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July 10, 2009

Cotton College as a deemed university

— Col (retd) Manoranjan Goswami Being a student of Cotton College fifty years back, I still feel proud and shall cherish the association always, which is true for all who have passed through the corridor of this great centre of learning at any time. However, that day, when we had a meet of old and present Cottonians, I heard with both pride and dismay the views expressed by the Principal of the college, the Vice Chancellor of Gauhati University and Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi on the future of Cotton College. The question that had centered round the future of Cotton College is –should Cotton be made a ‘deemed university’ or should Cotton College be made a University with ‘unitary State control’ mechanism. I found two divergent views – one, Cotton must be made an autonomous body under the State Government and the other is Cotton must be made a ‘Deemed University’ with no control from the State. I was particularly happy that our Chief Minister was very candid and frank in his opinion and whether his views are acceptable or not, he has, at least, given his opinion with no colour and ambiguity that he does not want Cotton to be another Department of the Government. He opined that Cotton should go for the status of ‘deemed to be University’. Against this, there are teachers and students, past and present, who prefer and profess for autonomy of the college but with a string attached to the State Government. To them, the Government of Assam must remain the ultimate guardian of Cotton, though made autonomous and independent of Gauhati University.

It is time that not Government, but truly the intelligentsia of the State with involvement of past and present teachers and students of Cotton College must deliberate and take a stand what vision they have for this great institution in the next five or ten years. One may ask- why Cotton only. The answer is simple and that is- it is a college more than a century old and it is uniquely great in its history of performance, infrastructure, quality and contribution to the society. Cotton College has been the voice of the youth. In fact, Cotton has been in the lead not in academics only, but in all matters of the Sate for decades. Today with more than four thousand intakes annually, still it is the final destination of the top bracketed ones among students in Assam and North East. Cotton College also has the advantages for growth academically and location wise which very few other college in Assam has.

Now coming to the question of ‘deemed university’ , it is the Central Government, on the advice of University Grants Commission (UGC), by notification in the Central Gazette can declare an institution of higher education other than a University which is providing high standard of education in a specified area as a ‘ deemed university’. Such institutions can have the autonomy to frame their own standard of syllabus, fix fee structure and qualification of teachers. They can even award degrees, with the approval of UGC. Some of the important institutions which have ‘deemed university’ status in the country are –BIT Pilani, Bengal Engineering College, Howrah, NIT, Culicut, Nerist, Itanagar etc. Most of the deemed university institutions are of professional nature. It is rare that general education centre like Cotton College be made a deemed University, but ultimately what decides the matter is whether the institution who aspires or applies to be a deemed university has the ability and academic environment to be on their own in the matter of – education standard, syllabus, admission procedure and above all a committed staff. The well known colleges like Stephens or Hindu in Delhi or for that matter Presidency in Kolkata is not aspiring for ‘deemed status’. But, still Cotton can, because, as stated by VC of GU that day, Cotton college is growing faster than any other affiliated college under the University and more importantly, it is becoming very necessary that Cotton College should introduce more new subjects, both from academic and from vocational angle to meet the demand of the student community which University do not or cannot cater for now. But there are questions which the Cotton community must b. e prepared to face and answer before clamouring for deemed university status. There is total difference of opinion among the teaching staff of Cotton now whether Cotton college should go all out to be a ‘deemed university’ immediately.

There are some contrasting views and we must think over them dispassionately. The Chief Minister feels that standard of Cotton College cannot be maintained if the Cotton teachers are dealt the same way as a Government Officers with usual rules of transfer and promotion. Inter College transfer to and from Cotton shall be inevitable, once it is a Government College, even if we make it a separate unitary State controlled university. The teachers cannot avoid and they do it frequently for their career growth, visiting the corridors of Janata Bhavan or the Office of Higher education. One cannot say proudly and exclusively ‘I am a Cotton Teacher’. The Chief Minister suggested that Cotton be made a separate entity with total autonomy with its own rule for admission and own rule for promotion. Let it formulate its own syllabus and own courses. As against this, the counterviews against `deemed university’ status stems from the fact there are teachers who feel that they would lose their ‘government officer’ stamp on them which would takes away some benefits, which are beyond academics but which, they consider essential for their stand in society, now or after they retire. Travelling allowances, gratuity, pension are some benefits which a teacher enjoys now like any Government servant may not be totally or adequately compensated after they become part of the ‘deemed university’. Another point of resentment may be that UGC norms to become professors or Heads may be a deterrent condition for many now. May be there are more cogent reasons to discourage Cotton becoming a ‘deemed university’ and there are resistances from inside, but what the people of Assam really would want to know when modernisation of syllabus, introduction of new upcoming courses and education-vocation linkage is the call of the day, was Cotton college has not changed its philosophy of old age education and management. Why the present Principal had to lament that immediately after the HS result is out, forty best students sought for transfer certificate, particularly to Delhi. Why even the children of teaching staff of Cotton getting good marks are going out? Why all 1AS successful candidates say that they got better exposure in Delhi only? We have to think over it together.

It is also fact that the word ‘deemed university’ has become a subject of controversy also of late. This status is given to the educational institutes of great repute which fulfil prescribed standards recommended through National Accreditation and Assessment Council(NAAC), but unfortunately getting ‘deemed university’ status through corridor of power and unfair means cannot also be ruled out. The National Knowledge Commission (KNC) and Prof Yaspal Higher Education Committee has, in fact, recommended that this scheme of deemed university be stopped for few years. It is because, of late, a number of private institutions have gone for high and illegal capitation fees. Between 1956 and 1990, there were only 25 deemed universities, but today there are 128 ‘deemed universities’. It is a fact that the status of ‘deemed university’ has been diluted over time by loose handling, but the fact still remains that institution of very high excellence and commitment with modem courses ,away from bureaucratic control should go for deemed university status where innovative ideas can be nourished and developed in the field of education. Cotton College can be one such and it is time to seriously think about it. SOURCE: ASSAM TRIBUNE

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