Requiem for the UGC
The parent body has failed in all functions under its aegis, from overseeing distribution of grants to providing scholarships. It is time we bid it farewell
Story: Dr. | Manasvi | 12th July 2018, 02:43 Hrs
The University Grants Commission (UGC) was modelled on the British system of regulating higher education and as an overall parent body in India is in charge with funding, coordination, determination and maintenance of its standard in higher education. Very recently the Ministry of HRD announced its plans to repeal the UGC Act, 1956 and a bill to that effect is expected to be introduced soon in the Parliament. This bill if passed will lead to the dissolution of the UGC and make way for the stipulated formation of a new substitute body, the Higher Education Commission of India (HECI).
The move to do away with UGC is being discussed since 2009. Accordingly a Higher Education and Research (HE&R) Bill 2011 was proposed. Though flayed by States like Bihar, Kerala, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, it received tremendous general support. This move was shelved for long and is now in discussion again. Unfortunately for UGC, this time the last nail in the coffin is seen coming through.
UGC’s journey from 2009-2018 has been from bad to worse, much to the misfortune of those in the academic sphere. The UGC seems bogged down under its own weight of unexplained delays, inefficiency, bureaucracy and unpardonable acts of commission and omission. The archaic UGC mandated to determine standards of education has functioned without a regular Chairman for the major period of last year. The UGC website accessed as on date of writing this article makes no mention of a vice-chairman. Probably none is nominated till date. The posts of two other members in the 10-member commission were vacant for over six months in 2017. This by itself speaks of the policy paralysis in the higher education field. As a matter of fact it may be noted that the UGC last 6 decades worked with a faulty operating structure. It has on its board as many as 10 part-time non-executive members. Till date UGC did not feel the necessity of appointing full-time experts nor to fill up the positions that lay vacant for long time. The issue of good governance, transparency and reducing conflict of interests for long been ignored.
In the absence of a full-fledged board, what limited decisions this body took till June 2018 added more insult to already-inflicted injury. In May 2018, UGC abruptly struck off 4,305 journals from its list of approved publications. One of the most respectable publications in the field of economics and social sciences, the Economic and Political Weekly also figured on the ‘removed’ list. The regulations governing minimum standards for recruitment and for career advancement of teachers have been amended four times since 2016. Similarly the UGC flip flopped on the matter of granting exemptions from clearing National Eligibility Test to those with M.Phil / PhD.
And what about delays in processing applications to avail benefits of various schemes from UGC? Hardly any new research projects are seen sanctioned in last two years. The contingency grant to be received by researchers during the UGC Faculty Improvement program is never received on time. Same is the case with salary of substitute teachers. Instances of delay in fellowships have become a regular affair placing underprivileged research scholars in a fix. BG Nayak as director of Higher Education in Goa had successfully channelized student scholarship through direct benefit transfer some four years ago, but for UGC to bring this under Public Finance Monitoring System (PFMS) is still taking a lot of time.
Apart from the above sins of commission, UGC is paying for its sins of omission as well. It is shameful to note that UGC in 2014 cited that it is “ill-equipped” to conduct NET examination on the nationwide front and outsourced it to CBSE. UGC’s quality assessment and accreditation body, NAAC having audited just 50% of universities and 25% of colleges attests to the failure of UGC’s bureaucratic centralisation. It is also revealed that over 50% of the faculty positions in central universities are vacant. As such, thousands of faculty are recruited on contract basis, paid paltry salaries but entrusted the same responsibilities as their permanent counterparts. UGC has also been ineffective in checking uncontrolled mushrooming of private and deemed universities. Remember how it failed to see the dubious controversial institution – Adhyatmik Vishwavidyalaya started by a self-styled godman and run not far from where UGC’s main building is located. UGC realised that this ‘shop’ was fake only after cases of sexual exploitation were raised by women students. The recent increase in teaching hours, its subsequent cancellation, delay in giving extension for completion of refresher course, circulars about foreign fellowships forwarded after last date and confusion in implementation of choice-based credit semester system are all symptoms of the serious problems UGC is plagued with.
Britain has long abolished its own UGC and it is time we bid farewell to UGC as it stands today in India. Though it is still not clear whether the newly proposed HECI can rectify UGC’s flaws, it is certainly sure that the UGC has lost it all. The funeral bells are ringing loud.
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