Monday, August 04, 2014

Panel set up to prepare UGC recast plan

The Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has set up a committee headed by former University Grants Commission (UGC) Chairman Hari Gautam to provide a blueprint for restructuring the higher education regulator as it addresses challenges of a growing sector. ET had reported on June 3 that HRD Minister Smriti Irani had made restructuring and revamping of the UGC one of her top priorities and that the ministry was doing the required spadework for it. Irani's focus is in keeping with the BJP's poll promise of restructuring the body to transform it into a Higher Education Commission.

The transformation will be effected by amending the UGC Act. The higher education sector in India has emerged as one of the largest in the world in terms of number of institutions and the second largest by number of students with nearly 28 million students in 726 universities and about 38,000 colleges.

The gross enrolment ratio in 2011-12 was 20.4 per cent, which included students studying through the distance mode. Besides Hari Gautam, the members of the committee are CM Jariwala, former head and dean of law at Banaras Hindu University; Kapil Kapoor, former pro-vice chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University and the joint secretary of higher education in the ministry who is the member secretary of the committee.

The committee will evaluate the performance of the UGC in coordinating and determining standards of education in universities, conducting an audit of its regulatory reach and identifying its strengths and weaknesses. The evaluation will also be conducted at the level of the UGC's regional offices and the inter university centres. The relationship and the functioning of the UGC vis-a-vis other regulatory authorities like the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) and National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) in the higher education sector will also be looked at. A similar assessment will be made of the regulatory space that the UGC has. There is a sense that the regulatory functions of the UGC have taken a back seat when compared with its grant-giving exercise.

The committee will recommend changes to ensure that there is a balance between the two. Transparency in functioning, revamping the grant-disbursing function to introduce effectiveness and efficiency for timely utilisation of grants and the introduction of performance-based system of release of funds in line with the Rashtriya Ucchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (National Higher Education Campaign) are other aspects the committee will look at.

The commission's grants-disbursal functions have been rather limited, as not all universities and colleges, particularly those set up by states, are eligible for UGC grants. "The government's scheme to augment universities and colleges in the state sector, Rashtriya Ucchatar Shiksha Abhiyan, has dented the importance of the UGC's grant disbursal function," an official said.

The growth of the sector with private players and the possible entry of foreign education institutions have meant that the UGC would need to expand its regulatory functions. The commission was formally set up by an Act of Parliament in 1956, and is the statutory body for the coordination, determination and maintenance of standards of university education in the country.

However, it had already been in existence since 1952 at which time the function of allocating public funds to central universities and other universities was entrusted to the UGC. Over the years, despite the changes in the higher education sector, the Commission's emphasis has continued to be on its grant-disbursal functions.

Source: The Economic Times, August 4, 2014

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