While there is a need to curb unscrupulous practices in privately run deemed universities, CAG audit on all of them would be a disincentive for the serious players. Former HRD minister Smriti Irani did well by limiting the CAG audit to the government-funded universities only.
Given that out of a total of 757 universities in the country as per FY15 All India Survey of Higher Education, 267 were privately managed; it is clear that a substantial chunk of the students is getting their degrees from the institutions that are not getting any financial support from the government.
This is even more true in the case of the 120-odd deemed universities created under Section 3 of the UGC Act, 1956 — which are institutions of excellence in different fields, but fall short of the requirements to become a full-fledged university — 85 of these are purely private ones.
See this in the backdrop of, India’s Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) of 23.6 in higher education for 18-23 years age group, as compared to 95 for the US, and it would be easy to find out that what the government needs to do is to create a more conducive environment for the private universities to flourish if it is serious about improving this situation.
This is exactly why the HRD ministry’s move, which, The Economic Times has reported, has been amongst the last few decisions taken by the former minister Smriti Irani, of keeping the privately-run deemed universities out of the CAG audit purview, is in the right direction.
It is true that the number of deemed universities grew rapidly during the period 2001 to 2009, when 87 such universities were notified by the government, which was just 7 in 1980, and this uncontrolled growth raised concerns about the quality, equity and commercialization of education in areas like engineering, medicine and business administration, thereby becoming an area of intense litigation.
This forced the government to set up a committee for review of the working of the existing deemed universities in 2009, which suggested a complete re-haul of the process for according this status and fixing their functioning, and the 2010 regulations for the deemed universities brought them under the purview of the CAG audit raising a lot of concern among the private ones.
Even though there is a need to weed out unscrupulous practices in higher education, there is no doubt that mere government permission for creating a deemed university should not subject the private ones to CAG audit – this would lead to more confusion and will also be a disincentive for the serious players.
The proposed HRD move initiated by Irani limit the audits to only partially or fully-government-funded universities, as it should be, and leaves out the private deemed universities. Instead of dangling CAG audit, the UGC will do well by making the functioning of these universities transparent by telling them to put information like the quality of their teachers, facilities, fees and placements in the public domain in a transparent manner and grading them on the basis of their credentials based on the inputs of an independent body. That clearly would be a better way to regulate them.