Recent events, more of a personal nature than public, brought Robert Burns’ To a Mouse to mind. The University lives, as it were, from plan to plan, and like those best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men in the poem, they don’t always work out quite as one wanted. The plan above should really be Plan with the capital P, referring to the Five Year Plans that are overseen by the Planning Commission. We are now into the twelfth (XII) of the Plans that started on April 1, 2012, the date being quite a cruel joke on all of us.
The UoH did well in the XI Plan. Well, in this context, is really in the money that was granted to the University via the UGC and other funding agencies, the total being about Rs. 210 Cr, and one should also count the additional grant that came as a result of the OBC expansion, Rs. 154 Cr. This really enabled the University to dream big, building new hostels, new buildings, new major equipment, new infrastructure, and so on, and the results are there for all to see.
For the XIIth Plan, the UGC and the MHRD initially asked us to dream even bigger, and keeping the then rate of growth of the Indian economy in mind, the Central Universities were asked to project plans that were three or five times the grant we got in the XIth Plan. That’s serious! But that was also at a time when the body politic seemed robust and secure, and also not in a state of limbo as it has seemed to be in the recent past…
Anyhow, we rose to the call and made a XII Plan Proposal that was commensurate with these ambitions. Big plans. But now, when it has come to the implementation stage, there have been subtle (and not so subtle) indications that the budget allocations will be nowhere near as generous as they (or anyone) had hoped… The economy has not been so good, there are massive cuts, everyone is suffering, one “reason” after the other. But more to the point, ten months after the so-called start of the new Plan, we still have no clear idea of what the UoH has been allotted, not in terms of money, not in terms of positions, and not in terms of programmes.
The fact of the matter is, a five year plan period does not really make much sense anymore, least of all for the higher education sector. The world changes too fast in five years, and so do priorities. And five years is not a natural timescale on which anything particular happens in the world of academe, so why quantize it that way? There is no logic to it, and the fact is that by the end of every sacred Plan Period there is always unspent money. (And that accounts for something like Rs 65 Cr out of the 210 that we got in the entire Plan, which comes to nearly one third of the total amount!) I think it would serve us far better if we made proposals for shorter periods – it would help us project our needs better, it would help us to adapt to changing scenarios, and it would help the University to stay competitive instead of locking us into a firm commitment that may eventually evolve into something unrealistic over five years…
One plans and plans, and plans so… and then! Being at a University should prepare one for such uncertainty though. As it happens, I find myself admiring Burns more with the passing years, and seeing through his eyes and words, more of the universality of the human condition. The next stanza of the poem captures perfectly the angst of the moment,
Still thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me
The present only toucheth thee:
But, Och! I backward cast my e’e. On
prospects drear! An’ forward, tho’
I canna see,
I guess an’ fear!
So what’s Gang aft agley? Och, the sorry fate of the best-laid plans of mice and men…