UGC trades academics, buys populism

By Prabhakar Timble
02 July 2014 06:10 IST

The present state of confusion and chaos of admissions and the fate of the new under-graduate programme in Arts, Science, Commerce, B.Tech and BMS of the otherwise prestigious 200 year old Delhi University was avoidable. The University Grants Commission (UGC) through its mandatory order to the Delhi University created the disorder without any study on the merits of the four-year under-graduate programme. On merits, employability and skill-formation the scales definitely tilt in favour of four-year programme enunciated by the Delhi University. That the innovation is opposed by some section of the students, teachers and the political parties cannot be a ground for striking it down. As the Delhi University has taken the bold step of introducing a renovated UG programme by following the due process and with the stamp of the Boards of Studies, Academic Council and the Executive Council, it needs to be supported by bodies like the UGC. Further, UGC has no power under its statutes to impose directives in the area of courses and course content as it invades university autonomy and privileges. However, the UGC can work with universities for upgrade and innovations through a consultative process.

Nothing wrong with DU

The UG programme of the Delhi University in no way violates the minimum norms of teaching, codes determining quality of curriculum, canons of hours of instruction and standards of evaluation prescribed by the UGC. At the most, the Delhi University has attempted to move steps ahead and lay down some higher standards. Whether such exercise fails or succeeds would be known at a much future date based on evaluative studies. The expectation from the UGC is to make an evaluation of the innovation and also extend full support in its implementation. A lead taken by Delhi University against popular opinion could provide lessons for other universities toying with the idea to take similar plunge but reluctant due to perceived opposition from students and change unfriendly teachers. The UGC has done disservice to its cause first and later to the interests of higher education through a negative intervention. This was an opportunity for the UGC to stand with the University as the experiment would have made the UGC richer.

It is alleged that the decision was taken in a hurry by the Delhi University. Actually, public universities are too tardy in taking decisions. By the time the modifications and upgrade takes place through the bodies and processes of the universities the world is rocked by new knowledge and new opportunities. The Delhi University had no power to roll the four-year programme is another argument in view of the 10+2+3 national pattern of education. The University is an independent and statutory body with powers as provided under its act, statutes and ordinances. Hence, it is well within its powers to devise and design its courses and programmes.

The FYUP did not have the concurrence of the teaching community is also an argument put forth. The four-year programme and the course contents are prepared by teachers, stamped by the Boards of Studies which comprises of faculty members and ratified by the Academic Council which again is a body of academicians, educational administrators and bureaucrats. The charge that Delhi University has not implemented the change in a democratic manner is too vague, ridiculous and far-fetched.

The issue under consideration should be whether the Delhi University has violated any provisions of its statutes and ordinances. The next issue could also be whether the Delhi University has violated any provision of the UGC act and rules.  The answer to both these is in the negative. The third matter to examine is the power of the UGC.

Beyond UGC domain

Going strictly legal, the UGC does not have the power to issue such directives. The directives and instructions to be issued by the UGC are in the nature of recommendations and advice. Universities are expected to debate on such recommendations and revert back in the best interests of education. In the case of Delhi University, the UGC issued a mandatory order with threat of punishment. Such orders should be the last resort in case of gross and patent violations. No such violation of laid down minimum standards of education can be made out in respect of the Delhi University.

 

The circumstantial evidence moves the needle towards political appeasement and UGC meekly succumbing to the whims of the political bosses. BJP had made the roll back to the three year degree course as a part of its political manifesto. There is no embargo on political parties on preparing their election manifestoes. These should put no pressures on high-ranking statutory and independent bodies such as the universities and UGC to fall in line at the fall of a hat. Courses, curriculums and evaluation methods in education should not be guided by electoral outcomes.

UGC could have asked for more records and studies. If necessary UGC could appoint an independent group to study to provide a wide variety of inputs and alternatives. The UGC would have done better service by making recommendations to the University to make the new programme successful rather than shooting it down. UGC is an advisory body and an apex institution to fund universities. It was created as direct dealing by the government with universities was felt undesirable and likely to impede fairness and academic considerations.

The four year programme will not take the students to the chosen destination or anywhere near the intended objectives is no argument. This could possibly happen due to non-cooperation of teachers and students being more motivated by politics rather than academics. But, to those who are serious with learning and focussed on acquiring skills, the four-year programme would prove beneficial. UGC should have shown the leadership and heroism through positive intervention.

Crisis of confidence

To sum up, the directive of the UGC to Delhi University to revert to the three-year programme is not only rash, it is also without authority. UGC is a grants commission and not a body to recognise and de-recognise universities and the courses. At the same time, UGC can step into the area of establishing quality and standards in high education. This should be done through dialogue and negotiation. The advice of the UGC is not binding but should be given due weightage as UGC is an expert body. UGC will gets its due importance if it chooses to function as an expert academic institution.

Delhi University is still viewed as a brand even though the standards are falling. The Vice-Chancellor and the bodies of the Delhi University came forward with a new package for differential branding. The present crisis is created by UGC by going overboard. Invoking threat of penal provisions by the UGC to Delhi University for doing something better and challenging has lowered the value and esteem of the UGC. By sending a direct instruction to the colleges affiliated under Delhi University to revert to the three-year FYUP, the UGC has gone beyond its permissible authority. From the role of friend, guide and facilitator for enhancing quality, employability, innovation and research in higher education, the UGC would turn out to be a foe under the present ‘avatar’ of working as the policeman of political masters.

The new programme was introduced in 2013 by the Delhi University. Nothing has changed from this date except the installation of the BJP led NDA government. As it is, the universities lack the will and ability to make innovations. If the UGC acts in such an abrasive fashion, none will dare to offer upgraded packages. Political parties want to stay popular with students and teachers. The UGC has testified that politics and populism is its priority as opposed to academic improvement and innovation.

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Prabhakar Timble

Mr Prabhakar Timble is an educationist and a legal expert. He has served several educational institutions, especially as the Principal of Government College at Quepem, Kare College of Law in Madgao as well as couple of Management Institutes. He was also the State Election Commissioner of Goa.

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