Restructuring UGC among Smriti Irani top 100-day priorities

June 3, 2014

New delhi : HRD minister Smriti Irani is turning her attention to transforming the University Grants Commission into a bonafide higher education regulator that is in tune with the changing landscape in the sector. Restructuring and refocusing UGC from a grant-disbursing organisation to one that maintains standards and regulates the sector is among Irani top 100-day priorities.

Officials said the growth in the sector with private players, and possible entry of foreign education institutions has meant that the UGC would need to expand its regulatory functions. UGC was 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 emphasis has continued to be on its grant disbursal functions.

Irani's focus is in keeping with the BJP's poll promise of restructuring the UGC to transform it into a Higher Education Commission. The transformation will be effected by amending the UGC Act.

Ministry officials are already working on the amendments, before it can be vetted by the law ministry and sent for inter-ministerial consultations, after which it will be taken up for approval by the Cabinet and then introduced in Parliament.

"Over the past decade, the UGC has responded to changes in the sector be it private universities, deemed universities, collaboration with foreign institutions through executive orders. This approach has more often than not been reactive rather than proactive as a result the regulatory oversight that exists over the different actors in the higher education sector has not been adequate," said a ministry official.

The amendments, which are still in the works, will broaden the UGC's functions, which are currently mostly focused on disbursing grants, ascertaining the quantum of the grant and determining the universities and colleges that qualify for these grants. The UGC is also charged with regulation of fees and prohibition of donations in certain cases, inspection of universities, and advice governments on matters related to setting up and functioning of universities and maintaining standards.

Even its grants disbursal functions have been rather limited, as not all universities and colleges particularly those set up by the states, are eligible for UGC grants. "The government scheme to augment the 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. Sources indicated the proposed amendments would take into consideration the rapid growth in the private sector, the collaborative efforts with foreign institutions and the eventual entry of foreign education providers.

Former HRD minister Kapil Sibal had pushed for an overarching higher education regulator National Commission for Higher Education and Research, which would subsume all existing regulatory bodies such as University Grants Commission, All India Council for Technical Education. There is no clarity whether the proposed Higher Education Commission would follow this model.

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