Varsities to pull up socks for right data

The Ministry of Human Resource Development’s amending of University Grants Commission (UGC) rules making it mandatory for universities to provide it with detailed information on their accounts, functioning, etc is a welcome step that could go a long way in making the latter more accountable. As per the UGC Furnishing of Information by Universities, 2015, universities will have to send the UGC information on a wide array of subjects, including their admission criteria, performance of students, details of residential accommodation for staff and students, ratio of teachers to students, research experience of teachers and so on. Failure to submit the data on time or filing of inaccurate data and falsified information will prove costly; universities that fail to provide the required information will face a 25 per cent cut in grant-in-aid allocation or other punitive action. Some have criticised the HRD ministry’s move as needless central interference in the running of universities. A key issue of worry is that the new regulation will pave the way for greater centralisation of higher education. This is an understandable concern. Education in India is a concurrent subject, with policy making being the responsibility of the central government while its implementation rests in the hands of the states. Will the new regulation amount to the Centre meddling in the functioning of the universities?

Educational and other policies are best made when they draw on accurate data and information that reflects the situation on the ground. In the past, universities had failed to provide accurate data to the UGC or the MHRD. Poor performance of students in higher education, abysmal quality of doctoral research or failure of teachers to publish or update their knowledge and skills are often glossed over and underplayed by institutions of higher learning. In the circumstances, the HRD ministry has made policies that have failed to arrest effectively the worrying decline in the quality of higher education in the country. By forc-ing universities to provide information, the Central government is hoping not only to get them to pull up their socks and improve performance but also provide the Centre with data that is more useful for policy making.

The government is rightly consulting a broad cross-section of stake-holders, including educationists, teachers and students in the drafting of the New Education Policy. The new UGC regulations will prove useful to this effort. However, the gains made from such efforts will be neutralised if the government persists with its plans to politicise education. Curriculums that are injected with ideologies and indoctrination cease to provide education.
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