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President Kovind tells govt to pull up its socks on appointment of V-Cs & institute heads

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Rashtrapati Bhavan advises HRD ministry to start selection process well in advance, and include candidates who may not have applied for particular posts.

New Delhi: As controversy simmers over President Ram Nath Kovind withdrawing his assent for the appointment of the Vice-Chancellor of Visva-Bharati university in Santiniketan, Rashtrapati Bhavan has sent some strong advice to the Union Human Resource Development Ministry on the timely appointment of vice-chancellors and heads of institutes.

The President’s office has expressed concern over delayed appointments to top academic posts across the country. It has asked the HRD ministry to consider reaching out to eminent candidates who may not have applied, and examine the possibility of a ‘Selection Commission’ format for filling top academic posts at universities and institutes of higher education.

The President is Visitor to over 125 institutes of higher education, including all central universities, IITs and NITs. He is the final approval authority for key appointments at these institutes.

Time-bound appointments

The President is learnt to have impressed upon the Prakash Javadekar-led HRD ministry through rounds of recent interactions that the selection process should be initiated at least six months in advance, so that there is a successor in place as soon as the serving head completes his/her term.

This has been a problem across many institutions; Visva-Bharati, for example, has not had a full time V-C since 2016. Red tape is holding back appointments in several cases.

The President has conveyed the urgent need to follow a time-bound appointment process, and also reiterated the same at the first Visitor’s Conference held with the V-Cs of all new central universities last month.

Rashtrapati Bhavan is also learnt to have observed that there are significant vacancies in faculty positions and at principal level at colleges, and has advised that these must be filled on priority.

“Vacancies in teaching staff are unfair to students who have enrolled, and a disservice to their education…Vacancies that are anticipated – due to retirements or expanded needs – should be planned for months in advance. And it is for all authorities to ensure that recruitment is absolutely above board and not influenced by other considerations,” President Kovind had said in his address to the V-Cs on 6 January 2018. He had added that where necessary, even retired professors could be engaged for specific periods to address vacancy issues.

Possibility of a Selection Commission

Another suggestion that has emerged is the possible need for a Selection Commission-like structure featuring eminent persons, to help pick candidates for top varsity jobs in time.

The HRD ministry has also been advised that instead of selection committees limiting themselves to candidates who may have applied for posts, a ‘search-cum-selection’ mode must be encouraged so that talented persons who may not have applied may also be considered for the posts. The search-cum-selection mode was earlier followed in case of some institutions.

In his time as Governor of Bihar, President Kovind is known to have brought in an effective system of appointment of V-Cs. The system insisted on appointing highly-regarded search committees, which would step in some times to personally interview shortlisted candidates and then also ensure that new vice-chancellors went through an ‘orientation’ session with eminent academics.

Deviating from predecessor’s footsteps

President Kovind’s outreach to institutions as Visitor is also distinct from his predecessor Pranab Mukherjee, who organised annual Visitor’s Conferences with heads of institutions. President Kovind has decided to start a more intensive outreach with smaller groups.

The President will interact with seven different groups of institutions through the year in more modest versions of the Visitor’s Conferences. There will be about 20 heads of institutions in each group.

He will hold his next conference with directors of IITs in March.

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