Sunday, 31 August 2014

UGC, IITs, and Autonomy



The role of the University Grants Commission (UGC) in higher education is in the news these days. The matter started with the roll-back of the four year under-graduate programme (FYUP) of Delhi University. The matter then went forward to degrees being offered by IISc Bangalore and some other institutions. Lately UGC’s letter to IITs regarding the conformity of their degrees with the ones recognised by UGC has generated controversy and confusion.
According to Section 3 of the UGC Act, “The Central Government may, on the advice of the Commission, declare by notification in the Official Gazette, that any institution for higher education, other than a University, shall be deemed to be a University for the purposes of this Act, and on such a declaration being made, all the provisions of this Act shall apply to such institution as if it were a University within the meaning of clause (f) of section 2.” Section 2(f) states “ “University” means a University established or incorporated by or under a Central Act, a Provincial Act or a State Act, and includes any such institution as may, in consultation with the University concerned, be recognised by the Commission in accordance with the regulations made in this behalf under this Act”.
So what about Institutions that have been created by an Act of Parliament  that do not have the word “university” in their name and that do not fall under section 3 of the Act?  Section 22(1) acknowledges that there is this third category of institutions and thereby implies that they do not fall under the provisions of the UGC Act : “The right of conferring or granting degrees shall be exercised only by a University established or incorporated by or under a Central Act, a Provincial Act or a State Act or an institution deemed to be a University under section 3 or an institution specially empowered by an Act of Parliament to confer or grant degrees.” All centrally funded Technical Institutions (CFTIS) created by an Act of Parliament (IITs, NITs, IISERS, and now the IIITS)  fall under the last category of institution specially empowered by an Act of Parliament to confer or grant degrees. So they are not universities and so the provisions of the UGC Act do not apply to them. So there is no need for any controversy or misgiving about encroachment on autonomy on the part of IITs.
 However, Section 22(3) states “For the purposes of this section, “degree’ means  any such degree as may, with the previous approval of the Central Government, be specified in this behalf by the Commission by notification in the official Gazette.” So if we take sections 22(1) and 22(3) together, IITs too are bound to award only those degrees specified by the Commission and this is the only point over which the UGC has a say in IIT matters. So the UGC is right is asking the IITs to follow the provisions of Section 22 of the UGC Act.
What is to be specified by the UGC under Section 22(3) is  however, not given anywhere. In the beginning, the UGC specified merely the names of degrees, viz. B.A, B.Sc, B.Tech, etc. This list would get new degrees added to it as need arose. Thus, when the design discipline becane established, the B.Des degree was added. So this list did not have any adverse impact on IITs or other such institutions. One had only to make a request for a new degree, and in most reasonable cases, the request was accepted (and some unreasonable cases too, if ones goes through the list of 163 odd degrees!). Then in a May 29  2009 notification the UGC added the minimum duration of programmes of the new degrees introduced then ( Under the Act, Rule 8 was framed in 1985 which stated that the minimum duration of a degree programme shall be three years. But this will apply only those who come under the UGC Act). In the latest August 2014 notification  not only has the minimum duration of every degree been given, but the entry qualifications for each degree have also been given. A set of “guidelines” has also been added. Does the Act allow the UGC to impose such detailed restrictions on degrees? A reading of Section 22(3) and the initial notifications by the UGC points strongly to the fact that the UGC has over-stepped its authority in its latest notification. This notification, if applicable to IITs, will render a number of its programmes that existed before this notification “illegal” – dual degree B.Tech – M.Tech programmes, and PhD programmes with B.Tech as the entry qualification, besides the BS degree of IIT Kanpur not being on the list. What is to prevent more restrictions from being imposed through  these notifications in future, if the provisions of the Act are taken to mean “anything” can be specified for degrees by the UGC?
So, is UGC encroaching on the autonomy of IITs and other Centrally funded institutions? I think that has not been the aim of the UGC, but the consequence is that the UGC is indeed doing so. The problem, as should be obvious, is that everyone agrees that  “good” institutions should be given a lot of flexibility with their programmes and degrees as they will then be able to make changes according to requirements of the environment. On the other hand, “bad” institutions need strict monitoring, and many restrictions are needed to ensure minimum standards. But how can one determine “good” from “bad”?  A rule to fit all, therefore follows, and it becomes overly restrictive. The result is this mess.  Is there a way out? The  UGC  should go back to its earlier practice of only listing the names of degrees to meet the requirements of section 22(3). All other restrictions such as  the minimum duration, the entry qualifications, the guidelines, etc.should be issued as a separate Rule applicable only to Universities.While IITs  and NITs will be spared, all universities, good and bad, will still lose flexibility.  Will IISc be happy with this suggestion? I doubt it.
A wider debate is required to decide what is the best way to not allow standards to fall while ensuring that flexibility is also  not lost. Can accreditation also play a role in maintaining standards? Regulation can be reduced in that case. The fact that education is in the concurrent list makes the problem complex.

6 comments:

  1. Prof. Barua, I think you are incorrect in concluding that 22(3) taken with 22(1) means that IITs can also award only degrees as specified by UGC under its 22(3) powers. IITs are empowered to award degrees as per 22(1), as you point out and it ends there. The point of 22(3) is that by giving UGC the power to define what is a degree, that degree is protected from any random entity giving out that degree. Tomorrow I can start a Sriram's academy (not university) and give out Bachelor of Supernatural Science BoSS certificates and brazenly insist that it is not a degree. If UGC wants to stop me from doing that, they can put BoSS as one of the degrees under 22(3) and if I am not empowered under 22(1), I will have to close shop. So, it is in the interest of IITs to get their degrees listed under 22(3) so that others may not be free to imitate. It is not that by getting listed under 22(3) IITs come under UGC jurisdiction. IITs are not universities under 2(f) nor 3 (IISc is under 3), but have the power to give out degrees. UGC periodically puts out funding calls and IITs cannot be found under their 2(f) or 3 or 12 (b) listing, so we cannot get these funds from UGC. UGC now puts out IITs / NITs separately along with 2(f), 3 and 12(b) as funding eligible for some of their programs. Sometimes they do not list, but on seeking clarification, they agree and make IITs eligible. Based on above, I have been stating that IITs are not universities as envisaged under the UGC act, but we can give out degrees and our degrees being listed or not being listed under 22(3) list of UGC is of no major significance.

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    1. The section is 22, and Section 22(3) is a sub-section which states "“For the purposes of this section, “degree’ means any such degree as may ..." Since 22(1) is also a sub-section of 22, the above applies to the word "degree" there too! If 22(3) was to be considered a section by itself, there would have been no need to state "for the purpose of this section".

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  2. Prof. Barua, you are missing my point, I think. The definition of 22(3) is limited to section 22 and cannot extend to other sections like 2 or 3 or 12. Since IITs have the power to give degrees under 22(1), whether these degrees are listed under 22(3) or not is moot. Only entities covered by 22(1) can give degrees listed in 22(3) but there is no compulsion (at least from the text of the act) for entities under 22(1) to ONLY give degrees listed under 22(3). Entities not covered under 22(1) cannot give degrees listed under 22(3) and this is specified in 22(2). Section 22 is titled "right to confer degrees", 22(3) defines what is a degree in this context (the list put out by UGC), 22(1) says who all have the right to confer the degrees listed and 22(2) says no one else can confer these degrees. What about degrees not listed by UGC under their 22(3) power, like my hypothetical BoSS degree? Nothing in section 22 or in the rest of the act prevents anyone from giving out such "degrees". UGC does not have the power to recognise degrees, it has only the power to recognise colleges and universities (under 2(f)). IITs are not universities under 2(f).

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    1. Well, yes, there is a second point to be noted in the case of IITs, and this has been pointed out by MHRD to Director IITKgp (see the news reports on this). IITs are allowed to confer degrees by the IIT Act. But since degrees are not defined in the IIT Act, and since the UGC Act, pre-dating the IIT Act, defines degrees, and states that the list put out by them can be conferred by instititutions like IITs ....... Anyway, this is a matter for legal interpretation I suppose, but my view is that my interpretation will stand legal scrutiny.

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