With politicking taking centre-stage in appointing vice chancellors, things have reached an all-time low in the 13 universities in Kerala, the country's most literate state.
If earlier political parties in the state looked upon these universities and the affiliated colleges as a 'factory' for producing future politicians, today the universities are considered as sources of plum posts at the highest level.
The first university in Kerala was set up in 1937 and was named as Travancore University, later renamed as University of Kerala. The newest university in the state is Kerala Technological University (KTU) set up this year. All engineering colleges in the state would be affiliated to this university.
When the first one was set up, the then Diwan (Prime Minister) of Travancore, C.P. Ramaswamy Aiyar, contemplated roping in eminent physicist Albert Einstein as its first vice-chancellor.
But three recent instances show the level to which intense politicking has crept in and has sullied the system, especially at the highest level.
In a first of its kind in Kerala, on May 12 this year, the MG University vice-chancellor was booted out by the chancellor of the University, the then governor Sheila Dixit, after complaints were made that he had falsified his qualification.
In the second instance, TV channels last month showed an angry verbal duel between a Congress legislator and a businessman (both syndicate members at the Cochin University of Science and Technology- CUSAT). The two were fighting over selection of a syndicate member to select CUSAT's new VC. If not for the timely intervention of the police, they would have come to blows.
Last week, this same Congress legislator quit from the syndicate to protest against the appointment of a new VC. Incidentally, the new VC is a woman, the first since the University was set up in 1971.
In another sordid episode, Calicut University vice chancellor M. Abdul Salam Wednesday told Chief Minister Oommen Chandy that the government should reign in some syndicate members of the ruling Congress-led UDF who are troublemakers, else he will step down.
The Calicut University functioning has been seriously hit by long-drawn student agitations, and Salam is facing trouble from syndicate members from the ruling Congress and its allies.
However, Chandy told Salam to hold on as he will discuss the issue with his cabinet colleagues.
Salam was handpicked for the post by vested interests, much against the wish of a majority of the Congress-led UDF members.
CPI-M politburo member and former State Education Minister M.A. Baby told IANS that political parties per se should not be blamed for the present fiascos because the Left government always gave merit huge importance, which is not so during the Congress rule.
Chandy, when asked about the ongoing crises in the universities, said that it is only when the Congress-led UDF rules the state that the education sector goes for a makeover to meet the needs of the time.
"Do you know there was a time when there was not a single professional college in the private sector in our state, while there were 500 such colleges in the country. It was we who changed that and see so many students here study in professional colleges," said Chandy.
Chandy went on to add that there might be certain issues which media highlights while ignoring the huge positive gains that the education sector has made during Congress-led UDF's rule.
"Today Kerala is slowly becoming a sought-after destination for higher education and there are foreign universities ready to come here," said Chandy.
(Sanu George can be contacted at email@example.com