IMU - the Maritime Varsity in turmoil
The Indian Maritime University has become a non-starter as a result of high attrition rate
Four years into its existence, the Indian Maritime University set up under the Union government has turned out to be a big disappointment. Most stakeholders in maritime education and training feel let down on hearing the disturbing news about the new vice-chancellor, G Raghuram having been made to quit suddenly on 25 March, the second VC to go in two years. The raging controversies, frequent clashes between officials, internal wrangling, rampant discontentment in the top echelons of power, and allegations of corruption all of which have put the institution, considered ‘a light at the end of the tunnel’ for budding Indian seafarers, into appalling turmoil. More distressing was that three days after Prof. Raghuram quit, the Registrar, M Anand too tendered his resignation.
Prof. Raghuram is supposed to have quit following a spat with the shipping ministry as he found that the recommendations from the ministry would pose a grave danger to the maritime education and training system. According to a few persons in the know of things, the Ministry had taken strong exception to Prof Raghuram’s way of handling things and for having recruited faculty and administrative staff that was more than the sanctioned strength. Besides, there were disagreements on other issues as well.
Although a year earlier, prior to Prof. Raghuram’s appointment, the first vice chancellor, Dr. P Vijayan had also had to vacate his post before completing his term in office, for an entirely different reason. The anti-corruption wing of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had registered a case of disproportionate assets against Dr. Vijayan.
Explaining that there is a need to have a structure to run the university proficiently, Prof Raghuram described the system he had tried to put in place. He stated, “There are three issues to keep in mind if one wants to run a good university. First is the core faculty which is very important for building a university. Nothing else is more important than this requirement. The next is the issue of academic autonomy. Does the Ministry of Shipping understand what academic autonomy is? Maybe the Ministry of HR in some sense has an understanding of it because for them running a university is a mainstream business. The third issue is governance. How do we achieve the right type of governance in the university? But the Ministry of Shipping has a different approach and some of the things it wants to do needs to be challenged.
“We can view the IMU as a place, where we actually have a feedback to address various issues not just represent the trade but resources, security and environment where the think tank can draw up support for it,” he went on. “Not just one think tank but in the long run multiple think tanks.”
A head of the maritime institute under the public sector stated, “The situation is much worse. If you see the records there have been four V.C.’s in four years. After Dr. Vijayan left Capt Mukesh Baveja took over. Then there was Prof. Raghuram. Now once again Capt Baveja has taken over as V.C. The depressing part of the story is the high attrition rate among top officials. There have been six Registrars / Deputy Registrars and 7 to 8 Controllers of examination since the inception of the IMU. Every time I visit the IMU I find that the person whom I had met earlier and had agreed upon a certain course of action is no longer there.
“The mess does not end there. Take for example the government run institutes which conduct Pre-sea training. According to the guidelines of the Directorate General of Shipping for a batch of 40 cadets there should be a minimum of one coordinator, plus two faculty members and five instructors. In reality, of course, they are not able to muster even half this number. So also is the case with the courses that they are supposed to be offered. And this, when privately run maritime institutes are penalized heavily or forced to close down for minor infringements.”
Several stakeholders had been banking on Prof Raghuram to give some direction, bring about some refinement to maritime training, help raise it to international quality and bring it out from the present morass.
Is the IMU in a position to equip the future Indian mariners to meet the challenges they will have to face? In fact it is the seafarer who is in the line of fire having to face piracy; being bombarded by burgeoning regulations; dealing with criminalization of seafarers; torn between rigors of duty and concern for their loved ones back home while living a life of a “tutelary social outcast”. The government has fixed an ambitious target for raising the global percentage of Indian seafarers from the present 6 percent to 12 percent by 2015. But is the ‘babudom’ serious about the targets or even in creating a brand image for Indian seafarers or is seafaring too much to handle?