A Himachal college tries to create a college cluster university

Find out how Vallabh Government College Mandi is coordinating with other colleges in Central Himachal to form a cluster college university in line with RUSA's vision

The 5WH in brief

Who: Dr Rakesh Kapoor, Co-ordinator, Cluster University, Vallabh Government College, Mandi, Himachal Pradesh

What: Is coordinating the initiative to create a college cluster university in Mandi, led by Vallabh Government College.

When: Starting April 2014

Why: So that students of central Himachal Pradesh have a wider range of courses available at a local university.

Where: Mandi

How: By identifying colleges to partner and deciding how each will be developed.

 

India needs more universities to push up its Gross Enrolment Rate in higher education. Many existing state universities are overburdened, with hundreds of affiliated colleges. This adversely impacts the quality of higher education being imparted. Not surprisingly, concerns abound about the quality of graduates. Most aren’t employment worthy.

To address these issues, the central government has introduced Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA), a first-of-its-kind initiative. Top on its agenda is giving existing state universities breathing space to introduce quality enhancements. RUSA proposes limiting the number of colleges to be affiliated to any university to 100.

Also on the anvil is an innovative move to create college cluster universities as an alternative to deemed universities. Additionally, bigger autonomous colleges are proposed to be developed into universities.  

Filling the gaps

South Himachal Pradesh has Himachal Pradesh University at Simla. North Himachal has Central University at Kangra. But central Himachal with its administrative head at Mandi currently has no university much to student’s disadvantage.

“A college can provide only so many courses,” says Dr Rakesh Kapoor, Co-ordinator, Cluster University, Vallabh Government College Mandi. “In recent years we have introduced self financed courses in high demand areas like business administration and computer applications. However a university could offer students more facilities and study options.”

Evolving a cluster

Vallabh Government College Mandi (VGCM) is erstwhile Himachal’s pioneer college, created in 1948. With RUSA coming into effect, VGCM’s management saw an opportunity to make a big difference in the availability of higher education in and around Mandi. “Specifically, we saw big possibilities in RUSA’s vision of creating 35 college cluster universities across India,” says Dr Kapoor. Here’s how far VGCM has come in creating a college cluster university:

IDENTIFY PARTNERS: A cluster university is comprised of a lead college, which becomes the university, and three to five participating colleges, which become constituent colleges. All the colleges should qualify so under section 2f of the UGC Act, 1956 (hence, Act).

RUSA guidelines mandate that the colleges should together have an existing combined enrolment of 2000 students. Together they should also have sufficient academic, physical and technical infrastructural facilities to meet university standards. Also, each college should have been functioning since 15 years. Participating colleges should ideally lie not further than 15 to 20 km from the lead institution. But in Himachal, a hilly state, also in Jammu & Kashmir and north-eastern states, the government has waived off the age criterion and the location criterion for participating colleges. So in these areas even new colleges that are 30 to 35 km away from the lead can become part of the cluster.

“Essentially, constituent colleges should be near enough to be reached in one day,” explains Dr Kapoor. “On this basis, we chose Government College, Bassa; Government College, Drang (Narla); and government-aided MLSM College, Sundernagar, to become constituent colleges. Government College Bassa and Drang come under 2f of the Act but do not fulfil section 12b of the Act which provides for government assistance. MLSM College fulfils both 2f and 12b.”

DETERMINE HOW EACH COLLEGE WILL BE DEVELOPED: Under RUSA, each cluster university will receive Rs 55 crore in the current five year plan and another Rs 65 crore in the next plan. These funds are to be applied to develop the lead and participating colleges.

“Development should build on each college’s strengths and help introduce new application oriented inter-disciplinary courses,” says Dr Kapoor.

As such, it has been decided VGCM will create a School of Law, a School of Engineering and Information and Technology and a School of Performing Arts. What’s behind the choice?

“Numerous government authorities have spoken about starting a School of Law at VGCM, and efforts to start this school in self financing mode had already gotten underway,” explains Dr Kapoor.

Mandi is the cultural hub of the state and inclined to performing arts—hence, such a school will help preserve its culture, he said.

“A School of Engineering and Information and Technology will strengthen VGCM facilities for existing and proposed undergraduate and postgraduate technical courses offered in self financing mode, such as Bachelors in computer applications. A Masters in computer applications is already in the pipeline,” added Dr Kapoor.

Since Bassa is a popular tourist place, it is proposed to develop a School of Tourism Studies at its Government College. Himachal currently doesn’t offer a course in Library Sciences, so that would be a first for the state and a major attraction.

MLSM College Sundernagar will get a new School of Applied Science to strengthen its existing postgraduate courses in physics and chemistry and to introduce new post graduate courses in computer applications and mathematics.

“Government College Drang is a newer establishment. We recognise that it will need some handholding to develop. Creating a School of Social Sciences and Languages there makes sense because we can share faculty with it” continues Dr Kapoor.

Based on such proposed development, VGCM has proposed the following allotment of funds: Rs 25 crore for itself, Rs 12 crore for MLSM College Sundernagar, Rs 11 crore for Government College Drang and Rs 10 crore for Government College Bassa. Additionally, 16.5 bighas of land would be provided to VGCM for the university’s superstructure.

ARRANGE SUFFICIENT INTERACTIONS WITH PARTNERS: Resource sharing makes college cluster universities successful. Meetings can help partners understand each other and realise each others strengths and weaknesses. “Intense faculty and facility sharing will be needed. We have more faculties to share while MLSM College Sundarnagar has better grounds for sports and so on,” observes Dr Kapoor.

BE WILLING TO INNOVATE: VGCM has pioneered self financed courses in the state. It will continue in that direction and introduce other new initiatives to make the cluster university a success. Dr Kapoor explains why: “RUSA provides funds for the development of new schools and infrastructure. But it says nothing about funds for non teaching staff. Most college management structures are lean vis-à-vis expansive university managements. We are already thinking ahead, about affiliating other colleges for a fee to raise funds to manage the university.”

New beginning

Creating a cluster university at Mandi would be a big boon for central Himachal and its adjoining regions. "Students who cannot afford to study in Shimla or Kangra and especially girls will benefit a lot from the creation of a university at Mandi," says Dr Kapoor.

All going well, if the Ministry of Human Resource Development approves the latest detailed project report (it has already approved the cluster university in principle), Vallabh University will see the light of day from the 2015-16 academic session.


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