It will be a proactive UGC implementing much-needed educational reforms during the 12th Five Year Plan period. A win-win university-industry tie-up, better science research, an overarching body …

The University Grants Commission (UGC) is spearheading several key reforms in the country's higher education sector especially under the 12 Five Year Plan. Led by its Chairman, Ved Prakash, the commission has chalked out a series of programmes to promote excellence in teaching and learning and research and innovation. In an interview to The Hindu-EducationPlus in Kochi, Prof. Prakash elaborates on a wide range of topics ranging from the vision plan of the commission to the need for setting up the National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER).

What is the vision plan of the UGC to ensure the overall growth of the higher education sector in the country?

I would like the UGC to play a greater proactive role in supporting higher education in the country. I would like the commission to identify the inadequacies of the existing system and overcome it.

I would like the UGC to ensure excellence in teaching and learning and research and innovation and promote excellence in engagement with society.

The commission will also promote greater university and industry partnership. I would like the commission, with the help of the universities, to take the industry on board and mobilise them to set up their labs on the campuses of the universities for the purpose of hiring adjunct faculty from the industry. That will be a win-win situation for the industry and the universities. Industries are looking towards the universities for three things. First, they want universities to let them know where they can make gainful investments.

They want universities to carry out research and innovation so that they can increase productivity. They want universities to produce a skilled workforce so that they need not invest in the capacity development of prospective candidates. There is a greater need for the two institutions of the nation to come together and work in unison.

Can you elaborate on the key reforms that will be undertaken by the commission in the coming years?

We are contemplating several reforms. For instance, how do we ensure that each district in the country get a pace-setting institution of higher learning — an institution which has outstanding infrastructure, human resources, and which offers quality programmes. And the facilities of that institution should also be made available to the sister institutions located in that district. It will be the nucleus and other institutes will be benefited. If there is a private or aided institution in the district and they do not have a good library, the children there should have access to the good library in this pace-setting institution. This is one vision that we will like to pursue in the 12th Five Year Plan provided it gets the concurrence of the government. We are also going to promote research both in basic sciences and also in humanities and social sciences. We are also planning to set up more specialised inter-university centres. These will be the places which will promote research both in basic sciences and humanities and social sciences. We are going to connect all universities and colleges under the 12 Plan under the National Knowledge Network. We plan to produce electronic courseware in different disciplines, in association with the institutes of higher learning. We will mobilise outstanding teachers and persuade them to develop electronic courseware so that material is available to children who are in far-flung areas and do not have access to metropolitan cities. We are going to give a big boost to access. We have to increase the gross enrolment ratio. We are going to promote equity in a big way. The gross enrolment ratio of Muslim minorities is less than that of the national average, which should be a matter of great concern for all of us. Similarly, the participation of Scheduled Tribes is declining as compared to other categories. It is looking up but it is not looking up as we want. We are going to use a differentiated strategy for the purpose of ensuring the increased participation and success rate of children belonging to various communities. So far as quality is concerned, we are going to promote excellence in teaching and learning, research and innovation and engagement. But that does not mean that we will incentivise only those institutions which are already in the top bracket. We will not like those institutions to slip down. We will like them to move ahead but at the same time we will like to push those institutions that are not in a position to compete with them (in the top bracket). Our purpose will be to provide enhanced funding. In the 12 Plan, our goal is to bridge the gap between Centrally funded educational institutions and State-funded educational institutions. We understand the seriousness and we will like to bridge the gap as far as possible.

The Professor Yash Pal committee has recommended an overarching body subsuming all existing regulatory bodies including the UGC, AICTE, and other councils in the country. Do you subscribe to the view that it will tend towards centralisation of powers and control over academic initiatives?

We need an overarching mechanism. I am in favour of it because there is duplication and that duplication has to be overcome. There are areas which are under the jurisdiction of various bodies. We have nearly 15 bodies, including the ICAR, the MCI and various other councils. Once we have an overarching mechanism, then many problems will be addressed. This overarching body will be supported by different instruments. UGC is one of the instruments to implement the policies of the Union government. We have a dual responsibility of disbursing grants, which we receive from the federal government to different institutions and on the other hand, we have the responsibility of ensuring the maintenance of standards. Now this overarching body will be supported by different instruments. We are contemplating having a national regulatory authority for assessment and accreditation. It will lay the norms for assessment and accreditation. NAAC is going to be one of the agencies. Like that, we will have multiple agencies.

You have 31,324 colleges. You have 611 degree-awarding institutions. This number is going to increase as we are going to receive more and more students from the secondary sector to the post-secondary sector. We need more assessment and accrediting agencies. We will have the educational tribunals. As we are expanding, there will be dispute between students and institutions, between teachers and managements, between students and teachers. So for that purpose, there will be a national educational tribunal and a State educational tribunal. Why should the teachers and students go to the court?

Those issues should be addressed by the educational tribunal. And they should be adjudicating the disputes in a faster way. That is in the interest of the society. Most of the States were in agreement (for NCHER) during the CABE meeting held in New Delhi. And there are some provisions which can always be looked at from different perspectives. What we need to do is we have to see the pluses and minuses and see which one outweighs the other and take a decision in the national interest. It is in the process (of implementation). And it requires greater consultations. The task force which was entrusted the responsibility of developing the Bill has gone all over the country. They have held a series of meetings. It was discussed with various stakeholders at the national level. Now it is almost ready. It has been vetted by the Law Ministry. You have to see the legal implications.