It’s time to re­place the UGC Act

The stage is set for a long over­due over­haul of higher ed­u­ca­tion in In­dia

The Hindu - - OPED - Arvind Pana­gariya & B. Venkatesh Kumar

The Prime Min­is­ter’s vi­sion to cre­ate 20 in­sti­tu­tions of emi­nence and the Min­istry of Hu­man Re­source De­vel­op­ment’s re­forms push have set the stage for an over­haul of higher ed­u­ca­tion in In­dia that is long over­due. The HRD Min­istry first saw the pas­sage of the In­dian In­sti­tutes of Man­age­ment Bill, 2017, which will ex­tend greater au­ton­omy to the IIMs. It fol­lowed this up with re­forms in the rules and reg­u­la­tions of the Univer­sity Grants Com­mis­sion (UGC), giv­ing au­ton­omy to In­dia’s best-ranked uni­ver­si­ties and col­leges. Sub­se­quently, the Union Cab­i­net ap­proved the con­tin­u­a­tion of the Rashtriya Uchchatar Shik­sha Ab­hiyan, which has been work­ing qui­etly to im­prove the qual­ity of higher ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions in the States through out­come-based grants.

The time is now ripe for an­other change: to re­place the UGC Act, 1956, with a new law that should re­spond to the cur­rent needs of higher ed­u­ca­tion. Such an Act will take for­ward the re­forms adopted un­til now, re­move the clut­ter of reg­u­la­tory agen­cies under the HRD Min­istry’s purview, and pave the way for the emer­gence of high-qual­ity higher ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions.

Cat­e­gories of uni­ver­si­ties

The new Act should es­tab­lish a higher ed­u­ca­tion reg­u­la­tory com­mis­sion (HERC), which will sub­sume the func­tions of all the three ex­ist­ing reg­u­la­tory agen­cies under the HRD Min­istry. Recog­nis­ing the crit­i­cal role of States in higher ed­u­ca­tion, it should fur­ther es­tab­lish an ad­vi­sory coun­cil con­sist­ing of rep­re­sen­ta­tives of all States and the Cen­tral gov­ern­ment. In ad­di­tion, it must have as mem­bers lead­ing ed­u­ca­tion­ists from di­verse fields. The coun­cil should ad­vise the HERC on all mat­ters, though the fi­nal de­ci­sion-mak­ing power needs to be vested in the Com­mis­sion and its dif­fer­ent bodies.

The UGC re­cently is­sued new rules and reg­u­la­tions under which it di­vided uni­ver­si­ties into three cat­e­gories: I, II and III. Cat­e­gory I and II uni­ver­si­ties were awarded au­ton­omy, with Cat­e­gory I uni­ver­si­ties re­ceiv­ing greater au­ton­omy than Cat­e­gory II. Under the Act, we pro­pose merg­ing Cat­e­gory I and Cat­e­gory II uni­ver­si­ties under the re­cent rules into a sin­gle cat­e­gory.

The HERC should not be in the busi­ness of writ­ing cur­ricu­lums for uni­ver­si­ties and col­leges. Under the pro­posed Act, Cat­e­gory I uni­ver­si­ties will be free to write their own cur­ricu­lums. In ad­di­tion, they will over­see the cur­ricu­lums of the col­leges af­fil­i­ated to them. Au­tonomous col­leges will write their own cur­ricu­lums as well. Cat­e­gory II uni­ver­si­ties and the col­leges af­fil­i­ated to them will adopt the cur­ricu­lums of one or more Cat­e­gory I uni­ver­si­ties. Col­leges af­fil­i­ated to these uni­ver­si­ties will adopt cur­ricu­lums of col­leges af­fil­i­ated to Cat­e­gory I col­leges or au­tonomous col­leges. There may be cour­ses that ex­ist in Cat­e­gory II uni­ver­si­ties or in col­leges af­fil­i­ated to them, or cour­ses that these in­sti­tu­tions wish to start which do not ex­ist in any of the au­tonomous uni­ver­si­ties, col­leges af­fil­i­ated to them, or au­tonomous col­leges. In such cases, the HERC will ap­point a small com­mit­tee of ex­perts from the rel­e­vant field to ap­prove or re­ject the pro­posed course in a time­bound man­ner.

Tasks of the Com­mis­sion

If this re­form is adopted, a ma­jor func­tion on which the UGC cur­rently spends a vast amount of time will be elim­i­nated from the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of the HERC. This will leave the HERC with two ma­jor tasks: de­ci­sions on the dis­burse­ment of funds and ac­cred­i­ta­tion. To ful­fil the first func­tion, the HERC should have a fi­nance board. To dis­charge the sec­ond func­tion, it should have an ac­cred­i­ta­tion board. Both these boards should have full au­ton­omy in dis­charg­ing their func­tions once the broad pol­icy is for­mu­lated at the level of the Com­mis­sion. Pres­i­dents of the boards should be ex-of­fi­cio mem­bers of the Com­mis­sion.

The HERC should for­mu­late guide­lines for the es­tab­lish­ment of new in­sti­tu­tions. A new in­sti­tu­tion should be able to enter on honor ba­sis once it posts in a trans­par­ent state­ment on its web­site ex­plain­ing how it has sat­is­fied all the cri­te­ria stip­u­lated by the Com­mis­sion. The HERC should have the power to re­view whether the en­ter­ing in­sti­tu­tion has gen­uinely ful­filled all the en­try cri­te­ria, and in cases of de­vi­a­tions from the cri­te­ria, to close it down.

The Com­mis­sion in co­op­er­a­tion with the ac­cred­i­ta­tion board will have the re­spon­si­bil­ity to draw up stan­dards and a grad­ing sys­tem for col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties. Mul­ti­ple ac­cred­i­ta­tion agen­cies will be per­mit­ted, with the board serv­ing as the ap­proval au­thor­ity for them. Uni­ver­si­ties and col­leges may be asked to de­posit an ac­cred­i­ta­tion fee in a fund held by the ac­cred­i­ta­tion board from which ac­cred­i­ta­tion agen­cies can be paid. This will elim­i­nate the need for fi­nan­cial deal­ings be­tween the ac­cred­i­ta­tion agency and the univer­sity or col­lege be­ing re­viewed. Match­ing uni­ver­si­ties and col­leges with the ac­cred­i­ta­tion agency may be done through a ran­dom se­lec­tion by a com­puter.

The Com­mis­sion in co­op­er­a­tion with the fi­nance board will also de­velop guide­lines for fund­ing uni­ver­si­ties and col­leges. Once these are framed, the board will have au­ton­omy in im­ple­ment­ing them. The Com­mis­sion must also for­mu­late poli­cies on tu­ition fees and teacher salaries. The Act should ex­plic­itly pro­vide for in­de­pen­dent ef­forts by in­sti­tu­tions to raise funds and even in­cen­tivise such ef­forts by pro­vid­ing match­ing funds via the fi­nance board.

The HERC will have a sec­re­tariat to main­tain a sep­a­rate griev­ance and re­dress of­fice. The of­fice will re­ceive com­plaints from stu­dents, the fac­ulty and univer­sity au­thor­i­ties. While rou­tine com­plaints can be dealt with at the level of this of­fice, those with wider ram­i­fi­ca­tions will be brought to the Com­mis­sion.

En­try of for­eign in­sti­tu­tions

The Act should lay down a clear path for the en­try of for­eign in­sti­tu­tions. The top 200-300 in­sti­tu­tions in the world, ac­cord­ing to gen­er­ally ac­cepted rank­ings, may be al­lowed en­try as Cat­e­gory I in­sti­tu­tions. As In­dia has a large young pop­u­la­tion, for­eign in­sti­tu­tions will have an in­cen­tive to enter the coun­try. In turn, In­dia stands to ben­e­fit from the ex­per­tise and rep­u­ta­tion of these in­sti­tu­tions.

Fi­nally, the Act must also chart a path to in­te­grate teach­ing and re­search. The sep­a­ra­tion be­tween teach­ing at uni­ver­si­ties and col­leges and re­search at re­search coun­cils has not served the cause of ei­ther higher ed­u­ca­tion or re­search well. To be mo­ti­vated to do re­search, stu­dents must have ac­cess to state-of-the-art lab­o­ra­to­ries and op­por­tu­ni­ties to in­ter­act reg­u­larly with schol­ars ac­tively en­gaged at the fron­tiers of re­search. Con­versely, schol­ars stand to ben­e­fit from in­ter­act­ing with young, in­quis­i­tive minds. It is crit­i­cal for this in­ter­ac­tion to be brought to the cen­tre of univer­sity ed­u­ca­tion. Arvind Pana­gariya and B. Venkatesh Kumar are Pro­fes­sors at Columbia Univer­sity and Tata In­sti­tute of So­cial Sciences, re­spec­tively

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