When the University Grants Commission (UGC) expert committee that was set up to amend the regulations on private universities meets here next week, it will discuss the concerns expressed by the Supreme Court in 2005, when it delivered its ruling in Prof. Yashpal & Anr vs State of Chhattisgarh and others while endorsing the UGC (Establishment of and Maintenance of Standards in Private Universities) Regulations, 2003.

The apex court had then observed that unregulated establishment of private universities would be detrimental to advancement of knowledge, bring down quality of education and make degrees awarded by such universities worthless, thereby frustrating the very purpose of establishing a regulatory body such as the UGC.

Now, alarmed at the propensity of some Deemed-to-be-Universities to escape the rigorous regulations for such institutions by opting to become State universities, the UGC and the Ministry of Human Resource Development have decided to amend the regulations of 2003 and make it as robust as the UGC regulations in place for deemed universities.

The committee of experts constituted by the UGC, expected to meet on April 5, has two members who were associated with the review of all 127 institutions deemed to be universities in 2009. Prof. P.N. Tandon, formerly of the AIIMS, is the chairperson and Prof. Anandakrishnan, former Vice-Chancellor of Anna University, is the co-chair.

Drafting the UGC regulations for private universities, 2003 was the first-ever national effort to oversee and coordinate the standards of universities not funded by taxpayers’ money. Till then, it was widely believed that the UGC did not have jurisdiction to regulate universities it did not give financial grants to.

Starved of finances to create more public universities, several States took advantage of loopholes to exercise legislative powers under the Constitution (entry 32 of the State List) and establish private universities.

The question of the UGC’s competence was settled by the Supreme Court in the matter of Prof. Yash Pal & Anr vs State of Chhattisgarh and others, when it upheld the UGC regulations of 2003. The regulations mandated the UGC to approve the academic functioning of private universities, even though the competence to establish them was with the relevant legislature.

The establishment of more than 151 new private universities, notwithstanding the regulations of 2003, has alarmed the UGC as well as the HRD Ministry. Added to this, several erstwhile deemed universities — some of whom were earlier assessed by the Tandon Committee and found to be unworthy of awarding degrees — have resurfaced in the new incarnation of State private universities.

As deemed universities, these institutions could establish multiple campuses across States. But, as private universities confined within the territorial jurisdiction of one State, these institutions have a way out by getting each campus legislated as a private university of the State where the campus is located. For example a private university was established in several North- Eastern States while another was established by legislatures of Haryana and Himachal Pradesh.

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