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‘Will college degrees carry same weight abroad as university’s?’ UGC reform norms find few takers

UGC guidelines, titled ‘Transforming higher education institutes into multidisciplinary institutions’, were put up on regulator's website last month, open to public feedback until 20 March.

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New Delhi: The draft University Grants Commission (UGC) guidelines seeking to phase out domain-specific institutions to make way for multidisciplinary ones, with an aim to “transform” higher education in the country, appear to have met with some reluctance on the part of colleges.

While some educators ThePrint spoke to claimed they have not fully understood the draft guidelines, others pointed out potential pitfalls once they are implemented. Some said they didn’t know about the draft rules at all.

The guidelines, titled ‘Transforming higher education institutes into multidisciplinary institutions’, made three primary suggestions that single-stream institutions integrate their programmes with those of nearby multidisciplinary institutions to “enhance their offerings”, that more colleges become autonomous degree-granting institutions, and that colleges with lower intake merge with others nearby.

The guidelines were put up on the UGC website, open to public feedback from 5 to 20 March.

Speaking to ThePrint, several professors and principals questioned how a degree granted by a college that has been converted into an autonomous degree-granting institution would weigh against one granted by a university, especially if a student applied abroad. They were also concerned about the possible impact of college mergers on students living in rural areas, and the distances they would consequently be required to travel. 

They also pointed to likely logistical problems that collaborations between colleges could pose, especially if the institutions were short on resources as well as teachers.

Also Read: Lateral entry in teaching? UGC working to bring in experts without PhD or NET qualification

‘Credibility issues’

The draft guidelines state that, over a period of time, “every college will either develop into an autonomous degree-granting college or become a constituent college of a university”.

Dr Jaspreet Kaur Kang, principal of Mahatma Gandhi Physiotherapy College in Ahmedabad, said the former could lead to credibility issues with the degree awarded, which could spell trouble for students.

“Though we laud the initiative, there are teething issues with the policy that we are struggling with,” she told ThePrint.

Mahatma Gandhi Physiotherapy College, in which around 300 students are currently enrolled, is affiliated to Gujarat University (GU) and follows regulations set by it.

“Right now, the Indian Association of Physiotherapists comes to us for graduates, relying on the degree-giving standards set by GU. Will they show the same level of comfort in recruiting our students once we start giving the degree? At least 20 per cent of my students aim to study or work abroad. How well will a degree granted by us weigh against a degree granted by the state university?” she asked.

‘Collaboration tough on ground’

Under the collaborative arrangement proposed by the UGC, students will be able to take up dual degrees one at their host institution, and a second at a partnering institution. For example, two institutions can partner to offer BSc and MBA dual-degree programmes. 

“An MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) may be signed between the partnering institutions to offer the dual degree with the approval of the university, the state government, and/or the regulatory bodies…,” the rules state.

However, colleges in smaller towns are not sure how this would work out. 

“You can’t just say, sign an MoU and go ahead. Which institution to sign it with, what is the compatibility and purpose of it? Even something as simple as finding other colleges to form this collaboration is next to impossible for us on the ground,” said a professor who teaches in Mawana, Uttar Pradesh.

Another professor who teaches literature at Narmada Mahavidyalaya in Hoshangabad, Madhya Pradesh, told ThePrint on condition of anonymity that they were not even aware of the draft guidelines. 

“No one here has any idea about the college merger scheme and how it will work out. Most of these central government schemes take a long time to percolate down to the level of small-town colleges anyway,” the professor added.

Impact of cluster colleges on rural students

The guidelines suggest that single-stream institutions and multidisciplinary institutions with poor enrolment can become members of clusters and offer multidisciplinary courses.

Tanuj Kumar, associate professor with Krishank College in Mawana, said their students will not be able to travel elsewhere. 

Krishank College offers BA courses in six subjects, as well as BCom and BSc (Home Science) courses. It is affiliated to Chaudhary Charan Singh University, Meerut. 

“We have students who come from nearby rural areas. If the campuses are even at a distance of 10 km, how will students who take public transport be able to travel for just one course?” he asked.

He also pointed out that “poor teacher enrolment” in colleges in UP is a major disadvantage they are struggling with. In his college, there are only six professors teaching 1,500 students, he said. “How will colleges collaborate or add more programmes when they are barely managing to teach their own students?” Kumar asked.

‘Should strive for affordable quality education for all’

Dr Pankaj Mittal, secretary general of the Association of Indian Universities (AIU) a Delhi-based umbrella body of major universities in India is of the view that consolidation along with expansion is a must, with due emphasis on quality of education. 

The AIU evaluates courses, syllabi and standards of foreign universities and equates them in relation to courses offered by Indian institutions.

“We should strive not only for ‘Education for All’, but also for affordable quality education for all,” Dr Mittal told ThePrint. 

“When it comes to making clusters of colleges, it will require fine-tuning of details relating to responsibilities entrusted to each member of the cluster, while addressing several logistical issues. The Gross Enrolment Ratio in higher education is continuously improving over the years. If you see the Eligible Enrolment Ratio i.e. the enrolment in higher education out of the eligible population in the relevant age group, we are comparable to any developed country. This means expansion is inevitable. We need to now focus on improving the quality of education being provided to them,” she further said.

Dr Mittal also explained that Section 22 of the University Grants Commission Act, 1956, still does not permit colleges to give degrees: “In order to make cluster colleges as degree awarding institutions, either the UGC Act will have to be amended, or the cluster has to be notified as universities through statutory routes.”

This article has been updated to incorporate the comments of Dr Pankaj Mittal, secretary general of the Association of Indian Universities (AIU)

(Edited by Gitanjali Das)

Also Read: UGC’s undergrad programme draft plagiarised from US universities, alleges DU teachers’ body


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