The Union ministry of human resource development (MHRD) on Wednesday released a draft Act to replace the University Grants Commission (UGC) with a new regulator for the critical higher education sector. The regulator — Higher Education Commission of India — will focus on the quality of institutions. The the job of financial grant distribution, earlier with the commission, will now come under the ministry’s purview. This decision of transferring financial powers to the MHRD has upset some. On Thursday, the Delhi University Teachers’ Association said it will result in an increased direct interference by the State. While the apprehension could be true, presupposing such an action would be incorrect.
The plan to scrap the UGC has been in the works for several years now, necessitated by the fact that India’s higher education landscape has changed phenomenally from the time the UGC was set up in 1956. At the time, there were only 20 universities and 500 colleges with a total enrolment of 0.21 million students. Today, there are nearly 28 million students in 726 universities and 38,000 colleges. This growth should be enough reason for the overhaul, so that the UGC can respond effectively to the new ground realities and challenges and also ensure that citizens are skilled enough to respond to the new market requirements. It has also been seen that several states have allowed the setting up of private universities, but many of them don’t stick to standards laid down for higher education. The UGC, according to the government, failed to keep an eye on these issues because its entire function is geared towards the disbursal of grants rather than regulation.
Over the years, several panels have also talked about the need for a new regulator. The Professor Yash Pal committee, in 2009, recommended an education regulator to rid the higher education sector of red tape. The TSR Subramanian committee’s recommendation in the National Education Policy — a new national policy to replace the existing one is still in the works — also said the UGC Act should be allowed to lapse. The UGC has also been criticised for the delay in fellowships, especially the ones under other ministries such as minority affairs, social justice, and tribal affairs, placing underprivileged research scholars in a fix.
It’s good that the new regulator’s singular focus will be on quality. It must be staffed with bright, progressive thinkers who are able to chart out a path that is in keeping with our new realities. The body should be strict in terms of regulation of institutions that do not adhere to established standards. The ministry’s job is to back with funding the ideas and recommendations of the new body.