The UGC’s proposal to set up model degree colleges in 374 educationally backward districts has become a burden on the State governments as they are expected to find two-thirds of the capital expenditure involved.

The University Grants Commission (UGC)’s proposal to set up model degree colleges in 374 educationally backward districts across the country has gained momentum with the Centre giving its go-ahead.

However, the onus of implementing the scheme, which aims to remove the prevalent imbalances in the country’s higher education system, is now on the State governments. The total financial assistance from the Centre will be limited to Rs.2.67 crore for a model college.

According to the UGC, the State governments should cough up two-thirds of the capital expenditure for setting up these colleges. It should also take care of the maintenance and all other additional expenses including the recurring expenditures. This has been one of the major recommendations of the Expenditure Finance Committee of the Union government.

When this project was announced about two years ago, in his Independence Day speech by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, it was expected that the Centre would provide complete funds for setting up these model degree colleges.

Besides offering Rs.8 crore as capital expenditure, the Centre was also expected to provide each college a recurring annual grant of Rs.1 crore for five years, thus saving the State government from any financial burden for the first five years.

In a recent letter addressed to State governments, UGC Chairman Sukhadeo Thorat has made it clear that the Centre’s share for a college will be Rs.2.67 crore while the State should raise Rs. 5.33 crore for its establishment.

The State should also find Rs.1.5 crore every year as recurring expenditure for payment of salaries as well as maintenance. Any expense in excess of the projected cost Rs. 8 crore for establishing the college will have to be met by the State. The State should also find suitable land for the college. According to Prof. Thorat, any State government college set up in any of the 374 educationally backward districts after December 2007, when the National Development Council approved the project under the Ninth Plan, may also be considered for the scheme.

The State government of Kerala has expressed its displeasure at the Centre’s volte-face. “We do not agree with the UGC proposal. The Centre should consider the opinion of the State. We have already communicated our dissent. We want this matter to be discussed further, and alternative found,” said Education Minister M.A. Baby.

According to him, the change in the Centre’s proposal was part of a general shift from governmental involvement in education. “We will consider all options possible, including involving IHRD institutions,” the Minister said.

Under the new plan, the State government will be free to collaborate with a non-profit foundation, trust or non-government organisation (NGO), or to enter into a partnership arrangements with an organisation in the public-private partnership mode. “It shall be ensured that the PPP does not in any way adversely affect the access of disadvantaged sections of the population to higher education,” says Prof. Thorat.

In Kerala, Palakkad, Malappuram, Wayanad and Kasargod districts have been identified as educationally backward. These districts, like 370 others in the country, have a low Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in higher education than the national average of 12.4 per cent. It is proposed that one model college will be set up in these districts. The Eleventh Plan has proposed to raise the GER by 5 per cent by doubling the enrolment in colleges from the present 10.4 million to 21 million in order to sustain the country’s current rate of economic growth.

Till the Tenth Plan, the UGC had adopted overall literacy rates as a criterion to define backwardness. But realising that literacy rate of a place did not capture the complexities of educational backwardness of that region, the UGC has adopted GER as a criterion to define educationally backward districts in the Eleventh Plan.

GER is a gross measure that includes all enrolled in higher education proportionate to population in the relevant age group of 18-23 years. The formula to define GER is: all enrolled in post higher secondary classes divided by the total population in 18-23 age group, multiplied by 100.

States like Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, West Bengal, and Rajasthan have a GER lower than the national average of 12.4 per cent. Although Kerala has a higher GER (17.6 per cent), the State has witnessed a severe imbalance among its districts.

While Kottayam has a GER of 27.3, Malappuram stands way down below the national average with 8.4 per cent. The GER of Kasaragod is 10.5 per cent, Palakkad 10.6 per cent, and Wayanad 12 per cent.

As many as 27 districts of Tamil Nadu have been identified with lower GER than national average. While Karnataka has 20 districts with low GER, Andhra Pradesh has 11 districts.

Among the Southern States, Tamil Nadu has been found the most educationally backward. Tiruvannamalai district in Tamil Nadu has a GER of only 4 per cent. Viluppuram has 4.9 per cent, Theni has 5.5 per cent, and Pudukkottai has 5.8 per cent. A detailed project report (DPR) prepared by a committee of educationalists headed by former Vice-Chancellor of Madras University S.P. Thyagarajan has recommended priority for rural areas, reasonably well-connected by transport facilities, for setting up the model colleges. The UGC says that locations which do not have a college within a radius of 10 kilometre should be given preference.

The proposed model colleges will be prioritised on the basis of an index of college availability in the form of college-population index (C-PI). Since enrolment in higher education is significantly influenced by the availability of educational infrastructure and facilities, C-PI is calculated as a measure of college availability. C-PI represents the number of colleges per lakh population in the age group of 18-23 years in a given district. According to Prof. Thyagarajan, the new colleges will be under the jurisdiction of respective universities.

The UGC Act does not allow the commission to provide financial assistance directly to State governments. Hence, the grant for setting up the model college will be made available through the university under whose territorial jurisdiction the proposed college is to be established. According to Prof. Thorat, the university will act as a mentor to the college for all purposes.

Prof. Thorat has written to the State not only to identify suitable land, but also to direct the universities to forward their proposals.

Although the scheme was originally to set up model colleges, the latest communication of the UGC has described the scheme as one “for providing financial aid to new model colleges in Educationally Backward Districts.” The model college can use the UGC aid to construct and extend various buildings inside the college.