UGC to be Scrapped: Will the New Regulator with More Powers Work?
UGC to be scrapped: With HRD ministry taking over the power to disburse funds, will new regulator improve quality? 
UGC to be scrapped: With HRD ministry taking over the power to disburse funds, will new regulator improve quality? (Photo: Harsh Sahni/ The Quint)

UGC to be Scrapped: Will the New Regulator with More Powers Work?

There is a very funny scene in Raju Hirani’s 3 idiots, a 2009 blockbuster, starring Aamir Khan. When a professor asks the definition of ‘machine’, Rancho (Aamir Khan), the protagonist, gives a simplified definition – “anything that reduces effort”.

Unimpressed by Rancho’s reply, the professor tosses the question to Chatur (Omi Vaidya) who rambles a long-winded definition, “Machines are a combination of bodies connected that their relative motions are constrained, and by which means, force and motion may be transmitted and modified...”

Perhaps therein lies the problem with India’s higher education – it promotes rote learning and discourages students from applying their minds.

UGC to be Replaced with a New Panel

The quality of higher education in India is once again in focus with the NDA government deciding to set up a new body called the Higher Education Commission of India (HECI). The birth of HECI will mark the end of another relic of the Nehruvian era – UGC (University Grants Commission) – the premier education body that was set up in 1956.

For the last 60 years, as an apex body, the UGC was taking decisions related to allocation of funds, deciding course structure, monitoring quality and giving clearance for setting up new campuses. The HRD Ministry, led by Prakash Javadekar, has now decided to take over the power to disburse funds, with the new body tasked with monitoring quality and improving academic standards.

The proposed mandate of HECI suggests that it will have more powers than its predecessor. While the UGC could only blacklist institutions that were not performing well, HECI can order the non-performing colleges to shut down and even penalise them. 

The draft bill which is likely to be tabled in the monsoon session of Parliament has the following proposals:

  • The function of granting funds would go to the HRD Ministry
  • Improving academic standards with a specific focus on learning outcomes
  • HECI (new regulator) can order closure of sub-standard institutions

Also Read : UGC’s Autonomy for Colleges: Fresh Start or Sellout of Education?

HECI Shouldn’t be Crowded with Babus

Author and public intellectual, Gurcharan Das, who has been associated with the ‘Save Education campaign’ that demands accountability and quality in education has welcomed the move to dismantle the UGC.

Speaking to The Quint, Gurcharan Das, former CEO of Procter & Gamble India, argued that the UGC has done more harm than good to higher education by promoting mediocrity, and the new regulator HECI might help in improving the standards of education.

Instead of creating a vibrant environment for education, the UGC has killed higher education. For sixty years, the UGC has promoted rote learning, incompetent faculty and mediocrity. It has punished original thinking and has failed to create an employable graduate.
Gurcharan Das, Author & Former CEO (Proctor & Gamble)
(Photo: The Quint)

The question that is bothering everyone is, how will a new body with the same set of bureaucrats who don’t have a say in financial matters ensure efficiency? According to Das, the regulator will function well only when it has experienced educationists on board:

The regulator shouldn’t be comprised of only retired bureaucrats. There should be eminent educationists, especially those who have studied abroad. It should also have an advisory board with eminent people who have the experience of running institutions.
Gurcharan Das, Author & Former CEO (Proctor & Gamble)
(Photo: The Quint)

Das emphasises the need for an outcomes-based education model that focuses on learning levels of students and helps them cope in the competitive job market.

Danger of Political Intervention?

Critics, however, feel that the NDA government’s rushed move may result in political intervention at academic centres of learning.

Abhu Dev Habib, Member of the Delhi University Teachers’ Association (DUTA) tells The Quint:

Every other day there is a circular according to which colleges are asked to observe the Swachhta Abhiyan Day, Yoga Day, etc. So, the UGC has been reduced to a post office to dispatch all these letters. Our fear is that if funding moves to the ministry now, this will mean a greater control by the government.
Abha Dev Habib, Member, DUTA (Delhi University Teachers’ Association)
(Photo: The Quint)

Abha also points out flaws in the draft of the Higher Education Commission bill that will add another layer of red tape to the existing mechanism of seeking approvals for a new course.

If I’m planning to start a new course, the UGC is supposed to ensure its quality. By shifting to a two-tier system, you are only increasing bureaucracy. So, an institution will first have to run to Higher Education Commission for necessary approvals and then go to the ministry for its opinion.
Abha Dev Habib, Member, DUTA (Delhi University Teachers’ Association)
(Photo: The Quint)

A problem also lies in the structure of the Higher Education Commission, with only government representatives from various departments, including chairperson of AICTE and NCTE (National Council for Teacher Education) respectively, with just one member from the industry. Educationists like Abha Dev Habib also fear that entrusting the new body with powers such as taking a call on shutting down institutions that are not performing well may result in a corruption of different kind altogether.

The fact that not a single Indian university figures in the Top 100 in the QS World Rankings calls for a plan to revamp Higher Education Institutions. The question now is whether renaming and changing the mandate of existing institutions will help in achieving the desired objective.

Also Read : Centre to Replace UGC With HECI, Strips Regulator of Funding Role

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