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Replacement For UGC: WANTED NATIONAL CONSENSUS, By Dr S. Saraswathi, 5 July 2018 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 5 July 2018

Replacement For UGC


By Dr S. Saraswathi

(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)


The Union Government is set to replace the University Grants Commission (UGC), the apex regulatory body for higher education, with a new regulatory body designed to deal with growing complexities in the sphere of higher education. No doubt, it is a drastic measure, but necessary to cope with the tremendous changes taking place in higher education. The nation cannot choose to remain stuck with old institutions and regulations and expect that they will automatically adapt themselves to fit changes around them and perform effectively.


The UGC was created in India 62 years ago in 1956 on the British model of the institution bearing the same name. Britain scrapped the UGC in 1989, 70 years after its creation and set up a Commission in its place. And so did Australia too. We have no reason to live with old institutions, outdated administrative set up, and irrelevant procedural regulations, and try to discharge new responsibilities and changing functional requirements, and reach higher aims and objectives.


Higher education today is substantially different from what it was six decades ago. Indeed, there can be no second opinion on the need for a machinery competent to cope with current educational needs. Minor reforms within the existing over-all pattern are inadequate to bring about substantial changes required in higher education. The proposal for a new institution is no reflection on the working of the UGC, but is part of progress towards better governance. No institution can remain suitable for ever.


In international comparison by Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings, India has fallen from 201-250 group to 251-300 grouping with only six institutions among top 400. Individual ranking is given only for 200 institutions. This is in marked contrast to the performance of some other Asian universities in China, Hong Kong and Singapore.


The National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC)-- an autonomous body set up by the UGC in 1994 to assess and accredit institutions of higher education in India -- after auditing about 40 per cent of universities and 20 per cent of colleges by 2016-17 brought out the utter failure of bureaucratic centralisation. Presently, there are 15 autonomous statutory institutions to look after accreditation for higher learning over universities under the aegis of the UGC.


The US has pursued such a system of accreditation with competent and independent agencies.  Private educational associations recognised by the government regulate educational standards in American universities. In Canada, universities are regulated by provincial governments and not by the federal government. Those recognised under provincial standards must meet certain quality assurance standards to be considered as authorised.


The proposed new regulatory body, named as the Higher Education Commission of India (HEC), aims at better administration of the higher education sector. Ensuring quality assessment in higher education will be its main object as for the UGC.


The two differ in three main features. Giving grants -- a principal function of the UGC as its name itself indicates -- will not be entrusted to the new Commission, but will be handled by the Ministry of HRD. Inspection of institutions conducted so far by the UGC will be disbanded and replaced by “transparent disclosures” in which spot verifications will not be necessary. The Commission will have powers to close substandard institutions whereas the UGC has only the power to identify such institutions.


The Press Release regarding the Commission says that, the mandate of the HECI includes improving academic standards with specific focus on learning outcomes, evaluating the academic performance by institutions, mentoring institutions, training teachers, promoting use of educational technology, etc. The Commission will encourage higher education institutions to formulate a code of good practices covering promotion of research, teaching and learning.


A system to ensure a certain minimum standard of education throughout the country has become indispensable because of vast changes touching every section, enormous increase in students seeking higher education, and mushroom growth of schools and colleges as business concerns.  The Commission “will develop norms for setting standards for opening and closure of institutions, provide for greater flexibility and autonomy to institutions, lay standards for appointments to critical leadership positions at the institutional level”. These functions will relate to all universities established under any law.


The Commission will monitor through a net data base all matters covering developments in emerging fields of knowledge, balanced growth of higher education institutions, and promotion of academic quality in higher education. The Commission is to concentrate on quality related functions. It will have powers to enforce compliance with academic quality and can order closure of “substandard and bogus” institutions.


All these sounds ideal and will be ideal provided the Commission is constituted with persons with required academic achievements and interests. The Commission should have full autonomy in academic matters delinked from politics.


When the UGC was established, there were 20 universities, 500 colleges, and 0.21 million students. By 2000, the number of universities and university level institutions went up to over 250, and colleges to over 12,000, and student enrolment to nearly 84 lakh. Today, there are 726 universities, 38,000 colleges, and 28 million students. The Knowledge Commission called for massive increase in opportunities for higher education. It was estimated that at least 1,500 universities were needed to attain a gross enrolment ratio of 15 per cent by 2015.


Autonomous colleges came up from the 1980s, and unaided self-financing private colleges have increased recently. Open university system and distance education have expanded. There are other regulatory bodies also for engineering, medicine and law. These also require similar reform under the same or another Commission if the aim is to enhance the quality of education in all fields.


To take maximum advantage of the demographic dividend that India is having at present, and to maximize our investment in the human capital, the country needs a fresh holistic approach and long-term educational planning without being reluctant to touch established institutions or alter administrative patterns. But, pushing changes should not be done relying on parliamentary majority which will then be suspected as political in intent as well as contents. Educational reforms should be consensual to be fruitful. These should be conceived and introduced as an educational measure with no political interest.


In the current atmosphere of street level politics indulging in opposition for the sake of opposition, it will be a herculean task to replace a huge organisation such as the UGC with the support of all stakeholders.


Recall, in 2014, the UPA government advocated a similar reform of setting up a National Council for Higher Education and Research (NCHER). But, presently, it is reported that the Congress and the Left have expressed concern about scrapping the UGC, and have raised doubts regarding the extent of autonomy that the regulator will have.


The field of education in India is not exempt from political warfare. On the contrary, they are hotbeds of ideological divisions. Unless we leave aside our pre-occupation with party politics, we cannot bring any reforms. The alternative will be creation of parallel institutions and advisory bodies if we are serious about enhancing quality of education without being satisfied with increasing enrolment on paper and growth of number of institutions as a business enterprise.---INFA


(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

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