The triple helical structure of collagen was first revealed by a Madras University professor, G N Ramachandran. Before going to England, mathematical genius Srinivasa Ramanujan spent four years at the university scribbling down the passage to infinity. P J Thomas, a professor from the department of economics, came up with a roadmap to recover from the great depression of the 1930s.
Now, the university, which was founded in 1857 and known as the mother of all universities in South India, is fighting for survival. Paying salaries every month amounts to a minor miracle; the institution has been reduced to dipping into the Rs16crore endowment fund, which is meant for lectures and prizes.
How did things come to such a pass? The reasons are many. They include failure to rope in quality faculty, inability to curate relevant research programmes, falling admissions in revenue-earner distance education, and squandering resources on new buildings when revenues are falling.
Vacancies among teaching staff are at 58%. As a result, some departments identified as centres for advanced studies are set to lose funding. Departments of pathology, pharmacology and environmental toxicology have suspended PG courses for lack of faculty. With no recruitment for seven years and senior professors retiring, the institution is slipping on the research front once one of its core strengths.
“Faculty with international experience and talented research are not able to enter into the university. The post-doctoral research system was not strengthened. International universities thrive on post-doctoral fellows,” said professor SP Thyagarajan, former vicechancellor of Madras University. While working as a professor at the university, he came up with the drug viroherb for the treatment of Hepatitis B, which was patented in 2001.
“Unless you generate high level funding through quality research proposals you can’t do any breakthrough research. The research and innovation ecosystem in the university has been deteriorating for the last 10 to 15 years,” he added.
A syndicate member said the university will become financially healthy only if the government takes up the pension liability and gives out salary grants on a monthly basis instead of giving it after a delay of two to three years.
Pressing for a bail-out package, a senior professor said that university cannot burden the students to solve its financial crisis. “The state government needs to give at least 50% of the budget as a grant to the university,” he added.
G Shanmugam, former registrar of Madras University, said the huge faculty vacancies will affect the NAAC rating and NIRF ranking. “Three departments –botany, crystallography and biophysics and mathematics – have been recognized as centres of advanced study by UGC. Due to the shortage of faculty, these three centres on the verge of losing their status,” he said.
If the government can financially bail out Annamalai University, which violated rules in faculty appointments and collapsed because of financial irregularities, why is it neglecting the University of Madras, he asked.