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Friday, August 22, 2014

UGC Decides Maximum Standards

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!!!


Unknown said...

Thank you, Dheeraj!

Prashant said...

If only renaming solves the problem, why not rename the BS degree at IIT Kanpur to something along the lines of "Intensive Bachelor in Science"?

UGC is suggesting IISc to have this exit option at the end of third year for not-so-excellent students. This defeats the entire purpose of starting a 4-year BS degree. They fail to understand that it is not just the fourth year in which students are "taught" to do research, it is the entire four year rigorous experience which makes this degree so awesome.

I think I agree that school education should be a young person's right, but higher education at the university has to be earned through hard work.

Hypothetically speaking, what happens if IITs simply say "No" to UGC in plain terms? Can UGC affect IITs through some direct or indirect manner?

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Prashant, you may have seen today's newspapers all of which have reported that MHRD is siding with UGC. So while UGC can do nothing to IITs (it will not want to resolve this issue in a court for the fear of losing its nuisance value if an adverse judgement is delivered), but MHRD can definitely put pressure on IITs. After all, they are the funding agency for us, and just like UGC could control universities through funding, MHRD could do the same to IITs and other CFTIs.

Prashant said...

(There are 2 Prashants who comment on your blog!)

This is, in a way true for all sectors of the Indian economy. Schools have it much much worse (most of them have no loud say like the IITs). If one looks at the list of top Indian tech startups, all of them have moved their holdings company outside India. Stressed out entrepreneurs in their twenties and thirties don't have either the say or the bandwidth to deal with bureaucratic hassles.

I thought this govt. was about "minimum government".

With that said, DU needs to be criticized for inviting govt. to fix stuff which they couldn't fix. "Fixing programs" should have no place in a political manifesto.


iitmsriram said...

There are big differences between UGC telling Delhi University what to do, telling IISc what to do and telling IITs what to do. I seriously doubt UGC has the jurisdiction to tell IITs what to do as the IITs operate under their own act The gazette notification talks about section 22 (3) of the UGC act. Section 22 (1) defines who can give out degrees and section 22 (3) defines what is a degree, these two need to be taken together. UGC has the power to define what is a degree and therefore determine if section 22 (1) applies. IITs are empowered to give out degrees and section 22 (1) allows for this. Section 22 is meant to prevent, say, me, from giving out degrees by myself without anyone empowering me to give out such degrees. If what I give out looks like a degree, UGC can step in and decide that what I am giving out does indeed looks like a degree (using the power given under section 22 (3)), then point out that under section 22 (1), I am not empowered to give out degrees, so I better cease and desist.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@iitmsriram, As per section 22(1), DU too has a right to confer a degree, and they were proposing to confer a degree which is as approved by UGC. Note that section 22(3) only says what is a degree, which is essentially a name of the degree. The curriculum that one has to pass to get that degree is part of university autonomy. I am not sure which part of section 22 can be interpreted to differentiate between IIT and DU and IISc.

Unknown said...

Why don't you (all faculty and student senates) take some crash course from the AAP fellows and do a pan-IIT dharna with fast-unto-death thrown in for good measure.

That's the only thing that seems to work. Reverse blackmail.

Bring the system to a grinding halt and threaten to not give any degrees as all.

Shubhorup said...

Minor grammatical correction.

>And the hoi polloi do not deserve excellence.

"hoi polloi" means "the people" so the "the" is superfluous.