In a move that would ease the path for setting up and operating private universities, the Telangana Assembly passed the Telangana State Private Universities (Establishment and Regulation) (Amendment) Bill. However, student organisations and educationists are up in arms, alleging that the Bill would threaten the constitutionally-guaranteed reservation policy and right of education to weaker and marginalised groups.
"By violating the rule of reservation, this Bill keeps the students belonging to Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes sections away from the education," Stalin, the universities national coordinator for the All India Students Federation (AISF), noted.
He explained that Chief Minister K Chandrasekar Rao (KCR) is going back on his promise of creating world-class public universities. "This will entertain privatisation of education by leading to natural death of public universities," he said.
The AISF leader further demanded that the government withdraw the Bill and cancel the approvals to private institutions as there was no due scrutiny carried out.
With the passing of amendment to the Bill, five private universities , namely â€” Mahindra University, Woxsen University, Malla Reddy University, SR University and Anurag University â€” will be operational in the state.
Speaking in the Assembly, Education Minister P Sabitha Indra Reddy said that the latest amendment to the Bill which was enacted in 2018, is aimed to allow operation of new universities in the state.
Introducing the amendments, the minister said that as many as 16 proposals were received from the different institutions to set up universities. According to the government, of the 16 proposals, only eight have reached the final stage, while five were given approval in the first phase.
The minister noted that these amendments would benefit thousands of students to avail the course of their choice, without needing to go to neighbouring states or abroad.
The Bill categorises universities as Brown Field and Green Field, the former referring to institutions that already have colleges and students. The latter are institutions that will set up new campuses.
The minister said that each university has to provide 25% quota of seats to Telangana students mandatorily, however Brown Field universities will have rules of reservation and fee reimbursement for old courses, while excluding the same for new courses.
According to the government, however, Green Field universities will not follow the rule of reservation and fee reimbursement facility. The government has not explained why these private universities will be exempted from implementing reservation policy and fee reimbursement schemes for socially and economically disadvantaged sections.
Currently, reservation for marginalised groups is 15% for Scheduled Caste, 6% for Scheduled Tribe and 29% for BCs.
Osmania University research scholar and founder president of Swaero Students Union (SSU) Prabhakar Chouti said, "This overrides the constitutional safeguards given to the weaker sections. There is no point in having a university which will deny admission based on students' economic criteria."
He further said that there is no clarity on whether the government has taken consent for allowing the establishment of private universities. He said, "Excluding the rule of reservation in the educational institutions is nothing but acting against welfare state principles and social justice that our Constitution speaks of."
The Congress party has also alleged that some cabinet ministers and influential persons in the TRS party had major stakes in the prospective private universities.
Prof K Lakshminarayana, faculty at University of Hyderabad and Secretary of Telangana Save Education Committee, said that the Telangana Private Universities Act will weaken the public education in the state.
Speaking to TNM, he said, "The tendency of the Act is to remove reservation policy in universities, though there is no need to set up private universities, according to the private candidates, while neglecting public universities."
Prof Lakshminarayana while stating that the Act is "anti constitutional," adding "exempting private universities from implementation of rule of reservation denies the access to higher education to weaker sections. It has nothing to do with quality education if a major section of students are being denied admission because of their class and caste."