award of Rs 500 crore funds and greater autonomy, while instead preferring to rot in mediocrity and stranglehold of bureaucracy.
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