NEW DELHI: The autonomy war continues on the battleground of Indian education. The truculent University Grants Commission (UGC) is the new casualty. The Union HRD Ministry is setting up a new funding agency for universities and higher educational institutions, Higher Education Funding Agency (HEFA), for the purpose and relegating UGC to just an academic regulatory body. Top government sources told The Sunday Standard that the modalities of the HEFA’s composition and functioning are being worked out and a committee has been constituted.
The process of pruning UGC’s financial powers were apparent last year when Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced HEFA in his last budget.
However, amendments were needed in the UGC Act to trim its powers. Officials said the issue has now been resolved in this budget, after reforms were announced in the functioning of UGC to give more autonomy to higher educational institutions. The move has now paved the way for the government to bring in a change in the UGC Act. The UGC will lose the power to fund institutions and its role would be restricted to purely look at academic issues as a regulatory body, said sources. Some of the powers may go to the National Assessment and Accreditation Council. However, a UGC official raised a question mark on the government’s intentions
“By having adequate representation of Union HRD Ministry in HEFA, the government will control funding institutions. As such the governments claim for autonomy is a misnomer, an eye wash,” said a central university official who did not wished to be named.
The Modi government is unsatisfied with the functioning of UGC and its mishandling of issues related to
deemed universities. The moves assume significance as UGC has run into a legal tangle with some reputed universities such as the Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies, Mumbai among others over their off-campus centres and expansion plans.
Additionally UGC is yet to put in place a mechanism on selecting experts. Officials believe there is always a possibility for misrepresentation or wrongdoing. The UGC’s latest budget allocation has gone up to Rs 4,692 crore from Rs 4,492 last year—an increase of 4.45 per cent and an additional Rs 250 crore from Rs 2,000 crore of HEFA’s corpus.
An official explained that as soon as the funding power is switched from UGC to HEFA, the agency corpus will be Rs 6,942 crore—a significant 55 per cent hike in funding for higher educational institutions.