‘Need to ensure better access, affordability of education’

University Grants Commission chairman M Jagadesh Kumar discusses a range of issues on the state of higher education in the 13th edition of Delhi Dialogues
Shekhar Yadav
Shekhar Yadav

University Grants Commission (UGC) Chairman M Jagadesh Kumar is an academic, administrator, and author. A professor of Electrical Engineering at IIT-Delhi, he came to prominence during his six-year tenure as the 12th Vice-Chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University. He fielded a range of questions about the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, the budget slash for UGC, the de-reservation debate and the interpretation of history. Excerpts:

Shahid Faridi: The allocation for UGC has been slashed by over 50%, and allocation for education has also been cut. The government has been promoting move for self-funding of public educational institutions, foreign universities are also being allowed to establish campuses in India, in such a scenario of increasing privatisation and education becoming expensive, how does the government plan to ensure equal access to quality education for weaker sections of the Indian society?

Your observation is that UGC funding has been cut. But overall, funding for education shows an increase of 6.8% this year as compared to last year. Out of that for higher education, it is Rs 47,600 crore, which is 7.4% more as compared to the last year. We have to ensure that there is better access, equity, and affordability of education. As far as state universities are concerned, whether it is private or state-funded, UGC doesn’t come into the picture other than coordinating, and maintaining the standards. But as far as 54 Central universities are concerned, education is accessible in the sense that the tuition fees are minimal.

Santwana Bhattacharya: What is the time frame for the implementation of NEP 2020 in the face of some criticism about this policy?

NEP 2020 is a vision document and we need to operationalize it. For that we need to pick different aspects of NEP 2020 and design its operationalization. The year 2035 is a deadline where we aim to achieve 50% GER. But GER alone is not our target. Our target is to transform our school and higher education system in such a way that our students receive holistic education, which means it includes experiential learning. It includes revising and reviewing our assessment processes. It includes providing multidisciplinary education. It also includes making them employable by the time they come out of university, and providing more freedom, flexibility, and choices for students. UGC has already announced around 40 initiatives based on NEP as a roadmap.

Yeshi Seli: There has been an attempt to interpret history…

Science is based on facts; history too is based on facts. But how you interpret these facts could be time-and-space dependent. In the last several years, there is a general feeling that not all parts of India are represented in our history. Therefore, we need to expand and provide a broader view of our history. As an academic, I feel that we should have an open mind. In science, we have an open mind. In history, too, we should have that open mind and then broaden the way we present our history.

Kavita Bajeli-datt: There has been a huge debate over the UGC draft guidelines that suggested the de-reservation of reserved posts if enough candidates from the SC, ST, and OBC categories are not available. After this newspaper story, both the education ministry and the UGC clarified that there has been no de-reservation of reserved categories. However, the UGC later removed the draft guidelines from its website...

The Ministry of Education and UGC have made it clear that that there is nothing like de-reservation. Some guidelines in UGC were released around 2006 to bring clarity on the implementation of reservation policy in the university system, especially in government-funded university systems. But later on, there were several other things. I think in 2020, UGC might have decided to form a committee to bring in all these aspects in one single document and send it to all the universities so that the reservation policy is effectively implemented.

The committee gave its report after three-and-a-half years. Usually, the practice is that we put it in the public domain for feedback. We put it in the public domain on December 27, 2023, and January 28, I think was the last date for giving feedback. But this news item appeared. We immediately issued a clarification that there is nothing like de-reservation.

Ifrah Mufti: How does Academic Bank of Credit work? Can a student carry their credit, but change institutes mid-course, and will they benefit?

What UGC does is provide a general framework, but the actual admission process is dependent on a university. A university is an autonomous institution; it will have its admission policies. We don’t go into that micromanagement of the admission process.

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A larger purpose of any educational institution is to focus on intellectual activities, knowledge creation, knowledge accumulation, and knowledge transfer. Students have a right to protest and disagree with the decisions of the administration. But these disagreements have to be resolved by sitting across the table. And if some students feel otherwise, they should ensure that whatever they do does not affect their fundamental right to have education.

Parvez Sultan: UGC has introduced student grievance redress regulations. How do these steps help?

It is our responsibility to sit with the student, understand their concerns, and find a solution. We have come up with a regulation that says that every university should have student grievance redress committees. If these committees do not resolve those issues, then a student can go to the Ombudsperson and report. Initially, not many universities appointed an ombudsperson, and we kept writing to them. Then we gave December 31 as the deadline. Nearly 400 universities have not appointed any, and mostly they are state universities and private universities.

Prabhu Chawla: A university has deans for student welfare. Are you not creating yet another post?

Dean students and dean welfare do mostly the administrative work, like hostel allotment. They may not have enough time to focus on student grievances. That’s why we have created a separate system within universities.

Mukesh Ranjan: UGC has notified regulations for setting up foreign higher education institutions in India. Two Australian universities are opening their campus from this academic session, and a Malaysian College has applied with the UGC. How many others are in talks?

When we talk about internationalization of education, it is not one-way; it is a two-way traffic. That is why IITs have started in Abu Dhabi and Tanzania. Globally people have immense respect for the Indian education system. When those kids study in our institutions, they will also become ambassadors of our country, which is good. The other one is we also need to expose our students to globalization. And with that in mind, we brought two regulations. The first one came in May 2022 which was on twinning joint and dual degrees. The other regulation is letting the international universities come and establish their campuses here.

Preetha Nair: The government plans to dissolve UGC and replace it with a new Higher Education Commission of India. Any progress so far?

The major problem in our country is that we have multiple regulators that are posing a big challenge to our stakeholders. We wish to minimize that. The major regulators such as UGC, AICTE, and others will be merged and other regulators will be its members. This is for cross-border discussions to evolve guidelines in synchronization so that our stakeholders do not have to run from door to door. There will be a single window regulator.

Santwana Bhattacharya: CUET-UG exams are around the corner. The second edition went glitch-free. What steps have been taken this time?

The first year was our learning experience. In the second year, we improved. Two things happened, the Manipur incident because of which a lot of students were displaced from there. In Jharkhand and Kashmir, the number of students was seven times higher as compared to the first year of its launch. That created a logistic problem. So this year, we are going for a hybrid mode of CUET-UG. Another change is that this year, students can write the maximum of six papers in various combinations.

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