Higher Education – RUSA, NIRF, HEFA, etc.

TN clips Governor’s power to appoint VCs


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Chancellor, Vice Chancellor, Article 254

Mains level: Issues with role of Governor

The Tamil Nadu Assembly has adopted two Bills that seek to empower the government to appoint Vice-Chancellors (VCs) to 13 State universities under the aegis of the Higher Education Department by amending the respective Acts.

Role of Governors in State Universities

  • In most cases, the Governor of the state is the ex-officio chancellor of the universities in that state.
  • Its powers and functions as the Chancellor are laid out in the statutes that govern the universities under a particular state government.
  • Their role in appointing the Vice-Chancellors has often triggered disputes with the political executive.

Who is a Chancellor of a University?

  • In India, almost all universities have a chancellor as their titular head whose function is largely ceremonial.
  • The governor of the state, appointed as the union’s representative of state by the president, is the honorary chancellor of all State owned universities.
  • The de facto head of any government university is the vice-chancellor.
  • In private non-profit universities, normally the head of the foundation who has established the university is the chancellor of the university and is the head of the university.

What about Central Universities?

  • Under the Central Universities Act, 2009, and other statutes, the President of India shall be the Visitor of a central university.
  • With their role limited to presiding over convocations, Chancellors in central universities are titular heads, who are appointed by the President in his capacity as Visitor.
  • The VCs too are appointed by the Visitor from panels of names picked by search and selection committees formed by the Union government.
  • The Act adds that the President, as Visitor, shall have the right to authorize inspections of academic and non-academic aspects of the universities and also to institute inquiries.

What are the highlights of the TN Bills?

  • The Bills passed in Tamil Nadu stress that “every appointment of the Vice-Chancellor shall be made by the Government from out of a panel of three names” recommended by a search-cum-selection committee.
  • Currently, the Governor, in his capacity as the Chancellor of state universities, has the power to pick a VC from the shortlisted names.
  • The Bills also seek to empower the state government to have the final word on the removal of VCs, if needed.
  • Removal will be carried out based on inquiries by a retired High Court judge or a bureaucrat who has served at least as a Chief Secretary, according to one of the Bills.

Are other states trying to curtail the Governor’s role in appointing VCs?

  • In December, the Maharashtra Assembly passed a Bill amending the Maharashtra Public Universities Act, 2016.
  • Under the original Act, the Maharashtra government had no say in the appointment of VCs.
  • If the changes take effect, the Governor will be given two names to choose from by the state government.
  • In 2019, the West Bengal government took away the Governor’s authority in appointing VCs to state universities.
  • It has also hinted at removing the Governor as the Chancellor of the universities.
  • But all such motives have been challenged by the University Grants Commission (UGC).

What is at the root of the differences?

  • In West Bengal, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, the elected governments have repeatedly accused the Governors of acting at the behest of the Centre on various subjects, including education.
  • The regulations, which differ from state to state, are often open to interpretation and disputes are routine.
  • In fact, the TN Bills make a case for giving the state government the upper hand in the VC appointment process by citing the examples of Gujarat and Telangana.
  • In Karnataka, Jharkhand and Rajasthan, state laws underline the need for concurrence between the state and the Governor.
  • The terms “concurrence” or “consultation” are absent from state legislation in most cases.

What is the UGC’s role in this?

  • Education comes under the Concurrent List.
  • But entry 66 of the Union List states — “coordination and determination of standards in institutions for higher education or research and scientific and technical institutions”.
  • This gives the Centre substantial authority over higher education.
  • The UGC plays that standard-setting role, even in the case of appointments in universities and colleges.
  • According to the UGC Regulations, 2018, the “Visitor/Chancellor” — mostly the Governor in states — shall appoint the VC out of the panel of names recommended by search-cum-selection committees.
  • Higher educational institutions, particularly those that get UGC funds, are mandated to follow its regulations.
  • These are usually followed without friction in the case of central universities, but are sometimes resisted by the states in the case of state universities.

Judicial observations in this regard

  • A Bench of Justices M R Shah and B V Nagarathna said “any appointment as a VC contrary to the provisions of the UGC Regulations can be said to be in violation of the statutory provisions, warranting a writ of quo warranto”.
  • It said every subordinate legislation of the UGC, in this case the one on minimum standards on appointments, flows from the parent UGC Act, 1956.
  • Therefore, being a subordinate legislation, UGC Regulations become part of the Act.
  • In case of any conflict between state legislation and central legislation, central legislation shall prevail by applying the rule/principle of repugnancy as enunciated in Article 254 of the Constitution.
  • It reiterated that the subject ‘education’ is in the Concurrent List of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution.


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