Teachers’ associations have been resisting the proliferation of self-financed courses in public universities since these started becoming popular around 2000. They allege these programmes, which are funded by student fees, are characterised by high tuitions, unqualified or exploited teachers, and poor quality of education. The government’s encouragement of such courses – spelled out in the University Grants Commission’s draft guidelines in June – has added to their alarm.

Now, a former teacher at the University of Rajasthan and an alumnus have sued the institution for the manner in which it runs its self-financed programmes, raising many of the same complaints. RB Singh, 80, retired from the geography department in 1997 after three decades with the university. Former student Satyanarain Singh, 81, is a retired Indian Administrative Service officer. On September 18, they filed a public interest litigation in the Jaipur bench of the Rajasthan High Court against the state university, the vice-chancellor, the state of Rajasthan and three university centres that run self-financed courses – the Centre for Converging Technologies, the RA Podar Institute of Management, and the Five Year Integrated Law College.

Seeking to “restore the academic standards in the University of Rajasthan”, RB Singh and Satyanarain Singh have asked the court to direct the institution to appoint teachers as per the regulations of the University Grants Commission and the All India Council for Technical Education, the regulators for higher education in the country. They also want the university to stop admitting students “till their courses are in line with UGC/AICTE norms”. The next hearing is scheduled for November 6.

The University of Rajasthan is a state university – or a public university run by the state government that is usually established by an Act of the Legislative Assembly.

Untrained faculty

The petitioners’ main complaint deals with faculty for undergraduate and post-graduate courses that are self-financed. “Many of these courses have no trained faculty since inception,” they have alleged in their petition. “The university… permits its regular faculty to act as guest faculty in SFS [self-financing scheme] courses.”

Many critics of self-financed programmes across the country complain that these are staffed with temporary teachers. At the University of Rajasthan, existing permanent staff are paid extra to teach these programmes, classes for which are mostly held during regular college hours, the petitioners said. Consequently, the faculty members end up working double the hours mandated by the University Grants Commission, which is 14 hours or 16 hours per week.

This is possible because a public institution is not required to get posts for self-financed courses sanctioned by the government – unlike the case of subsidised courses, where approval is required. Regulatory supervision is also lax. Faculty at some government-aided colleges in Tamil Nadu and Haryana Scroll.in spoke with earlier reported that these institutions flouted qualification rules and reservation policies while hiring, which resulted in unqualified teachers being appointed.

In the case of the University of Rajasthan, the petitioners have alleged that the Centre for Converging Technologies offers Bachelor of Technology programmes (essentially, engineering degrees) even though the teachers do not possess technical qualifications as mandated by the University Grants Commission and the All India Council for Technical Education. These faculty members are simply drawn from other science departments. The petition also claims that some guest teachers in other centres have not cleared the National Eligibility Test or State Level Eligibility Test required for higher education teaching.

The University of Rajasthan deploys existing permanent faculty members to teach its self-financed courses. (Credit: University of Rajasthan)

High fees, low monitoring

A professor at one of the science departments in the University of Rajasthan, who did not want to be identified, said the institution started its first self-financed course in computers in the 1990s. “Even today, those courses are on but with teachers from other science departments,” he added.

The number of such programmes has increased since then, as they have at other universities. For instance, a third of undergraduate seats at Mumbai University are in self-financed courses. And while they offer the same syllabi as government-funded courses, they are far more expensive.

The petition in the Rajasthan High Court echoes this concern. It points out that the Centre for Converging Technologies charges Rs 50,000 per semester while a five-year law programme at the University of Rajasthan costs over Rs 4.2 lakhs.

“The petitioners would like to know whether a university which is a state [university] can charge fee as mentioned above,” the petition asks. “In case it is entitle to charge[,] then what [is] different between private and state educational institution[s]?”

The petition also accuses the university centres running self-financed courses of violating financial rules. It said that an audit of accounts of the Centre for Converging Technologies between 2006 and 2011 by the state’s accountant general found that “the [centre] does not deposit any amount to the university account but in its own name”. Under the rules, it is supposed to deposit all income with the university, which would retain 30% of it and “disburse 70% amount to SFS [self-financing scheme courses]”.

Scroll.in called, texted and emailed a list of queries to the Centre’s director Deepak Bhatnagar but received no response. This story will be updated if and when he responds.

Many vacancies

Focusing on the university’s policy of not appointing permanent staff for its self-financed programmes, the petitioners said this would have a deep impact all around, even on regular courses.

“As per the latest budget report of the university, there are 488 vacancies and only about 416 regular teachers,” said RB Singh. “They should be engaged in teaching and research in their regular areas instead of taking these extra classes.”

Singh was a member of the Rajasthan University Teachers’ Association and also served as an elected member of the university’s senate – one of its two statutory administrative bodies – for 12 years.

“Over the past 20 years I have been seeing how the university is being run,” he said. “I was perturbed to see the state of affairs. These self-financed courses should not be run at the cost of regular ones and there should be proper monitoring.”