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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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