It has to be a constitutional body

Published : Jul 17, 2009 00:00 IST

Prof. Yash Pal: The beginning has happened.-V. SUDERSHAN

Prof. Yash Pal: The beginning has happened.-V. SUDERSHAN

PROFESSOR Yash Pal is a distinguished physicist and a former chairman of the University Grants Commission (UGC). The Committee to Advise on Renovation and Rejuvenation of Indian Higher Education, which he headed, was constituted by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) in February 2008. It submitted its report to the government on June 24. Excerpts from an interview he gave Frontline:

In your committees report you have expressed serious concern about the gross misuse of the provision for deemed university status and have called for putting on hold the granting of such status until proper guidelines are evolved. Perhaps as a consequence, the new Minister has called for a review of these universities. Will derecognition of undeserving deemed universities happen?

The majority of these institutes are set up without any educational purpose. The problem is that the UGC itself has two or three members from these deemed universities. The officers [at the UGC] kept on saying that at every UGC meeting they bring new applications. This is a real tamasha. Our report is definite on this matter. We have said: Give them three years. Let them show that they are real universities. If they [the government] are accepting it, within three years it should happen. We have even gone into the process of setting up a private university what should be the norms, etc. We have seen how setting up of educational institutions by the private sector is the worst kind of business operation, and they have already done enormous damage to the higher education system.

Do you think any review will be objective, considering that it was only under the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, with Arjun Singh as the Minister, much of the indiscriminate granting seems to have happened?

I dont know. I think he [Arjun Singh] was probably taken for a ride.

Why do you feel so?

From the way he allowed me to do things [on the report]. Without his concurrence, I dont think I could have done this. I, in fact, did a crafty thing; I changed the agenda [of the committee] and he agreed. This was in September when I met him and gave him a note requesting that the name of the committee should be changed [from the original Committee to Review UGC/AICTE] to reflect the direction the committee had come to take while looking at the issue.

So it was you who requested that the name be changed?

Yes. In fact, right in the beginning I had told him [the Minister] that I would not like to be in a routine administrative exercise and that I would take up the responsibility only if I can address the basic cause of the malaise in the higher education system in the country. I was worried, initially, that the UGC and the AICTE [All India Council for Technical Education] would say, What happens to the old agenda? I was asked by Sunil Kumar [Joint Secretary, MHRD] whether the agenda should be changed for the new committee. I thought a little about it. I said: Dont change the agenda. I will assume that the original agenda is subsumed in this. That could have caused me a problem. In fact, there was a bit of fuss about it. The UGC and the AICTE, and even the Ministry, began to say that we have not followed the agenda. Because of this there have also been some misconceptions that the UGC and the AICTE were not involved in our exercise. This is patently wrong. Both these agencies are represented in the committee and they had the opportunity to express their views at committee meetings. But I told them this was the way we were working and had told the Minister that this was how it was going to be and he had agreed to it. And thats how it was. And I submitted the draft interim report on February 28. The report does cover the earlier agenda as well, but from a broader perspective.

The committee has recommended the creation of an overarching Higher Education Commission and doing away with the multiplicity of regulators such as the UGC and the AICTE. The Knowledge Commission had made a similar recommendation.

The role of the Commission that we have suggested is different from that of the Knowledge Commission. I felt that merely pointing out faults of these two agencies would be very limiting and not very productive. We did not want to spend time in suggesting modifications in their structures.

Over the years, we have fragmented our educational enterprise into cubicles. There are no great universities in the world that do not have high-quality programmes in various disciplines. Emerging fields do their emerging by being triggered by other fields in the same university. Our contention is that our universities had to have this character. It is our recommendation that the new universities, including the IITs [Indian Institutes of Technology] and even the IIMs [Indian Institutes of Management], should have the character of world-class universities. It cannot then be controlled by agencies that have only divided mandate. There is no need for separate regulators, and the responsibility should be changed to define floor-level qualifications at the time of exit from institutions. The hope is that we are able to move our higher education to a more active and creative level.

But what is your opinion about the creation of these 15 Central universities, and so on?

Now they have these additional 14 that are supposed to be innovation universities. What is an innovation university? I dont know. I say if you want to have good foreign people coming, please. Who has ever stopped a great foreign scientist coming and staying here for one year or three years and building a team? Of course, we will have to find a place [for them] to live, and so on. That is the way to create innovation. Making a great university is not [about] just getting a big hall and putting beautiful furniture there. Or instruments.

So not just the deemed universities alone, even the kind of universities that are being set up under the normal definition of a university [Clause 2(f) of the UGC Act], that also needs to be questioned.

Remember Chhattisgarh some years ago so many [private] universities got abolished. But what happened after that? Those guys, with money and influence, went to States like U.P. and others and set up the same stuff. So, if accreditation is made stricter than that, if you are making a constitutional body, you are saying that the States or the Centre or anybody hasn't any right to set up a university by itself. Thats the implication.

The idea of deemed universities has come to such a stage that even R&D institutions such as the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) are aspiring to become deemed universities. The TIFR is one, the entire Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) has also become, the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre.

I was at the new space institute of ISRO [Indian Space Research Organisation]. They have set up an institute. But again I told them, if you want to be able to give degrees, nothing wrong. Please try to become a university.

As regards the CSIR, I have nothing against individual laboratories developing an academic programme, but the CSIR as a whole, I dont understand. It is babus becoming part of a university. A research laboratory could become a deemed university. This is not bad because, you have equipment, you have the people, you set up a proper programme, courses, then it is fine. If the CSIR headquarters decides the central courses, then it is not a university. And, similarly, if the DAE headquarters determines the courses, then the bureaucracy takes over.

Even the TIFR, which has become a deemed university separate from the DAE, has not developed any teaching programme true to a university. I do not know if the new campus acquired by the TIFR will be used for that.

The problem is that the staff is not used to teaching. And, in fact, they cannot teach any more.

Are the IITs agreeable to your recommendation that all the IITs should be expanded to become full-fledged universities?

They are all with you. They understand. They say they have been increasing disciplines in the IITs. I said, please go fully, put in money if required. And they seem to be willing to do. Some of them are beginning to do. Similarly, the IIMs. Bangalore and Shillong IIMs seem committed to going this way.

So, in your view, it is not just the managerial failure of the UGC and the AICTE to discharge their functions effectively. Is it the system itself?

It is the problem with the system itself. So we have done a lot of discussion and thinking on what should be done in the universities, appointment of Vice-Chancellors and all those things.

Is it not that these things become complicated because of political influence and interference, corruption, and so on?

Correct. And that is why, finally, we arrived at this. We want this [Higher Education Commission] to be set up as a constitutional body. Thats our recommendation so that it is at least freed somewhat from local government, Central government, and so on, and [it can] be at least as free as the Election Commission or SEBI [Securities and Exchange Board of India]. I think if we move in that direction, a lot of interference will be removed. Because there are an enormous number of babus and others in between who create a mess of things. If that gets accepted and let me tell you I have talked to Kapil [Sibal] and he agreed it doesnt belong to any Ministry. Then we discussed a little bit and I changed the name a little bit and got it approved in the committee and called it the National Commission for Higher Education and Research. I didnt want research to be left out in universities but, in principle, it implies all research. I got that approved as well.

But the real issue is getting to the root cause of the problem, which is corruption at all levels. Would a commission get around that?

I suppose there is less corruption in the Election Commission. Otherwise we would not have elections conducted properly. That is why I think a constitutional body like the Election Commission may reduce corruption in education.

But unlike the Election Commission or SEBI, here the commission will have to contend with the problem of resources available to meet the standards that it will set, and the Ministries are the source of funds. So, the commission may not be completely free from the government in that respect. How do you tackle that, particularly ensuring that the funding is uniform whether they be State universities or Central universities?

We have touched upon the issue of funding as well in the report. The funding has to be directly from the Finance Ministry and [it has to] prevent the bottlenecks and inordinate delays in the release of funds in piecemeal. Right now, of course, only a beginning has been made. How exactly this is to be achieved has to be evolved after several rounds of discussions.

I was told the Ministry had initially put up the report on the Ministrys website but later apparently they removed it. Is that so?

I had told the Minister to circulate it. I dont know why they did that. Perhaps they were not comfortable with some of the recommendations. So what I did was I had a discussion session at JNU [Jawaharlal Nehru University] and then asked them to put it on the Net. Similarly, at Delhi University, Mumbai and various other places. Since we wanted the report to be exposed and discussed by wider groups, I started circulating.

According to news reports, the Ministry, before Sibal took over, had apparently said that the committees recommendations were only advisory.

Thats ridiculous. Of course, it was an advisory committee. But the main point is what Kapil Sibal has managed to do is to get the President to announce it. Afterwards the Ministry has been buckled under. So, the beginning has happened.

But will it reach the logical end?

We then had a final meeting. The report was approved, except for some editorial changes and polishing up, which I have been authorised to do. As for signing the report, not one of the members who was non-official had anything against it. You could, of course, say that, as far as the UGC and the AICTE were concerned, they wouldnt be enthusiastic. They suggested various things. They said: We have nothing against the philosophy. But why cant we have coordination councils. I said those are just for the sake of showing something is being done. They actually mess up things.

It is said that even government officials have vested interests in deemed universities. So do you think these will be finally implemented?

At least as of now, the matter has been taken out of their hands. I had a great worry that the Ministry would put up tremendous blocks. I had, in fact, met the Prime Minister right in the beginning and told him what I intended to do. And I must say that Arjun Singh did not interfere unnecessarily, and without that this report would not have been possible.

What do you think will happen to the UGC and the AICTE if the commission does get created?

There are people who will be used in some way. After all, anything new will need people.... Even now it is being said the UGC can be kept for disbursing grants. You will kill everything. It is the same thing [as before]. It has to be completely different processes. So, what we have suggested is if, for example, it is grants, we will give it to the State Bank [of India]. If there is approved money, they will really transfer back and forth, all done electronically, rather than going after people.

Now a lot of observation will have to be done. It is all right to say make a commission; you have to find wonderful people, and bureaus of various kinds will have to be established, but not in the same way. A thought occurred to many people if we can upgrade these institutions. But those old methods of working will not go away.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment