The Gujarat Public Universities Act, 2023 (“the Act”), came into effect on October 9, 2023, with the intent to unify the State legislation, governing 11 (eleven) public universities in Gujarat and any new public university that the Government of Gujarat (“GoG”) may constitute and notify (collectively, the “Universities”). The Act provides a common consolidated legislation for all Universities, aiming to provide better governance, improved academic standards, adequate representation through a democratic process, state of the art facilities and to transform, strengthen and regulate higher education in a more efficient manner.
The Act repeals all the separate legislations governing each of the public Universities in Gujarat. The Act is also aligned with the intent of the National Education Policy (“NEP”) of increased focus on undertaking development programmes, promoting collaboration for research and development, increasing consultancy-based projects and training programme for teachers.
Legislative changes: An overview of the Act
Prior to the Act coming into force, each of the Universities were governed and administered by individual State legislations, overseeing aspects pertaining to credit allocation, governance structure, types of courses and degrees to be awarded, management of staff and teachers, fee structure and similar associated aspects. The major changes that the Act has brought in comparison to such erstwhile individual legislations is the consistency of the regulatory framework governing such Universities. Some of the key changes under the Act include:
Management Structure: Prior to the introduction of the Act, certain Universities were governed by senates and syndicates as their principal governing body. However, the Act has introduced a Board of Management (“BOM”), which will serve as the principal executive, decision making and policy making authority for the Universities. The BOM shall include a vice-chancellor who will be the chairperson (save for the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda wherein the Maharaja of Vadodara shall be the chairperson). The Act also eliminates individual academic councils of such Universities, which were part of the governance structure. It has instead introduced a common academic council as well as an executive council for all Universities. The Governor of the State of Gujarat will now be the chancellor of all Universities (save for the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, wherein the chancellor shall be the royal family’s Her Highness Shrimati Shubhangini Raje Gaekwad).
Powers vested with the Government: The GoG, with an aim to unify the functioning of the Universities, is vested with the final decision-making power. Under the Act, GoG proposes to prescribe a model statute to be enacted by all Universities. If any University wishes to make any changes to the statutes, it needs to be passed by the executive council and BOM and then submitted to the GoG for approval. The GoG may consent or withhold approval or send it back to the BOM for reconsideration and no change shall be effective until it is approved by the GoG.
Appointment and removal of members, staff and faculty: GoG has been given the power to prescribe a standard code under the Act to include appointment, payment of allowances, post-retirement benefits and other benefits, conduct, disciplinary matters and other conditions of service of the officers, teachers and other employees of the Universities. It also specifies the provisions for appointment and absorption of teachers and other employees of each of the Universities and their affiliated/ constituent colleges and recognised institutions. The Act specifically sets out that all salaried officers, members of the authorities, committees, teachers in the Universities and other employees of the Universities shall be deemed to be public servants.
The Act has been welcomed as a step towards unification of the regulatory framework and governance structure applicable to public universities. It aims to provide enhanced higher education experience and better administration of the Universities in Gujarat. There are however certain shortcomings and one of the key impediments is the increased government interference in the affairs of the Universities, thereby impacting the autonomy and independence of such institutions. Set out below are some of the critical aspects of the Act:
- Improved governance: establishment of a consistent governance framework for the Universities will help to improve co-ordination and efficiency and ensure that all Universities are required to adhere to the same standards. This will bring about greater uniformity, ease of management and improved efficiency in the administration of Universities.
- Enhanced accountability: the Act makes Universities directly accountable to the GoG for every action/ inaction on their part. The GoG will have increased oversight on the operations of the Universities and the Universities are bound to obtain the GoG’s consent for actions forming part of their daily operations, such as appointment of an administrative board for the Universities and disciplinary matters related to teachers and employees of the Universities. Even for incurring expenditures out of funds received from other sources (other than from GoG), the Universities are only permitted to utilise it, if it is in consonance with the policies and directives issued by the GoG.
- Quality of education: The Act focuses on improving the quality of education in Universities and enhances focus on research, skill development, training and consultancy programmes and provides a platform for quality education experience.
- Impact on university autonomy: the GoG has been provided significant control over the management of Universities. This includes power to nominate the chairman of the selection committee for the appointment of vice-chancellor and power to determine the eligibility criteria for teachers and other employees of the Universities, which may take away the independence of the Universities over management and governance matters. This could also lead to political interference in the functioning of the Universities resulting in undermining autonomy of such Universities (against the intent in the NEP) and may lead to more bureaucracy in the functioning of the Universities, thereby diverting focus away from provision of quality education.
- Lack of stakeholder representation: the Act does not provide for any representation of students or faculty on the BOM, who form the core of the day-to-day operation of Universities. This may lead to marginalisation of the interests of students and faculty in the decision-making process.
Given the above analysis, while the Act may not strike the ideal balance, it has the potential to significantly impact higher education offered by public universities in Gujarat.The GoG will also be releasing standard codes and statutes pursuant to the Act, which will help Universities get a more granular understanding of certain aspects associated with the Act, such as tenure of appointment of teaching and non-teaching staff, appropriation of funds of the Universities, etc.
Overall, the Act plays a key role in implementing the NEP by providing Universities with the resources and flexibility they need to adopt new teaching and learning methods, develop new programmes and collaborate with domestic as well as international institutions. While Maharashtra is the only other State to provide for an act governing public universities, the GoG has been quite forward thinking in its approach to be one of the first few States to provide for such detailed governance structure and framework to govern such Universities. It appears that the GoG has focussed on ensuring that the implementation aligns with the goal and vision of the NEP, which places emphasis on multidisciplinary research and innovation. The Act also enables Universities to set up centres or institutions in foreign countries and allows centres or institutions of foreign countries to be set up within the university campus, with prior consent of the central and the State government, which is also aligned with the vision of internationalisation of education in the NEP. However, since this is a new legislation, it remains to be seen how the Universities will respond to the new framework and adapt to it. The GoG will also have to strike the right balance to ensure that it provides the Universities sufficient autonomy without bureaucracy or political influence in the governance and functioning of such Universities.
 Notification accessible here: https://kcg.gujarat.gov.in/sites/default/files/Notification_Guj%20Public%20Uni%20Act%202023.pdf
 Maharaja Krishnakumarsinhji Bhavnagar University, Maharaja Sayajirao University, Sardar Patel University, Saurashtra University, and Veer Narmada South University.
 Section 9(1) of the Act.
 Proviso to Section 9(1) of the Act.
 Section 21 of the Act.
 Section 21(6) of the Act.
 Section 21(7) of the Act.
 Section 46(3) of the Act.
 Section 12 of the Act.
 Section 15(jj) of the Act.
 Section 17(1)(u) of the Act.
 Section 46(2) of the Act.
 Section 5(52) of the Act.
 Section 5(75) of the Act.