Saturday, May 3, 2014

Can Christ University Shift to a Higher Gear?

Dr (Fr) Thomas C Mathew, Vice Chancellor, Christ University
While other self-financing universities are going through the admission processes, Bangalore based Christ University has already wound up admissions in many courses, and is busy preparing for the convocations due on 24th May and 25th May. The demand for seats is evident from this, but can Christ University really climb to the next quality rung occupied by the likes of IIMs, IITs, & NITs? Christ University is going places by opening new management campuses at Lavasa and Ghaziabad, but can it break free from the gross limitations of the self-financing model and shift to a higher, more respectable gear?

Due to their rapid proliferation, and consequent hit on quality standards, self-financing non-affiliating universities don’t command too much respect in this country. Because, every critic can point out more than a few rotten apples in the hamper. It is a legacy of transforming too many private engineering colleges into private universities, overnight, by various state governments. On the other hand, really healthy shining apples have been a rarity in this basket. This is where a deemed-to-be-university like Bangalore’s Christ University stands out. There is no doubt that when we consider this self-financing basket - of 173 state universities, around 100 private deemed universities, and thousands of self-financing colleges - Christ University comes among the top institutions. But whether the same holds true when we enlarge the basket to include all central universities, state universities, and their top-ranking affiliated colleges, is open for debate.

Christ University’s top-ranking position certainly doesn’t hold true if we include the IITs, IIMs, and NITs. Still, Christ University is one of the best-positioned self-financing universities to eventually grow into a respected centre of excellence. The reasons are many.

Christ University, as the name implies, is not by the typical edupreneurs like family-owned businesses or politicians-turned-educationalists. CU is by an arm of the Roman Catholic Church, arguably one of the largest educational promoters in the world as well as in India.

The specific Catholic arm that runs Christ University is Carmelites of Mary Immaculate (CMI), which has unique strengths as far as India and education are concerned. Tracing its roots back to 1830s and the Kerala State, CMI is an indigenous congregation in India, unlike most other popular Catholic congregations in education like Jesuits and Salesians.

In fact, this Syro-Malabar Rite entity is the first native congregation in India, and was founded by Blessed Chavara Kuriakose Elias, who is revered like a Saint among Kerala Catholics. Moreover, during the last two decades, CMI has been given a mandate by Vatican to focus on higher education in India due to their proven capabilities in the field and other reasons including their native origin.

Next to the promoting group’s strength in education, comes Christ University’s unique background as a reputed college for long. It was started in 1969 as Christ College, and this 45-year old history makes them even older than old setups like Symbiosis of Pune.

This long history had also allowed it to evolve naturally as a mature educational institution fit enough to be accorded the autonomous status first and then as a deemed-to-be university in 2008.

There is also another refreshing change to Christ University when compared with most other private universities. In contrast to their huge or sole focus on engineering, Christ University excels as a well-rounded institution with more focus on highly relevant humanities like sociology and with even more relevant business education programs since long.

Today, six years since it was transformed into a non-affiliating university, CU retains this edge with full-fledged departments including management, law, engineering, commerce, science, humanities, and education. Christ University today offers practically any subject under the sun, with 53 degree programs, 38 postgraduate degree programs, 16 MPhil programs, and 22 PhD programs.

Apart from its long-standing 25-acre campus at Hosur Road, CU’s newer campus at Kengeri is a 75-acre affair housing its engineering and management faculties.

The biggest criticism that Christ University faces today is that it is more like a school, when it comes to discipline. While much of this criticism is true - with many parents seeking admission for their children getting jolted by the thoroughly rude security men in the campus - Christ University has surpassed many criticisms regarding aspects like modest dressing, fearful respect towards teachers etc by delivering on the placements front.

Placements, of course, is not just a function of student merit but reflects the proactive nature of the management as well as the nature of the city they are in. While placements at CU can’t be compared with those at IIM Bangalore, the fact that this self-financing university does hard work to get a majority of its students reasonably placed should be a matter of appreciation towards Dr (Fr) Thomas C Mathew, Vice Chancellor, and his team of teachers and administrators.

Obviously, for those who think that a disciplined environment and a prospect for placement are the ultimate goals in education, Christ University more than fits the bill. But for those students who want to study and compete with India’s best students in that subject, CU won’t be a first choice.

The self-financing nature of Christ University can also be a burden, even when CU’s fees is reasonable compared with some other private universities.

Also, though Christ University has a well-defined scholarship scheme for the needy students who are meritorious, it is not a game-changer in its impact, either for the student or the university. In the long run, if Christ University truly wants to emerge as a Centre of Excellence, it has to attract top-notch student talents aggressively by means of generous enabling scholarships.

It is a fact that once such students are attracted, the infrastructure at CU is not likely to disappoint them, as it is second to none with features like ERP/SAP facility for even the students.

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