Higher education Need for strong University Grants Commission
Bidur Prasad Upadhyay
It is a pity that UGC has succumbed to pressures and fallen into the pattern set by the universities.
In accordance with the need of a national body to coordinate among various universities, University Grants Commission (UGC) was established in 1994 with objectives like advising the government in matters of establishing new universities, allocating government grants to different universities, determining the minimum norms and standards of higher education to be maintained by higher education institutions and taking appropriate steps for the promotion of quality and maintenance of the standard of higher education in the country. However, experience over the last ten years has shown that the UGC has been merely distributing the funds to five universalities and 150 affiliated campuses. For the rest, the UGC is a toothless body. What makes it even more toothless is the fact that it neither developed the right system of internal management nor could it establish itself as the apex body for higher education in Nepal.
UGC is an advisory body whose usefulness depends upon the strength, the depth of analysis of the problems and practicability of solutions suggested. Needless to say, in spite of its lofty ideals and big responsibilities, UGC could not play a significant role in the past due to inconsistencies within the higher education system of Nepal. Now there is an emerging issue of mushrooming of higher education institutions that appear to be acting arbitrarily. What is done in one institution is either ignored or distorted in another. When discrepancies and contradictions come in, no agency, including UGC, has regulatory power to strengthen administrative anomalies. When it tried to acquire these powers, there was resistance on the ground of the autonomy of institutions. It is a pity that even UGC has succumbed to these pressures and fallen into the pattern set by the universities.
As for today, 50 per cent to 60 per cent of campuses are substandard. And there is no way of regulating the proliferation of these campuses. They were being established because of certain connections of interest between the politicians and educational entrepreneurs. The fact is that more than 50 per cent of the campuses are intellectual and social slums. UGC is not in a position either to regulate the entry of students or to exercise decisive influence on the content and process of teaching. One could see UGC as a victim of the decisions of others, which impinge upon its working and performance.
However, despite all the academic dilution that is taking place, institutions of higher education still carry some value in the market. In any case, those in charge of decision making have to be more assertive than they have given evidence of being so far. For the last several years, violation of law by academic institutions is not considered a serious matter. UGC at present is so toothless that it cannot blame anyone else except itself. Academic institutions are taking specific advantage of the gaps in the statutory powers with which UGC has been vested. Hence in UGC Act it should be mentioned specifically that no university and higher education institution could be established till UGC gives its concurrence in the matter. Secondly, UGC should have the right to derecognise any degree. However, norms can be defined much more precisely without taking on the power of derecognising a degree. Once that is done, the situation would undergo a marked change. One of its side effects would be that UGC would have to have a much more vigilant legal cell.
Investment of human capital is critical to economic development. The impact of education on economic growth may be as big as the private returns to education estimated in micro-economic studies. However, the problem of access has to be viewed also from the viewpoint of purpose of higher education rather than simply numbers and statistics. The majority of the students go for higher studies as the job structure in the country requires a degree for any kind of job both in public and private sector. Concrete measures should be taken in this regard, as pursuit of higher education for the sake of a degree has had an adverse effect on higher education. The right kind of attention will not be given to reform in higher education unless two things are done. One important part of the sweeping reform proposal is the idea that the universities should manage to earn their keep. The government policy is to allocate a minimum sum for just running the universities, but for all development purposes, the university is expected to generate their own funding. To attract funds by doing relevant work, both the university administration and the professors must play a role in developing the knowledge that germinates and grows in academic environment.
The second step would be to activate monitoring division in UGC. UGC has failed to ensure its professed objectives largely because it has failed to make sure that its recommendations will be put to use by the institutions of higher education. Higher education institutions are constantly subjected to pressure both from within and outside. Had they been committed to excellence in the best sense of the word for any length of time, there would have been no problem. As it is, the institutions are operating in a situation where the notion of excellence is regarded as more or less inimical in local and regional terms to what they were established for. UGC is in this context a statutory body as it has a role to play.
Prof Upadhyay is chairman, UGC