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Failed institution

The committee set up by Union Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani, to review the inner workings of the University Grants Commission, a statutory organisation tasked with regulating higher education in this country, has come out with its findings. In its report, the committee has found that the regulator has not only “failed to fulfil its mandate but also has not been able to deal with emerging diverse complexities”. Headed by former UGC chairman Hari Gautam, the committee has gone onto suggest that restructuring the regulatory body would be a “futile” exercise and it must be scrapped.

Over the years, the body has been reduced to a mere funding institution, riddled with political interference, with no serious attempts at improving the environment of higher education. There is no doubt that major appointments to the institution, especially of its Chairman, are based on political patronage. The entire saga surrounding the Four Year Undergraduate Programme in Delhi University was an example of the UGC’s lack of institutional strength or vision. Under the previous dispensation, the FYUP was implemented, as part of former HRD minister Kapil Sibal’s aggressive reform agenda for higher education in India.

The programme was widely criticised for the hurried manner in which it was pushed through, despite widespread opposition. The UGC, however, kept silent. Only when the current HRD Minister Smriti Irani stated her intention to scrap the FYUP, did the UGC decide to enter the fray. In June 2014, the UGC finally sent a notice to the management, directing the university to immediately scrap the four year programme. Although the UGC was tasked with monitoring fund utilisation for government-run universities, the statutory body fell short of its objective. It was in December 2011, when M Pallam Raju, former HRD minister under the previous UPA dispensation, slammed the higher education regulator for its poor monitoring of fund utilisation by universities. The body itself has also seen its share of poor appointments, as mentioned in the committee’s report.

“Eminent educationists or men of eminence in any field should have been the natural choice but at times it is observed that businessmen, hotel owners and even readers in colleges have been made members,” the report stated. The adhoc manner in which the UGC is run has shown us that the body no longer adequately performs the role it was meant to. One only hopes that the Centre has a better alternative in place.
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