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Does Indian higher education system need an Ombudsman?

In the beginning of 2012 the former Union Minister for Human
Resource Development, Kapil Sibal had initiated a debate by mooting the idea
for appointment of Ombudsman for higher education institutions under the
grievance redressal system. The Ministry passed executive order for the
centrally funded institutions which includes central universities, IITs, IIMs
and NITs, and deemed universities. As per the order every institution is
required to have an ombudsman – a person with judicial or legal experience.

The Ombudsman will have the power to instruct the
institution to take corrective measures on complaints of students regarding
denial of admission, non-observance of declared merit in admission,
with-holding of documents and non-refund of fees in case of withdrawal of admission.
Few months back former Minister of state for HRD, D. Purandeswari in Rajya
Sabha answering to the question of appointment of Ombudsman has stated that,
“University Grants Commission, All India Council for Technical Education and
National Council for Teacher Education have been requested to establish a
grievance redressal mechanism for students and applicants for admission in
higher educational institutions under their regulatory control. This mechanism
includes appointment of Ombudsman also for redressal of students’
grievances.”

Though, the order was passed by the Ministry it is still to
get Parliament approval and thus has not been implemented on ground. India
Education Review discussed the issue with some of the heads of institutions on
the need for an Ombudsman and his role.

Need for an Ombudsman:

The need for an Ombudsman is being felt for the higher
education system in India is because of its tremendous growth in terms of
number of institutions just to increase the gross enrolment ratio. In doing
this we forgot about quality, relevance and excellence and this lead to massive
commercialisation of education which has lead to a scenario in which anybody
with money can buy degrees while those with talent and qualification have to
run from one institution to other to get admission.

Prof. PB Sharma, Vice Chancellor, Delhi Technological
University talking to India Education Review said, “The purpose of education is
not merely to award the degrees but to create an army of capable men and women
who shall possess besides capabilities, human values for development of the society.
This noble objective requires that the institutions and universities should be
established and managed by people of letters and of high moral and ethical
wisdom. It is expected of them to desist from any deviation from ethical and
moral foundation of education, no matter how compelling the circumstances or
situations may be, but we find the just opposite in most cases.”

“Institutions and universities especially under the disguise
of public-private partnership or under private ownership have been allowed to
be set-up by those who could muster financial and political support. This has
created the present unhealthy and unfair environment in higher education in the
country. We all know very well that once we allow the rot to set in, it creates
an environment for mediocrity to flourish. We can have an Ombudsman provided we
are able to specify the domains and duties to the Ombudsman for his exercise of
controls, even preventive measures to stop the growth of mediocrity and
establishment of sub-standard institutions,” added Prof. Sharma.

There are many government run institutions that are against
the idea of appointment of Ombudsman over themselves as they feel that they
have very transparent system and they feel that it is needed in case of private
institutions. They also feel that central government of any of its agencies
will not be able to frame rules and guidelines for it as different institutions
have their own issues, history and serving different segment of society.

Dr. MM Salunkhe, Vice Chancellor, Central University of
Rajasthan is of the view that, “the topic has not been debated properly and
there is need to debate upon it in detail as it is a very wide topic. As far as
government run universities are concerned, particularly the central universities
we follow a very transparent system at each and every step. Ombudsman is
required for private institutions as they flout and twist the norms. The other
problem is who will make the rules and define the role of Ombudsman because
every university is different and unique in itself and what rule will be good
mine will not be good for some other universities. Thus, I am not very much in
favour of this post for the universities until the role of Ombudsman is clearly
defined.”

Whom to appoint

There is also huge debate on the topic that who should
appointed to this post as a section of educationist feel that the person to be
appointed for the post should be from education fraternity as any outsider will
not have the understanding of the huge education system that India has. While
the other section feels that the person should be from judicial background as
he would be less biased with least vested interest. The concern of both the
section is genuine and but the ministry has chosen the second option to appoint
a person with judicial or legal background. The institute would have to appoint
him from a panel suggested by the affiliating university in case of technical
and management institutions and the Central Government in case of deemed
universities.

According to Prof. PB Sharma “The man of iron
will with the highest credentials of scholarship, administrative capabilities,
a vision and commitment to build quality higher education for his motherland.
He should also understand that it has not mere teaching or coaching that makes
higher education, rather an environment in which education, creative and
innovative abilities and opportunities to recognize the value and worth of
knowledge and capabilities, technology and knowledge incubation, innovations and
new-product development are nurtured is that what should make higher education
of today and surely of tomorrow.”

“The tenure of an Ombudsman should be of five years to give
him a reasonable time frame to implement the reforms or changes as envisaged.
Such an Ombudsman be invariably be appointed by a coliseum comprising of a
former Chief Justice of India, an Outstanding present or former Vice
Chancellor, an outstanding Civil Servant and an outstanding industrialist,”
Prof. Sharma added further.

Prof. R. Lalthanluanga, Vice Chancellor, Mizoram University,
is of the view that, “as far as ombudsman is concerned, I do not think that
there is any need for government run higher educational institutions like
central universities etc. which are self regulated through its ordinances/regulations
as per the guidelines of UGC (University Grants Commission) or MHRD. It may be
required for private institutions as they do not have very clearly defined
regulation. UGC may appoint Ombudsman for such institutions for a period of
three years.”

It seems that the Ombudsman is the need of the hour for the
vast education system that India has and with arrival of foreign institutions
it is even more required. It will only make the Indian institutions rise up to
the occasion. The checks and balances and fine tuning can be done by the
institutions at their own level along with following the guidelines of MHRD. Ombudsman
is seen as a system for grievance redressal of the students while there are
provisions in the already existing system it can be further strengthened to
make it more transparent. People against this move also feel that one redressal
system will lead to another making it a vicious cycle.

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