The higher education in India continues to be over-regulated. Last year, University Grants Commission (UGC) notified new rules for any college who desires to be a university under Section 3 of the UGC Act, 1956. These are called “UGC (Institutions Deemed to be Universities) Regulations, 2010.”
Among other things, these rules require that the trust or the society that sets up a college will have pretty much no control over it, once it is declared as deemed to be university. The university shall be run by a board of management, which will have widespread powers. Half the board shall be the employees of the university, including, Vice-Chancellor, two deans, two professors, Registrar, and the Pro vice-chancellor, if there is one. The sponsoring society or trust can have only one nominee, while the central government will also one nominee on the board of every deemed university. The central government nominee must also be an academician. Three eminent academicians can be nominated by the Chancellor to the board.
There shall be no one from industry on the board (unless the sponsoring society nominates one as its nominee). There shall be no alumni on the board, something totally against the current best practices for good governance of universities. All members of the board, other than the Registrar and the nominee of the society must be academicians.
The promoters do not even have a free hand in appointing Vice Chancellor. There will be a committee with a nominee of Chancellor, a nominee of the Government, and a nominee of the Board (and remember that the board is not controlled by the promoters). This committee will select the Vice Chancellor.
Lest the promoters try to control the board by appointing dummy deans and professors, who are then nominated into the board, the rules clarify that Deans and Professors will be members of the Board by rotation.
The Chancellor’s post itself cannot be occupied by the president of the society or any of its relatives. It is expected that the society will nominate someone who is a distinguished public figure.
There are far too many problems with this model.
First, is it fair to ask promoters to leave most control of the university? Would it be fair to ask Birla family to have nothing to do with BITS, or to ask Thapar family to have nothing to do with Thapar University, two of the best educational institutions in India, set up with so much passion and hard work (not to mention resources) by these two families.
Second, is it alright to assume that a board consisting of almost exclusively of academicians would have sufficient breadth of experience to manage the university? When most universities in the world are talking about having alumni and people from industry on their boards, India is moving in the direction of having neither.
Third, the Vice Chancellor has to be the Chairman of the Board. In such a situation, who can possibly evaluate the performance of VC on a regular basis. Having someone as the executive head whose performance cannot be evaluated in a routine fashion, does not appear to be a good governance model.
Fourth, if the government believes that this is indeed the best model for university governance, why is it not bringing this model of governance for universities that it has promoted? Let IIT Board have only academicians, only one government nominee, and Director as the Chairman. Let a similar management structure be there for all central universities. Over the last decade, there have been numerous demands for increased autonomy by IITs and IIMs. On every such occasion, such demands have been rejected by saying that as a promoter, government must have some control over these institutions. If Government feels that IITs and IIMs cannot be given autonomy, or their boards cannot be re-constituted without many government nominees, simply because government has funded these institutions so far, why does the same logic not apply to privately funded universities?
Recently, UGC started sending reminders to deemed universities for implementing all these changes. But interestingly, the government promoted deemed universities, including IIITs, IIST, etc., have not bothered to ask government to change their boards. Are they above the law of the land?
The rules go on to even specify even small details like a 15 day notice requirement for holding a meeting of the Board, and a quorum of 8 members. I have never heard of a quorum requirement of 8 persons in a Board of 10 persons. They even specify the membership and functions of Academic Council in detail. They also list the standing committees of the board and the functions that should be delegated to them. The message is clear. Innovation is not to be allowed in India.
Beyond governance, the rules take away most of the autonomy that typically universities should enjoy. The admission, they say, should be made strictly based on an All India examination. Many deemed universities give direct admission to toppers of various boards in under-graduate programs. This will now be illegal, even though the research has shown that 12th class marks are a better predictor of success in higher education than performance in various competitive exams. Many universities consider GMAT for admission to MBA programs, which will now stop. Similarly, having a limited number of seats under sports quota to encourage sports will become illegal. And, once again, the government universities can continue to do all this. No one will ask them any questions.
The rules also mandate that a deemed university must be residential. While most good universities are residential in nature, it is by no means a requirement to achieve excellence.
Deemed universities are no longer autonomous to decide which programs they want to run, and which one they wish to discontinue. Any time a new department is to be set up, permission of UGC will be needed. If they want to grow beyond their current campus, they will need the permission of UGC. And, of course, offering education in distance mode has always been highly restrictive.
The new rules forbid offering of joint programs by deemed universities, without approval from UGC. And it is not just that UGC wishes to control back-door entry of foreign universities through joint programs. Their approval is required even if two Indian universities wish to collaborate and jointly offer a program.
These regulations also bar the use of the word “university” in the name. Only those deemed universities, who started using the word “university” in their name earlier and have a stay from a court, can continue to use this word. Again, the logic is not clear. If these are universities, why not allow them to call themselves universities.
A deemed university will have to have a minimum of five disciplines. In general, universities with undergraduate programs should provide diverse exposure to their students, but there have been several examples of successful educational institutions that are narrowly focused. ISB is a great example of such an institution, which cannot become a deemed university under these rules, even if it wanted. (I am sure they don't care.)
These rules also threaten to take away another aspect of university autonomy – that of determining fee for various courses. It says that deemed universities shall have to follow any fee regulation that central government may impose. One of the most important reason why deemed universities have been able to provide good quality education compared to thousands of affiliated colleges across the country is that they are free to charge higher tuition. Good quality education costs money, and one cannot provide quality education at the fee that the current levels of fee various state governments allow to colleges.
Overall, the rules are a disaster for higher education. They remove the role of promoters from the universities, thereby discouraging companies and rich individuals to invest in education. They take away all autonomy from the universities and strengthen the role of regulator to an unacceptably high degree. They intend to destroy what has been the island of quality amongst the sea of mediocrity.