RUSA state project director Meeta Rajivlochan. (Express photo by Prashant Nadkar)

What is the RUSA scheme and the role of the State Project Directorate?

Under the leadership of the minister for higher and technical education and a committee of peers, RUSA provides funds to higher education institutions based on their performance. The Directorate helps the institutions prepare their proposals for research, manpower and infrastructure. This year, because of the very good proposals that many colleges and universities have been able to prepare, they have been able to pull unprecedented funds from the Centre, of Rs 396 crore. Such infusion of funds will enable the institutions to achieve their full abilities and improve rankings. RUSA provides the opportunity for substantive autonomy to every higher education institution (HEI) that shows demonstrable ability to achieve high standards.

Not many colleges/universities from Maharashtra featured in the top 100 list of the National Institute Ranking Framework (NIRF). Can RUSA change that?

Yes, this is precisely what will happen. Under RUSA, the top-ranking universities of Maharashtra like SPPU Pune, Shivaji University Kolhapur and some of the best academics in the state and from outside, are providing extensive guidance to the HEIs to improve their performance, systematise their data. An improvement in rankings will automatically follow. So far as colleges are concerned, we have some of the best colleges in the country. In fact, very recently, there was a series of presentations of many of the autonomous colleges from across the country in Delhi. The colleges from Maharashtra had a very impressive showing.

What is the status of the first phase of RUSA fundings that state institutes received?

In the first round, we were able to pull in Rs 180 crore of funding from the Centre. The figures show that we have been able to more than double that amount within six months. I think a very valuable addition has been that we have been able to draw aided colleges into the scope of RUSA. After all, the objective of RUSA and of the higher and technical education department is to improve access, equity and excellence. So, in the first round, we began with publicly funded institutions, specifically government institutions. Now, we have included aided colleges.

Another feature of RUSA is the provision for formation of cluster universities. How many are proposed and will they take the load off the universities?

Autonomy in higher education has to be exercised at every level; cluster universities give a chance to high performing colleges to come together, synergise their strengths and become independent. As it is, the experience in India has been that universities have far too many colleges affiliated to them, which plays havoc with the administrative systems of the university and disables the colleges from achieving their full potential.

The central scheme provides for a grant of Rs 55 crore for one cluster university. We have already received sanction for a cluster of four colleges – Institute of Science, Sydenham College, Elphinstone College and the Government Teachers’ Training College. Two proposals, seeking funds, have also been sent to the Centre by the RUSA council… one is the cluster of the Hyderabad (Sind) Society, that is HR College, KC College and the Bombay Teachers Training College. The other is a proposal by the Rayat Sikshan Sanstha that includes four colleges in Satara district.

We are also proposing to set up more cluster universities, which are not necessarily linked to state funding. We need to encourage these colleges to go forward, draft their academic policies, decide what they want to teach and be independent in decision-making. This is still on the drawing board.

The Institute of Science has a legacy but has gone into a state of disrepair. What are the plans for its revival?

It will be provided with substantial funds. It will have to decide how to spend this money. Wherever there is a need, RUSA will step in and provide experts to handhold the transformation towards achieving excellence.

The University of Mumbai slipped further in the NIRF ranking this year following the results mess last year. It is not eligible for any funds from RUSA as it doesn’t have a NAAC grade.

RUSA presents an opportunity to any institution, which is capable of making use of it. RUSA sets broad performance parameters and if any institute meets these parameters, they are eligible for funding. The University of Mumbai is already on the path to transformation. Everyone has realised that without demonstrable goals, quantifiable success, it is not possible to claim high status in India anymore. Greatness of the past has ceased to be of any value.

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