Insights into Editorial: The making and unmaking of UGC
24 June 2016
According to QS Higher Education System Strength Rankings released recently, India ranks 24th in higher education system strength out of the 50 countries evaluated. India’s performance compared to countries such as the US, the UK, Germany, China, South Korea and Japan which have figured in the top 10, is not so impressive. University Grants Commission (UGC) is being blamed for India’s poor performance.
- In this context, the T.S.R. Subramanian committee’s recommendation in the National Education Policy, that the UGC Act should be allowed to lapse and replaced by a new National Higher Education Act, brings up an important question—has the UGC failed to evolve according to the changing dynamics of higher education, and fallen short of achieving its original mandate?
The University Grants Commission (UGC) of India is a statutory body set up in 1956, and is charged with coordination, determination and maintenance of standards of higher education.
- Previously, UGC was formed in 1946 to oversee the work of the three Central Universities of Aligarh, Banaras and, Delhi. In 1947, a Committee was entrusted with the responsibility of dealing with all the then existing Universities.
- After independence, the University Education Commission was set up in 1948 under the Chairmanship of S. Radhakrishnan and it recommended that the UGC be reconstituted on the general model of the University Grants Commission of the United Kingdom.
- The UGC was however, formally established in November 1956, by an Act of Parliament as a statutory body of the Government of India.
Important functions performed by the commission:
- It provides recognition to universities in India.
- It oversees distribution of grants to universities and colleges in India.
- It provides scholarships/fellowships to beneficiaries.
- It monitors conformity to its regulations by universities and colleges.
Is UGC a failure?
Since its inception, the University Grants Commission (UGC) has been witness to a spectacular growth in higher education. The number of universities has multiplied 40 times over, and student enrolment has increased a hundred fold. However, the UGC has been a silent spectator to the languishing quality of education in many of these institutions.
- Few recent policies including increase in teaching hours of the faculty and its subsequent cancellation, the implementation of the choice-based credit semester system in Delhi University, and the decision to discontinue UGC non-NET scholarship for MPhil and PhD students and its abandonment after protests, have been unpopular.
- Also, UGC is understaffed. This affects the commission while disbursing grants and fellowships thereby affecting quality standards.
- Its policies also suffer from two diametrically opposite issues—under-regulation and over-regulation. While it lets smaller substandard institutions slip by as deemed universities, it also instigates witch-hunts against reputed deemed universities.
- Hence, it is argued that UGC has not only failed to fulfill its mandate but also has not been able to deal with emerging diverse complexities.
Allegations on UGC:
- Constituted by all kinds of members other than academics, UGC operates in an ad hoc working structure with no coordination due to lack of knowledge about regional offices, bureaus, disciplines and activities.
- It is unable to adopt new measures for enhancing student mobility and internationalisation in higher education.
- Measures for reinvigorating the teaching environment in universities and colleges and measures for enhancing quality research and ushering in a climate of innovation in higher education are also not taken into account.
- It has also deviated from its core goal of being a watchdog for ensuring excellence in education and is accused of indulging in favouritism.
Alternative arrangement as suggested by expert committee:
The expert committee has suggested an alternative arrangement for a pruned UGC. It says, the UGC could be revamped, made considerably leaner and thinner, and could be the nodal point for administration of the proposed National Higher Education Fellowship Programme, without any other promotional or regulatory function.
It is doubtful if scrapping UGC or any institution is the remedy needed for India’s higher education system. The Higher Education and Research Bill, 2011, introduced in the UPA regime, was discarded for non-consultation with states, violation of institutional autonomy and so forth. Unless a foolproof system is made addressing these issues, the new proposal would be akin to renaming a scheme or creating a new institution on the ruins of an old one to earn the government extra brownie points for the next elections.
Though it can’t be blamed for all the problems with the higher education system, its decisions have an important bearing on the entire student population of the country. Therefore, when policies made by the UGC to keep pace with the changing dynamics of higher education are ill-considered, as well as lacking in research and consultation with stakeholders, there is reason to worry.