The University Grants Commission has been a big player in higher education in India since 1956. It was set up with the aim to “report on Indian university education and suggest improvements and extensions”. With whatever power it had, its track record has been contrary to its goals and it has fueled the rot in higher education in India. The impractical decisions and half baked policy proposals are a cruel joke for the struggling students and teachers and prove that the UGC is interested in rhetoric rather than serious deliberations.
No one can deny the grim state of education in India right now. We are wasting the opportunity to build our youth into a resourceful workforce of the future. The numerous universities and colleges are producing jobless graduates who are ill prepared to function in a competitive and technology driven world. Due to decades of turning a blind eye towards the ineffectual university system, we are nearing the point of no return. Part of the blame for this can be assigned to the University Grants Commission which has ignored, misidentified and aggravated the problems in our higher education system. As a regulatory body under the Ministry of Education, its core function is to coordinate, determine and maintain standards of higher education in India.
It has been on the chopping block for the past decade with the government accepting its shortcomings and recognizing the need to have a new regulator. The powers of the UGC has been slowly taken away and diluted and it has been reduced to a mere white elephant. Despite this, the UGC, in its dying days, has been adamant to wreak havoc on the university system in India. Pushing for more online courses, a four year degree and now the setting of campuses of foreign universities in India are some of few ill thought policy proposals which show that the people who affect our lives do not have a clue of what they are doing.
Under the UGC, numbers of universities and enrolled students have grown exponentially but the standards of education have remained stagnant or declined. It has been reduced to a mere body to give grants and funds instead of pushing for meaningful reforms and excellence in education. A government panel even said that the “UGC staff is unhappy as only few find favour and are delegated with powers to perform in important areas while many of them are left out with hardly much to contribute…. is said that they are pushed around through an element of fear and threat”. The report further pointed out that the “working structure of UGC is so ad-hoc that many do not know how many bureaus representing various disciplines and activities are currently existing……. regional offices of UGC and even Consortium of Educational Communication (CEC) have failed to deliver and are a waste of good money and manpower”.
Perhaps, the UGC was doomed from the start because the complete control that the UGC and government exercise over a university is not conducive towards a holistic educational environment. No university can independently start its own degree course or recruit faculty or take its decision without interference from the state/central governments and the UGC. Politics takes priority over research and academic productivity, innovation, learning. Too much interference has led to subpar education in terms of quality and quantity.
The UGC has overseen the abysmal system of fellowships and scholarships which does great disservice to underprivileged students. Furthermore, the UGC is plagued by sycophancy and nepotism at the top, ensuring that those who have the decision making powers do not have students and professors’ best interests at heart and instead take orders from their bosses. It has engaged in petty fights with IITs and IIMs over the years and let smaller universities off the hook who are giving useless degrees.
Economic powers were taken away from UGC and HEFA was set up which would give loans to universities for their required funds (something that will definitely not lead to an increase in tuition fees). The to replace the UGC in 2018. Higher Education Commission of India Clever rhetoric has been was proposed used to sell this as a revolutionary makeover of the education system in India but it is nothing more than old wine in a new bottle. The bill lacks a basic understanding of why UGC failed and does not desire for radical innovation.
It seems that UGC is working on the principle that ‘something must happen’ even if that something is detrimental to students. from the minds at UGC and lengthy jargon New and flashy policy propos and slogans are als emerge used to justify them. Terms like holistic, world class, ranking are used liberally to convince a person that something great is happening even though it is not.
Although to be fair, this problem cannot be solved by just fixing UGC. The UGC is not the cause of the problem but its facilitator. The real problem lies with our messed up priorities when it comes to the education in India. The deep rooted structural problems in our education system have no easy solutions but we have to first accept them. Instead what we do is, make a bad situation even worse.
Gunjit Verma is a student pursuing B.Sc. Chemistry from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Rutba Manzoor