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UGC chairman on plans to improve higher education

November 06, 2007 10:48 IST
University Grants Commission Chairman Sukhadeo Thorat talks on the state of higher education in the country.

The Eleventh Five-Year Plan aims at increasing the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in higher education from the present 10 per cent to 15 per cent by 2012. How will this be done?

One is to increase the intake capacities in the existing universities and colleges and the second, to increase the number of colleges and universities. But the real focus will be on increasing the enrolment of disadvantaged sections, like the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, minorities and even the poor. At present, they are few in number.

There are discrepancies in rural and urban areas. We will also focus on regional imbalances.

The UGC is planning to give more funds in the form of development grants for the institutions. This will increase the proportion of these disadvantaged sections on their rolls. Colleges running in areas with high concentration of these groups will get more funds.

The Planning Commission wants private institutions and public-private partnerships to contribute to higher GERs. How can this be done?

In the private sector, it is the non-government institutions, funded by government aid, which form the bulk of educational institutions. There are 110 deemed universities of which 25 are supported by the UGC, while there are only 13 private universities in the whole country.

I cannot estimate how far institutions of this kind have a role to play in increasing the GER. There is a proposal to fund activities of some private universities as well, things like fellowships, seminars, etc.

We will also assess the requirements of around 60 universities and about 6,000 colleges that have not been getting grants from us so far. We can evolve a model in these institutions where colleges can get funds from the Centre, state and individual managements and in case of universities, from the Centre and the state.

What about reforms in the university education system, like common entrance tests, semester systems, constant revision of the syllabus and student transferability? What about the autonomy and governance issues? Universities seem to be going slow on the reforms front.

Yes, these are some of the issues raised by the Kothari Commission as well, and we have to look at them seriously. But it is wrong to say that they are not implemented at all. Central universities are going forward with reforms and we have to see that the state universities follow the same model. This can be done in stages.

To have a uniform approach in administrative and other matters, the UGC has a proposal to limit the affiliations under one university to 50 colleges. At present, some universities, like Mumbai and Osmania, have a huge number of affiliations. Most of the state universities are also in agreement with the proposal. This can be done by splitting the colleges within the existing universities and by creating new ones. There is also a proposal to have 'constituent colleges' which would deliver courses from the undergraduate to Phd levels.

What about the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC)? While only some universities and colleges in the country are assessed by the body, big employers - the software sector, for instance - do not accept the council's assessment for campus recruitment purposes?

Yes, at present, accreditation by NAAC is not compulsory, but we are going to make it mandatory for the higher education institutions. So far, about 140 universities and 350 colleges are accredited to the agency. NAAC is doing a good job but it has to improve its performance.

New deemed universities will require a complete assessment by the council based on the infrastructure, course curriculum, faculty, etc to get certification before they start the academic processes.

There are complaints from private universities that controls over private higher education sector are too rigid...

Our task is limited to giving recognition to such bodies apart from monitoring them from time to time. I don't see any further interference in their affairs.

What about the National Knowledge Commission (NKC) recommendation that there should be an Independent Regulatory Authority for Higher Education (IRAHE) in the country which will be the apex body over institutions like the UGC, All-India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), Medical Council of India (MCI) and Bar Council of India (BCI)?

Even at the vice-chancellors' conference held recently, the general opinion was that the UGC was doing good work. State universities are in favour of UGC and want it to be strengthened but with some decentralisation. There is even a suggestion that all the universities irrespective of their discipline, should be brought under the UGC. As for the recommendations of the NKC, they are still at the level of discussions.

In any case, a body like IRAHE is meant to co-ordinate the activities of various bodies like the UGC and MCI, which are in different fields, but at the same time letting these institutions undertake their regular functions.

The Planning Commission has proposed increasing resources generated from the students in the form of fees from the present 5 per cent to 20 per cent in the Eleventh Plan...

We have to study, in detail, the fee structures in various institutions (government, aided and private) in the country to arrive at a fee structure that is permissible. Even now, in self-financing institutions, students contribute 30 to 40 per cent of the resources required to run the institution. We have constituted a committee to look into these aspects of admission and fees in self-financed institutions.

What about the Foreign Education Providers Bill awaiting introduction in Parliament. Is the policy in favour of foreign institutions or stricter conditions for their entry?

It seems the government is waiting for the appropriate time to bring the Bill. Work is on to arrive at a consensus on some contentious issues. I cannot comment on the provisions of the Bill or any other details.

What is your (UGC) funds requirement for the Eleventh Plan?

We have asked for Rs 57,000 crore (Rs 570 billion) to support all our activities.
Prasad Nichenametla in New Delhi