Replace university grants commission, says HRD panel

The Universities Grants Commission, or UGC, should be scrapped and replaced with a national higher education authority, according to a panel set up by the Minister for Human Resource Development, or HRD, to review it.

In a scathing indictment, the panel, which is headed by the ex-chairman of the UGC, Hari Gautam, said last week that the change was needed because the UGC, which controls funding and administrative issues for all regulated universities, has not fulfilled its mandate.

In addition the panel said that “any reshaping or restructuring of the UGC will be a futile exercise” and even amending the UGC Act would make little difference.

The panel said that the regulator has not only “failed to fulfil its mandate, but has also not been able to deal with emerging diverse complexities”.

The UGC was set up by an Act of Parliament and controls more than 650 universities in India. There are, however, private universities and technical bodies that are not governed by the UGC.

In response to the recommendation, the HRD Ministry has said that the UGC cannot be unilaterally scrapped since it is created by an Act of Parliament.

”Hence no such decision has been taken and the recommendations of the committee are yet to be analysed before taking any decision,” a ministry spokesperson said.

New authority proposed

But the panel, set up by Smriti Irani, the Minister of Human Resource Development, has recommended constituting a national higher education authority through an Act of Parliament to replace the UGC. According to sources, a draft of the proposed bill has already been formulated.

The two-volume report submitted to the ministry specifically points out that current UGC staff are “unhappy as only few find favour and are delegated with powers to perform in important areas”.

The report added that it seemed that many “were pushed around through an element of fear and threat”.

Advising reform from the top, the report suggests that the UGC chairperson keep a sharp lookout in all areas and continually assess contributions at all levels. The panel feels that the chairperson “should be held accountable” and “his performance be assessed once after three years and then at the end of his tenure of five years by a committee constituted by the HRD [Ministry]”.

It added that “eminent educationists or men of eminence in any field should have been the natural choice, but at times it is observed that businessmen, hotel owners and even readers in colleges have been made members”.

The UGC has seen a steady erosion of its powers and standing among university alumni over the years.

Instead of regulating universities academically and suggesting changes that would see institutions grow, the UGC has reduced itself to a funding body.

There have been allegations of favouritism, and the report states that the “UGC has side-stepped its function of being a sentinel of excellence in education, and embraced the relatively easier function of funding education”.

While many academics welcome change in the UGC, there is a general feeling that any new body that is established will fall prey to political manoeuvring.

A senior UGC member, MM Ansari, told The Times of India that the UGC suffers from “internal inefficiency” and blamed the HRD Ministry for “dwarfing the body and crippling its role in the regulation of higher educational institutions”.

Ansari said he was not in favour of scrapping the UGC but added that there were flaws in the very composition of the body which needed to be rectified. “Of all the national commissions in the country, the UGC is the only one which is functioning without the support of full-time executive members,” he said.

He said executive members did not have clearly prescribed roles.

The UGC is the only national commission that relies on part-time non-executive members. Most of them are serving vice-chancellors or college principals, whose institutions are regulated by the UGC.


Ansari also alleged that there was a collusion between UGC and the HRD Ministry in setting up deemed universities that now number 130. These are universities granted full autonomy in courses, syllabus, admissions and fees by the Department of Higher Education with the HRD Ministry on the advice of the UGC.

“Sensing the political preferences of the successive governments at the centre, UGC has from time to time rendered the desirable advice, whenever sought by the HRD Ministry, for creating such institutions,” Ansari told The Times of India.

Some professors at Delhi University, who did not wish to be named, said that the UGC, like most other bodies including universities themselves, was suffering from too much interference by people who were politically motivated. Many expressed doubts if anything at all would come out of this exercise, some going as far as saying that this would be a step towards saffronisation of education in the country.

Interestingly, the panel has also recommended among other things, the teaching of yoga and transcendental meditation.