Gang aft agley

imgresRecent 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.

UntitledFor 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.

Untitled 3The 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…

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5 thoughts on “Gang aft agley

  1. “The UoH did well in the XI Plan”

    I am happy to learn this. Congratulations to you all!

    Couple of years ago, Prof Mustansir Barma, Director, TIFR visited out lab. I am always embarassed when any visitor wants to visit our greatest facility, also called “mens’ restroom”.

    But I could answer another very embarassing question he asked: “What facilities you would like to use when the TIFR centre comes up here” (on the UoH campus)? I prompty answered “The Canteen!”

    Prof Barma, Prof Krisnamoorthy, Prof Chari and me walked the concrete path, overflowing with sewer, leading to the canteen. We just had a cup of coffee each. I am confident that it was an experience for him. I understand the same contractor has been given charge of the canteen in the new life sciences building (just heard the rumors).

    Today I can confidently show our 2000 acre green “mens restroom”. Canteen? What canteen?

    I gave last week my copy of “Mice and Men” and “The moon is down” to my student to read. I would have loved to quote from “the moon is down”.

    Both research and teaching are done by people, not by machines. Both my research and teaching standards have remained the same for the last two decades.

  2. “it would serve us far better if we made proposals for shorter periods”
    Lets hope that the policy makers will listen to it.
    The unspent money totaling to about a third is a real matter of concern.
    We could see everywhere ( UoH is not an exception) the works being carried out in a hurried fashion towards the closing of financial year , which is a violation of Rule 56.(3) of GFR 2005 , which says it is a breach of financial propriety.
    It is good to talk on budgetary support where as it is equally or more than important to finish the projects in a time bound manner.
    Well as you pointed out there is policy paralysis and there is a bureaucratic slowdown in the decision making process at the highest echelons of the Government.
    Lets hope things will come more clearer in the coming days…

    • What you say and suggest is certainly good on paper. But the system must work in a transparent manner. If it is not transparent, it is going to be the subject of 100’s of queries and delays. The process cannot move fast. Short, clear and specific projects for immediate needs is the key. And the process must be quick.

      Only recently I downloaded the GFR 2005 from the finance ministy website. We are in violation of many rules, in my opinion. The rush for 31st march is apparently part of the plan and is deliberate.

      “there is policy paralysis and there is a bureaucratic slowdown in the decision making process” is perhaps true but how one can explain instruments lying in the corridors in their original packing for 6 or more months altogether? My papers are lying on the Dean’s table for signature for 5+ days- our Dean is AWOL!

      • Yes , it cannot explain what you have pointed out.
        If the process cannot move fast then how can one explain the supersonic speed it achieves in the closing of the financial year?
        I suggest for more interaction between the administration and the UoH community at regular intervals for better planning and to know about the actual needs.

      • Just to add the information for the sake of completeness: The School of Life Sciences spent about 1 crore INR in just two days (well, to be exact, 2.5 days). All on chemicals and glassware. And if that is the case for one School, you can guess about the University…

        At this rate, we are going to have the world’s #1 toxic dump at the University of Hyderabad. Fortunately, much of these purchases are on paper only, but I am only guessing…

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