Monday, December 15, 2008

Clustering for excellence

Clustering for excellence


The concept is aimed at enabling higher education institutions to put their facilities to optimum use and address the infrastructure and academic needs.

The idea of establishing clusters of advanced centres was mooted by the Kothari Commission as one of the possible means for extension of excellence from the centre to the periphery.

Taking the cue from the Western systems, the National Knowledge Commission has recommended that autonomous status be given to some clusters of colleges as part of restructuring undergraduate education. On its part, the University Grants Commission has been pursuing the project of clustering higher education institutions to put the facilities to optimum use and address the infrastructure and academic needs.

Against this backdrop, the Tamil Nadu State Council for Higher Education is encouraging universities to form clusters and derive the benefits of mutual cooperation in the forms of sharing Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in teaching-learning; opportunities for teachers to develop and offer new innovative credit courses thereby improving the standard of education in the members of the cluster; possibilities of opening up new areas of knowledge, promoting research and extension, institution of scholarships, and coming up with common research publications and newsletters.

Each cluster of voluntarily partnering colleges, as per the proposed system, should consist of a few well developed and established institutions and newly started self-financing colleges, under the regulation of the affiliating university. The cluster will have a shared vision based on the principles of equal status; collective decision-making; autonomy and accountability; and independence and interdependence.

According to a framework for cluster formation readied by the Bharathidasan University for consideration of the Tamil Nadu State Council for Higher Education, the cluster of colleges shall progressively share existing facilities in partner colleges and undertake common ventures for promoting access, equity and quality of education. The concept note states that the government should facilitate setting up of clusters through liberal grants, and encourage government and government-aided colleges for introducing new programmes in addition to the aided programmes introduced in the clusters on a permanent basis.

The vital advantages of cluster formation listed in the concept note are opportunities for new and developing colleges to avail specialised resource persons working in the developed colleges; opportunities for students to register for courses in any other college of the cluster; and promotion of cross-cultural development.

The likely disadvantages are there could be reservations if sharing of resources is one-sided, and problems may arise in accommodating more students in one course from other institutions taking into consideration the size of the available classrooms or laboratories. The solution advocated to solve these problems is signing of agreements for sharing services at mutually agreed costs.

The most important advantage under the cluster system is the scope for developing cost-intensive infrastructure in constituent colleges of clusters through submitting joint project proposals. National funding agencies are eager to provide liberal funding for such proposals, the vice-chancellor of Bharathidasan University, M. Ponnavaikko, told a gathering of principals at a recent meeting.

With the objective of implementing the cluster concept from the next academic year, Bharathidasan University has already nominated coordinators at the district-level to generate the lists of programmes that could be pursued in each college under the CBCS by mid-January 2009.

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