Why UGC must focus on quality
Aug 19 2014
After much debate and discussion in the past, once again, a battle seems to have started over the autonomy of educational institutions. This time, it is mainly focused on the duration of degree programmes. Few months ago, University of Delhi’s attempt for launching the four-year undergraduate programme (FYUP) went through a very unorganised process and finally University Grants Commission’s (UGC) supremacy prevailed that scrapped the FYUP. Almost a similar scenario is emerging in autonomous deemed universities like Symbiosis, Shiv Nader University and Indian Institute of Science (IISC), which have been running four-year undergraduate programmes for several years now. Recently, the UGC raised a similar issue with the IISC, Bangalore regarding its FYUP, but later gave clearance to the institute. UGC has also asked Symbiosis, Pune to shut down its four-year courses in liberal arts, which have been running for the past four years. The UGC claims all colleges should have automatically followed its notification issued in July this year, which said four-year-courses should be done away with by all universities. An individual notification was sent to Symbiosis only after it became known that it had failed to do so. The real story may be different as there are many institutions that are still successfully carrying on four-year degree programmes for decades, while the UGC is completely unaware of these practices.
Apparently every stakeholder in the education domain is trying to safeguard its own interest. However, one of the major culprits is the host of deemed universities. Few years ago, when many ‘owners’ of deemed universities were members of the UGC, they never ever raised any issues. Their only task was to see that their institutions were safe while following a mixed strategy that emerged over the years. Indeed, the UGC’s main task is to work on such policies that are of great importance to the nation as a whole. It takes policy decisions, which are also carefully studied by the ministry of human resource development, and after clearances, it becomes an implementing body. Thus, the UGC has a multiple role: (1) draw a policy that is practical and proficient for the country, keeping global competition and the context of rural India in mind; (2) ensure that several experts are consulted regarding the pros and cons of the policy; (3) then bring the MHRD in the picture (if the need arises, a cabinet clearance too) to convert the policy into an operative mechanism. The 10th five-year plan document clearly talks about the need to revitalise +3 or undergraduate domain and whether degree should be given for 3 years or 4 years of education. There is no differentiation between the timeframe of courses for general or professional subjects. However, MBBS, or for that matter BTech or MTech, have been designed for expanded versions of four years learning.
So it is best on the part of the UGC to be liberal. Despite experimentation, it should only concentrate on quality and guarantee that the educational institutions focus on the same. However, there is a major issue to make this possible. The private institutions charge different fees and there is no well-defined policy in this respect. The MHRD is involved in deciding the fee structure of universities, but for decades, it has been a silent implementer with no teeth. It must deliberate on this sensitive issue and create a national framework to fix the same. It is the MHRD’s task to ensure that deemed and private universities work for the society. The ministry does not grant private universities either to build the academic and physical infrastructure or give operating cost support, but one expects the educational system to have social and ethical responsibility and follow a simple statement of Gandhi: “Make profit but it should be fair profit”. Unfortunately, our private universities very cleverly disregard this statement.
Even though the UGC is the custodian of the academic world, it should never behave like a supreme authority in the sphere of education where youths, the industry and businesses are involved. Nevertheless, it must deliver face-to-face education, blending it with e-learning, modern connectivity and mass communication, so as to bring realistic knowledge close to students to cultivate human minds free from cast, culture and geographical boundaries. The UGC should, therefore, continue its positive efforts and focus on such pragmatic academic approaches rather than becoming an unacceptable custodian.
(The writer is former chairman of UGC, former vice-chancellor of University of Pune and founder director of NAAC)