UGC overhaul: From conflict of interest to allegations of politicisation, top Babu speaks his mind

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New Delhi | Published: July 4, 2018 10:20:56 AM

Higher Education secretary R. Subrahmanyam has asserted that the regulator cannot afford to be "distracted by the responsibility of disbursing grants.

Higher Education secretary R. Subrahmanyam

Days after the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) moved on a proposal to replace the University Grants Commission (UGC) with the Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) by repealing the UGC Act, 1951, Higher Education secretary R. Subrahmanyam has asserted that the regulator cannot afford to be “distracted by the responsibility of disbursing grants.” Talking on an array of points that have arisen after the HRD Ministry’s announcement, Subrahmanyam said “reform” was the need of the hour citing that “existing regulatory system” does not provide a “level playing field” as well as “devote adequate attention to academic excellence”.

Rejecting criticism levelled against the HRD Ministry over its decision to take over the regulator’s funding role, the secretary claimed: “Funding and regulation are done by the same entity, it leads to a conflict of interest.”

“It also takes the focus away from regulation, because when you disburse grants, you have to monitor its utilization, retrieve unspent funds and initiate inquiry in case of misappropriation. For every rupee the UGC currently gives, there is ten rupees worth of administrative work generated,” Subrahmanyam was quoted as saying by IE.

“Whether the grant-giving function will be taken over by the ministry or not is a matter of detail. It’s possible the ministry may do it or assign it to another entity. But one thing is clear that the funding function will be carried out in a transparent manner, through an online process that has least human interference. So the fear that the ministry is taking over and that (this is aimed at) politicisation (of higher education) is completely rubbish,” he said.

Subrahmanyam also asserted that there is a possibility that national scholarship portal RUSA (Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan) would “take care of all the UGC fellowships. In case of central universities, the government will disburse funds just like it currently does for IITs.” “If IITs and NITs can be funded directly, I don’t see why the central universities can’t be,” he said.

Replying to a question on whether the ministry could have waited for the observations of the parliamentary standing committee which has sought feedback on the working of UGC, before releasing the draft HECI Bill, the secretary said, “When the Bill is before the Parliament, I’m sure it will be debated by the Standing Committee members. We are open to suggestions and amending the Bill. This is not an ordinance. There will be a debate.”

Over possible political slugfest over the issue, he said, “Our effort will be to achieve consensus. We are ready to sit across the table with anybody who is willing to discuss. We have already reached out to the state governments, apprised them of the law and sought their feedback. We are going in with an open mind.”

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