The decision of the Ministry of Human Resource Development to form a fresh committee to review the UGC (Institutions Deemed to Be Universities) Regulations, 2010, should be a measured effort that can make a good set of norms even better. The regulations have positive features that were introduced to protect the interests of students. All that really needs to be done is to remove the impediments to implementation. Crucially, the notification stipulates that the organisation applying for the ‘deemed to be university’ status should be a not-for-profit entity, one that will not commercialise higher education. Only a small section of such universities — of which there were 130 as of May, catering to over 430,000 students — can claim to be driven by lofty motives of equity and social development. Also, several deemed universities may fail to meet the criterion of demonstrable educational engagement of a kind that goes beyond the ordinary practice of issuing conventional degrees in arts, science, medicine, engineering and so on. The UGC’s reforms are forward-looking and, unfortunately, delayed. They have been introduced to correct unhealthy trends in higher education that have resulted from use of political influence and money power to obstruct scrutiny and remediation.
Coming as they do when important questions in higher education are being decided, the regulations need to be strengthened. One issue is the fallout of the Tandon Committee. The deemed university status of 44 institutions is under review based on its findings. These universities were judged as not possessing the attributes necessary to retain their status. While the courts will have the final say on that, the Centre should not jeopardise the interests of students by diluting the criteria. The UGC regulations make adequate provision for all sides to be heard, including State governments, within the framework of equity and the quest for excellence. They create a healthy separation of the academic and management aspects of a deemed university by abolishing the pro-chancellor’s position — one that is retained in many institutions by the owner. The 44 deemed-to-be-universities may be allowed to eliminate the identified lacunae, but that exercise should be consistent with the undiluted regulations. The Centre should not review the UGC notification with a view to reducing inspection and oversight, when it is working in parallel to strengthen the national system of accreditation of courses and colleges. The government’s moves should not send out wrong signals about its intent in a vital area of national development, at a time when the unmet demand for higher education in India is sought to be unabashedly exploited by various sections for gain.