The story so far: On September 2, the University Grants Commission (UGC) issued new guidelines for transforming colleges and universities into multi-disciplinary institutions. The guidelines prescribe three approaches, which include clustering of institutions located in proximity so that they can collaborate with each other to offer innovative programmes in offline, online or distance learning mode. The other two strategies recommended by the UGC include merger of single-stream institutions with other multi-disciplinary institutions under the same management or different managements and strengthening of existing establishments by setting up of new departments.
Who is likely to benefit from the move?
Colleges with poor enrolment and fewer resources may benefit by forming clusters with other institutions and help students access better facilities as well as avail innovative courses, according to the guidelines. The member colleges in a cluster will continue to function as affiliated colleges under the university in the initial phase during which they will share their resources to offer multi-disciplinary programmes and guide student research projects. Subsequently, the affiliating university may affiliate the cluster of colleges as a single unit which will be given autonomy in a graded manner before turning into an autonomous degree-granting cluster of colleges. These can later turn into research and teaching-intensive universities.
The partnership plan must include infrastructure expansion, number of students, departments involved, administrative and academic functions and research activities. Member colleges will also have to design their timetable so that students don’t face scheduling clashes. UGC chairman M. Jagadesh Kumar told The Hindu: “When multiple small institutions come together and transform into a degree granting institution, they will have more opportunities for growth. It will ultimately help the higher education system to grow and be accessible to a large number of students.”
Why the emphasis on multi-disciplinary institutions now?
More multi-disciplinary institutions in the country is one of the recommendations for higher education in the National Education Policy 2020. The policy document has set a target of 2030 for all higher education institutions (HEIs) to become multi-disciplinary, and thereafter, increase student enrolments “preferably in the thousands” by 2040. The goal is to increase the Gross Enrolment Ratio in higher education including vocational education from 26.3% (2018) to 50% by 2035. The NEP proposes that though a number of new institutions may be developed to attain these goals, a large part of the capacity creation will be achieved by expanding and improving existing HEIs.
What is the response of the sector to the guidelines?
While the emphasis on multi-disciplinary education is welcome, many wonder where the financial resources will come from. The UGC chairman said State governments will provide the required funds for functioning of State-run multi-disciplinary institutions.
“By suggesting clustering and merging of colleges, the intent is to build upon existing infrastructure to attain the goal of higher Gross Enrolment Ratio without any additional funding. Already institutions are running on their optimum thresholds as there have been no teacher recruitments for the past several years at Central and State Universities,” said an official with a State government’s Higher Education Council. He, however, welcomed the room provided for institutions to collaborate with each other to offer additional programmes.
“The UGC is evading its responsibility in providing funds. The latest guidelines seek to implement the NEP, which is not acceptable to us in toto because it is partisan and emphasises on centralisation and commercialisation,” said Kerala’s Minister for Higher Education, R. Bindu. “It says colleges must become autonomous degree granting institutions— what will happen to small colleges in remote areas, which will simply be obliterated? Backward sections of our society will be deprived of higher education,” she added.
Others have said that there should be regulations instead of guidelines so that they are adopted by State governments.