One often hears that the job of the regulator is to specify the minimum standards and ensure that everyone follows those minimum standards. Normally, doing better than minimum standards is not just acceptable but actively encouraged. But University Grants Commission is a unique regulator. It is telling everyone that you can not be doing more than what UGC wants you to do. If you run a program with better quality than what is the upper limit mandated by UGC, they will ask you to stop the program, or de-recognize it.On the other hand, we all know the quality of higher education and how many programs have been stopped because of poor quality.
We also have this national policy of education, which we did not know about till a couple of months ago, when this document was dusted and taken out of its file, and used to bar four-year undergraduate programs. We were told that the national policy of education by Government of India does not allow any innovation in the sphere of higher education, and hence all the universities trying to do something different will be asked to stop doing that.
I sympathize with UGC. A few small institutes trying to improve quality can be ignored. But what if several institutes and universities start thinking of higher quality. This has a danger that a few really poor quality institutes may not attract sufficient number of students and may have to shut down. Can we allow this to happen. What happens to the employment of teachers and other staff by those institutes. What happens to students who were barely good enough to get a degree from those institutes and now would be denied of their fundamental right to higher degrees. Obviously, the regulator can not think of elites and has to take into account the needs of the academically weaker sections of the society. Didn't the father of the nation say, "Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man you have seen, and ask yourself if this step you contemplate is going to be any use to him." So UGC is just following the advice given by Mahatma Gandhi.
Indian Institute of Science had the courage to start a high quality program, in complete violation of our national policy, and against the philosophy of Mahatma. How could this be tolerated. But then in India decisions are not taken on the basis of policy alone. The right contacts could ensure an innovative interpretation of policy (so while the education policy may not allow innovation, but we can innovate the policy itself). One Bharat Ratna awardee was enough for the regulator. They decided that if a program is inconsistent with the national policy, it can still be allowed as long as the inconsistency is clearly mentioned in the degree. So if IISc were to force poor students to do extra research, the degree must mention the word "research" in its name.
Note that this clever solution is only available to those universities whose ex-Directors or ex-VCs have received a Bharat Ratna. If a certain Dinesh Singh goes to UGC and says that my university is inconsistent with the national policy to the extent of having a broadbased education rather than a narrow education that you specify, and I am willing to mention the word "broadbased" in our degree names, he will be quickly asked to show his Bharat Ratna first. He should first read how to win friends and influence people, and may be then he can get Tendulkar to bat for him.
If IIT Kanpur goes to UGC and says that we are inconsistent with the national policy only to the extent that we ask our students to do a lot of engineering courses as well, and we are willing to add the word "engineering" to our degree, it just might get accepted. While none of our Directors have received Bharat Ratna, but one of our ex-Chairperson, Board of Governors has. We will just have to request him to give a strong recommendation.
But this is creating a problem for the country. Some people think that if IISc can be allowed a higher quality program then they too can dream of excellence. Symbiosis University has decided to continue its four year programs, and that too when they are merely a deemed university. These tendencies will have to be nipped in the bud. If excellence becomes a habit then what happens to weak students. Would we still be able to have a Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) of 100.
We must learn from history. Just look back a couple of decades ago. Everyone in the world criticized us for illiteracy. We had the world's largest number of illiterates. How did we solve the problem. It was quite simple. Just ensure that there would be no exams till 5th class, and in the exams after the 5th class, the only thing one had to do was to be able to copy the designs (known as alphabets to some) from the copy of the neighbouring student. One shouldn't worry about the Annual Status of Education Report which continues to talk about students not able to do much mathematics, not able to write anything meaningful, and so on. On paper, everyone goes to school. We are a literate nation. So these foreign forces who want to destablize our great nation have started this propaganda about GER being too low. We must prove these imperialists wrong by having every child go to college after completing the school and get a degree. Will universities like Symbiosis give degrees to all these millions of youth. That burden will have to be borne by those who shun excellence in the larger interest of the country. So should UGC be concerned about selfish excellence or nationalism.
The elites of the country anyway can afford to have higher education in fatherland. It does not matter if the country can afford the loss of billions of dollars. And the hoi polloi do not deserve excellence. Why waste resources on them.
Long live, UGC!!!