Visva Bharati Breaks Tradition, to Confer Degrees Without PM
Visva Bharati will now distribute degrees without the usual convocation attended by PM.
Nestled amidst lush greenery, an illustrious centre of learning, the Visva Bharati University finds itself mired in controversy. It has been alleged that the university is breaking away from a 66-year-old tradition and handing out degree certificates without a convocation.
Founded by Rabindranath Tagore, Visva Bharati University was once the pride of the nation. Set in the sylvan splendour of Santiniketan in Birbhum district of West Bengal, it is approximately 160 kms north of Kolkata. This central-government-funded university’s alumni list includes luminaries like Satyajit Ray, Amartya Sen, Indira Gandhi and Gayatri Devi.
The university was given national importance by Mahatma Gandhi. In 1951 it was decided that the Viswa-Bharati Act be discussed in Parliament and that the prime minister would be the Chancellor of the University.
Departure from Tradition
Has Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s inability to allocate time for Visva Bharati prompted this departure from tradition?
Acting Vice Chancellor Swapan Kumar Datta says:
We are not looking at it as a break from tradition. There is a valid reason for doing this. We are keeping the interests of the students in mind. Why should students suffer?
A delay in receiving the graduation or post-graduation certificate can affect a student's education or job prospects.
For the last four years Visva Bharati has not been able to hold a convocation and as a result 15,000 students are yet to receive their certificates.
Could the Prime Minister not have nominated an eminent person to be present at the convocation like former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had once done?
The Prime Minister was very keen to come to Santiniketan. We approached him a year ago, he agreed in principle. Our faculty and students were looking forward to his presence and it was the dream of the students to receive the certificate from him. It is a matter of great honour. So we were not even thinking about an alternative.Acting Vice Chancellor Swapan Kumar Datta
Going Ahead with Distribution Process
Once the Centre realised the Prime Minister’s busy schedule would not permit a visit to Visva-Bharati, the ministry of human resource development suggested that students should get their degrees within six months of having passed their examinations, with or without the convocation.
Viswa-Bharati decided to go ahead and begin the distribution process. Students who had an urgent request, were granted certificates within 24 hours.
Visva-Bharati is also working towards a system in future where certificates will be uploaded and thereby make it easier for students to access them. Convocations will not be necessary for distributing certificates.
It must be pointed out that like the Pondicherry University, Manipal University and Tezpur University, Visva-Bharati too continues to have an ‘Acting’ Vice-Chancellor though he assumed office in February 2016.
Need for Centre’s Support
Some academicians believe that this too affects the morale of an institution and at times there are doubts about the authority of a person occupying the chair despite his capabilities.
With a student strength of 11, 000, Visva-Bharati needs the Centre's support to modernise its museum and its academic facilities in order to attract eminent faculty from India and abroad.
As a resident of Santiniketan says:
A year ago Visva-Bharati received a B-grade by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council. Also, it has raised its fees for foreign students. Now it is not attracting students from other parts of India or abroad.
Visva-Bharati, Tagore's name for his university meant the communion of the world with India.
Sadly, today it is a shadow of the glorious dream its founder had once envisaged.
(The writer is a Kolkata-based senior journalist.)
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