AMU should abort its regional centers plan; Govt should adopt it

By Shahidur Rashid Talukdar,

At first, The Kerala High Court stayed the opening of AMU off-campuses in June and now the Allahabad High Court, not surprisingly rather inevitably, also follows the suit. It is not necessarily because of whether one supports or opposes the proposal, rather the move itself, given the set of legal and operational constraints, is prone to such questions and hence it has been questioned. Agreed that the opposition from the rightists and antagonists of AMU is malicious, but stringent criticism from AMU’s well wishers makes the decision worthy of a rethinking and reconsideration of alternatives as to what best can be done to avoid problems in future becomes imperative.

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Why should AMU give up its claim on the off-campus centers?

The problems with the proposal to set up five regional off-campus centers of AMU in remote states such as Maharashtra, Kerala, Rajasthan, West Bengal and Bihar are manifold. Some of these problems can be fixed while others are almost incorrigible.

First and foremost is the legal difficulty of setting up such off campus centers. As the AMU Act does not support establishment of off-campus centers beyond the limit of 25km jurisdiction from the AMU (Sir Syed) mosque, the judgments of the Honorable Allahabad High Court and Kerala High Court are quite inevitable. This was to happen at any point of time. Thus, there is no element of surprise in the fact that the stay orders have been passed. Rather what surprises one is the fact that how can AMU, being fully aware of its limitations, make this decision in the first place, despite having faced a huge setback in the past regarding one such off-campus center in Dubai. Established during the tenure of Vice Chancellor Dr Mamoodur Rehman in 1997, the Dubai campus was forced to roll back owing to legal issues. So a similar move, maintaining the same legal status, seems utterly uncalculated and far from being judicious enough. Although this legal hurdle is not insurmountable, the AMU Act is amendable, but it is yet to be done. The pre-requisite has been pushed to post-consideration which makes a mockery of the whole issue.

Setting aside the legal issues, there are host of operational difficulties which may bar the way of managing and controlling such off-campus centers. AMU, by nature as well as by legal jurisdiction, is a residential university based in and within Aligarh. It does not and cannot even accommodate the affiliation of local colleges, including those at Aligarh city. The entire operational and administrative mechanism is apt for a one campus residential university. Many in the Aligarh community opine that with many faculties, myriad departments, over 30,000 students, and poor administrations, AMU has been finding it difficult to maintain the status quo in one campus, consequently the academic and quality and administrative grip are gradually deteriorating. A retrospect on the recent past will prove that this contention is not entirely unfounded.

While the university used to be in the top in post independence era, it hardly finds a decent place in the recent popular educational rankings. Though there are allegations against the methodology and credentials of the ranking agencies, it is hard to ignore all of them altogether. So if given an iota of credibility to those rankings, the academic leadership of AMU seems to be constantly relegating. The administrative strength is another area of grave concern. In the last decade all the four Vice Chancellors have been dragged to controversies and in most cases have been forced to leave the campus. Why do these high caliber people, who have otherwise excelled in their respective roles, failed so miserably at AMU?

In nearly every VC’s reign there has been incidences of major violence on the campus leading to the closure of the university. Since 2007, AMU has been closed twice evacuating the entire campus, besides continual unrest on smaller issues. In last three years, the university administration has suspended about 150 students and quite a few staff members as well. Many of these suspensions were found illegal by the courts and the university had to repeal its decision. This shows that the judgments were not sound enough and hence question the credibility of the AMU administration as an efficient body.

In some cases, the students might be motivated by vested interests, and hence created atmosphere of unrest without any legitimate cause but in some other cases there are genuine demand of students which the university, rather than addressing them, suppressed by curbing the students voices, suspending and finally expelling the students involved. The present administration, being charged with corruption and financial irregularities by the Auditor General of UP, is facing multiple enquiries instituted by the Central Government, and is embroiled in controversies. Student politics, being driven by petty issues and dominated by regionalism, local politics and vested interests, contribute further to the weakening of the administration and embitterment of the entire scenario.

If such a situation persists what will be the fate of the off-campuses which will have to deal with additional problems of their own? Can an administration which is not capable of running one campus smoothly be entrusted to run 5 other campuses without creating a total havoc? The factionalism among AMU teachers is another well known factor. The faction which is pro VC supports these AMU off-campuses but the other faction does not and, in fact, vehemently opposes the same. So what happens when the present VC leaves AMU? Will the regional centers receive the attention they deserve or will be rolled back like the Dubai campus?

In this regard two prominent observations are worth pondering upon. First, the prominent leader Syed Shahabuddin in a letter to Mr Salman Khurshid wrote, “I personally see the impossibility of the AMU running Satellite Universities (Regional Campuses), even if, it becomes constitutionally & legally competent to do so even to run in a centralized manner a full-fledged college, general or technical, outside scattered in different parts of the country on a permanent basis. Given the record of the AMU, this will be an impossible task from a purely administrative and management point of view. Secondly, it will erode the standard and culture of the mother university. Thirdly the proposal cannot & should not create replicas of the AMU elsewhere or the Satellites will draw students from different regions and develop their own culture”.

In another write up the veteran journalist MJ Akbar observes, “AMU does have serious problems that demand urgent redress: there is no reason why any quality Indian university should slip towards a lower common denominator. Its administration is, at this moment, a scandal fuelled by sectarian politics at which Delhi is adept. If AMU is required to create affiliated units then it must possess the administrative ability and academic quality needed, otherwise it will be cheating the very Muslims it claims to serve. Rather than lifting its affiliates, the children could drag down the mother even further”.

Further, why should AMU take this legal and administrative challenge at the cost of its integrity and resources? Is the payoff worth the sacrifice? The answer is “not really”! It has been widely observed that as of now, without any formal minority status ascribed to AMU, these regional centers in various states will stand as educational institutions with no particular affiliation to the Muslim community. Being secular and fair centers, they will not be able to give preference to any community on the basis of religion only. So the only benefit from these centers the Muslim community gets is the physical proximity. This benefit can be availed by the people even without any affiliation or attachment with AMU.

A dispassionate analysis of the ground realities pretty much lays it down that AMU should a priori concentrate on improving its internal academic and administrative conditions rather than extending its wings afar and hand over this “Regional Center” project to the center. To benefit the Indian Muslims, AMU should strengthen itself first and strongly lobby for gaining its much awaited minority status.

Why should the HRD ministry embrace the proposal?

First of all, India being an emerging leader among the developing countries needs to focus much more on higher education. A recent World Bank finding indicates that India spends the least on higher education as a fraction of its GDP. The result of which is clear from various studies. According to Sachar Committee Report (according to the 2001 Census data) only about 7 per cent of the overall population aged 20 years and above are graduates or hold diplomas against overall literacy rate of over 65%. As per em>Report of the Higher education in India, Issues Related to Expansion, Inclusiveness, Quality and Finance, the access to higher education measured in term of gross enrolment ratio in 2006/7 is about 11 percent. By 2012, (the end of 11th plan objective) the GER is expected to increase to 15%. As per the plan, India needs many more quality universities than it already possesses. In this context, it becomes imperative for the Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD) to set up new universities in underserved pockets. The districts under consideration, such as Murshidabad, Mallapuram, Kishanganj, etc. are all educationally backward districts and register much lower literacy rates, and higher education indicators, as compared to the national average. Hence, they deserve special attention from the MHRD.

Now, the initiative is already underway – thanks to the AMU administration. As a result of the intense interest and pro-activism of the VC – Dr PK Abdul Azis and the union Finance Minister Mr Pranab Mukherjee, partial fund has already been sanctioned, and due to a high degree of co-operation of the respective state governments, the required land has been secured in most cases. In addition, the governments are extending full cooperation; the respective communities are not only happy and welcoming but rather overwhelmingly so. It seems there is no bar in setting these universities in motion. Plagued by AMU’s internal issues, such a highly demanded project should neither be delayed nor be paralyzed. So rather than waiting for AMU and facing all sorts of troubles, the MHRD should immediately take up the project on its own hand and establish five more central universities in these pockets along with other places.

This will proffer political advantage for all the parties: no opposition from the right wing organizations, as there is no religious affiliation, legally trouble free independent universities, and no problems of the remote AMU-administration. This way the government can kill many birds with just one stone. The MHRD should come forward with this motto: serving the disadvantaged, serving the nation.

In this context, a few suggestions become concomitantly relevant. First of all, the Government(s) should seriously think of setting up a few good quality High Schools and Community (degree) Colleges in these districts so that the planned universities get a constant supply of good quality students. If the Govt. is seriously interested to better the plight of the underprivileged people in these backward areas, then it might and should consider some sort of regional reservation so that people from the locality get preference in admissions and in jobs in these universities.


Such a shift of responsibility of the project is mutually beneficial. AMU gets the credit for taking the initiative, adds another feather on its crown for fostering more offsprings like JMI, gets rid of the legal, operational, and administrative difficulties. The Government also gets rid of all these problems and at the same time serves the same purpose without making anyone unhappy. It is, from every respect, a win-win situation.

(The author, originally from Assam, India, is a PhD student at Texas Tech University, Texas, USA)