New University Bill poses a threat to Gujarat's rich history of student activismtext_fields
Ahmedabad: The Gujarat State Assembly recently approved the Gujarat Public Universities Bill, 2023. This legislation, if enacted, will usher in sweeping changes to the structure of student leadership across the state's public universities, affecting 11 out of 18 institutions.
The bill has prompted concerns about the potential erosion of student autonomy and political influence on campuses.
The Gujarat Public Universities Bill, 2023, seeks to dissolve all elected bodies within the affected universities, including student unions where they currently exist.
The bill's most contentious provision allows for the removal of university vice-chancellors if they are found to be affiliated with any political party or organization participating in politics. The decision to remove a vice-chancellor would rest with the state government.
The roots of this controversy run deep, with Gujarat being historically known for its vibrant student movements. One of the most notable moments in the state's history was the Navnirman Andolan of 1974, which began with students from Saurashtra University and Gujarat University protesting over canteen bill prices.
This movement ultimately led to the ouster of then Chief Minister Chimanbhai Patel on corruption charges.
The bill's introduction in the State Assembly was met with enthusiasm by the Minister of Higher and Technical Education, Rushikesh Patel, who deemed it "historic" and claimed it would lay the foundation for a robust education system for the next century.
Patel argued that the bill aligns with the provisions of the National Education Policy 2020 and would enhance Gujarat's standing as an international education hub.
In contrast, the opposition, led by the Congress party, staunchly opposes the bill, arguing that it will undermine the autonomy of state universities and lead to a "sarkarikaran of education" (government control of education) in Gujarat.
According to The Indian Express, Amit Chavda, a Congress leader in the Assembly, emphasized the importance of student leaders and their contributions to the political landscape, expressing concerns that the bill would stifle their voices and originality within the education system.
While the bill has garnered support from some quarters, including BJP Vejalpur MLA Amit Thaker, who praised it as a necessary response to changing times, others argue that it neglects the crucial role that student activism has played in shaping Gujarat's political landscape over the years.