For decades, students and academicians have been demanding reforms both in the functioning of the higher education regulatory body, the University Grants Commission (UGC), and higher education in general. A number of new initiatives have been announced by the UGC.
Among other things, the granting of deemed university status will be made easier. Then there are new regulations for deemed universities, according to which there will be no bar on the number of off-campus centres such institutions may set up, even as quality has to be assured. Student-specific reforms include increase in the period of maternity leaves for PhD scholars. Also, foreign-university collaboration has been made simpler for colleges and universities.
G Viswanathan, president, Education Promotion Society for India, and chancellor, VIT, Vellore, is of the opinion that some salient decisions like bringing total transparency and objectivity in the sanctioning process for new institutions would bring about a complete change in the mindset of regulatory agencies under the domain of HRD ministry. “The time-frame for academic experts to submit their reports and to completely videograph their inspections and upload the same on the UGC website within 24 hours is going to be a big relief for the private sector,” he said.
Further, the UGC has amended regulations regarding the Academic Performance Index (API)—a mandatory requirement for universities and colleges to select and promote faculty members. API has been a controversial topic since 2010, and recently faculty at Delhi University and Jawaharlal Nehru University, among others, protested against a regulation which increased the number of teaching hours under API. Following the protests, the HRD ministry rolled back the regulation but kept a clause in which students with 75% and above attendance will have a say in teachers’ appraisals. On the protests, Prashant Bhalla, president, Manav Rachna Educational Institutions, said, “In this case, faculty members were less than professionally prudent in blatantly opposing increase in contact hours. It gave an impression to the student community and general public that the teachers were shying away from their duty. They could have explained about their research obligations and the need for preparation work—which can be a time-consuming process—in a more cogent and acceptable manner.”
Another welcome step is increasing the period of maternity leaves for PhD scholars from 180 days to 240 days. Surinder Jaswal, deputy director, Research, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, said that TISS has always upheld the vision of supporting women in pursuing higher education. “UGC’s move to provide a 240-day maternity break would definitely encourage more women to pursue and complete higher education and research,” Jaswal said. On the proposed step towards legalising PhD programmes in distance mode so as to enable more working people to pursue research, Jaswal added, “Yes, if it is modified to meet the requirements of working scholars through a blended mode, why not? While course work and paper writing must be mandated, other components can be completed long distance.”
At the same time, there are several areas where the UGC still needs to focus. Jaswal believes that providing more scholarships, particularly to women, and financial support through higher non-NET scholarships to help older scholars is needed. “More infrastructural support such as hostels, library and grants for attending and presenting in conferences and seminars for doctoral scholars as well as financial support to young faculty to undertake research and research dissemination are some areas where the UGC needs to work,” added Jaswal.
Clearly, even as the HRD ministry’s efforts signal a better future for India—the New Education Policy is also on the anvil—regulatory bodies, including the UGC and the AICTE, must work as true enablers of such initiatives.
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