Why UGC fails to address problems that ail AMU, BHU

Higher education in India faces bigger challenges such as poor quality of infrastructure and low rate of enrolment.

 |  5-minute read |   09-10-2017
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The University Grants Commission (UGC) has come up with a unique idea to fix all that ails higher education in India. Or at least what it thinks is the biggest problem that afflicts the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and the Banaras Hindu University (BHU).

The statutory body, which is tasked with the coordination, determination and maintenance of standards of higher education, thinks that dropping "M" from AMU and "H" from BHU will help reflect the "secular character" of these prestigious institutions. What - or if at all - it does to the academic standards of universities is something the UGC has chosen not to answer.

The suggestion, surprisingly, is contained in an audit of the AMU by a panel set up by the UGC on April 25 at the behest of the Ministry of Human Resource Development to probe complaints of irregularities against 10 central universities.

The other universities that were audited by the UGC committees include Pondicherry University, Allahabad University, Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University in Uttarakhand, Central University of Jharkhand, Central University of Rajasthan, Central University of Jammu, Mahatma Gandhi Antarrashtriya Hindi Vishwavidyalaya in Wardha, University of Tripura and Hari Singh Gour University in Madhya Pradesh.

The mandate of the five committees set up for the purpose was restricted to look into infrastructure, academic, research and financial operations.

It is perhaps not so difficult to understand why a panel - tasked with assessing infrastructure - will get itself embroiled into debates as complicated as secular versus communal. Secular cleansing seems to be the order of the day. We are into an exercise of forming uniform identities, a nationalistic agenda that is raising its head with complete impunity and scant regard for India's historic cultural, religious and social ethos.

At a time when the status of AMU's minority status is sub judice, it is politically expedient to speak in the same tone as that of the incumbent government which has backed an Allahabad High Court order denying the university a minority status. Of course, such a narrative can't differentiate between the minority status and secular character of an institution.

aligarh690_100917061658.jpgWe are into an exercise of forming uniform identities, a nationalistic agenda that is raising its head with complete impunity.

Secular institutions ensure equality of treatment and opportunities for all their students, irrespective of their religious practices. Minority institutions seek a right to reserve their distinct religious identity without discriminating against any individual. It is only for the UGC to explain how a Muslim or Hindu in the name of an institution reflects that members of the other communities are being discriminated against or secularism being compromised.

The fact that a statutory body tasked with ensuring high education standards in the country has chosen to indulge in a debate which is tearing apart the nation is a sad commentary on the state of affairs and an ominous sign for the days to come. It is sad UGC is drawing ridicule on social media for its misadventure.

State of education in India

Higher education in the country is ailing with problems such as low rate of enrolment, unequal access, poor quality of infrastructure and lack of relevance. The country has only about722 varsities, as against the National Knowledge Commission recommendation of 1,500. The gross enrolment rate (GER) in India was abysmally low at 24.5 per cent during 2015-16. There is no taking away from the fact that 24.5 percent during 2004-05 the GER for higher education in India was only 10 per cent. But for a country aspiring to be a global power, these numbers are dismal to say the least.

Student to teacher ratios in most colleges and universities are low, but more distressing is the quality of the teachers that these institutions have.

Meanwhile, private universities are mushrooming across the country. While everybody has a right to make profits in businesses, making a business out of education is tragic.

Setting up of private universities requires enactments in the state assembly. This has resulted in a bizarre situation on the ground. In 2005, the Supreme Court struck down a law in the state of Chhattisgarh that recognised 112 private universities in one single year.

Given the state of affairs, it does not need a genius to pinpoint where UGC's focus needs to be. It had an opportunity to fix things in some (if not all) universities, it has squandered it away by creating a controversy the country could have lived without.

Names of institutions are spun in the history that develops to build them. They are symbols of the holistic identities that take ages to build. But names are also political tools - tools that create and negate legacies. The politics of name giving and name changing is also way of deflecting attention from solemn issues.

At a time when UGC should be asking and answering questions about the research standards of our universities and colleges, about how our education is failing to match global standards, about why our students drop out simply because they can't cough up the fees, that the institution has chosen to answer questions on secularism is shocking. The UGC is perhaps oblivious to the fact that there are too many heads doing just that.

It will be advisable for the UGC to bring its focus back to fixing academic issues.

Also read: What a football match taught me about new India

Writer

Vandana Vandana @vsinghhere

Author is the former Assistant Editor, DailyO.

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