The Changes UGC is bringing about are unlikely to have much impact in Indian Education scenario

Going by the past experience, the changes that the University Grants Commission is bringing about are unlikely to have either a great impact on the prevailing research practices or in making a dent in the existing academic culture of Indian universities, says an HT report.

Busy Playground

In the opinion section of the daily, Pushkar, Director, The International Centre Goa (ICG), Dona Paula, Goa writes that the India’s higher education sector has become a busy playground over the past six months. Indeed, more seems to be happening over these past few months than in the first three years of this government. Among other things, the government has announced at least three major initiatives, Pushkar notes.

Initiatives

To start with, last September, the UGC set in motion the Institutions of Eminence (IoE) initiative to identify ten public and private varsities which will enjoy unprecedented autonomy from the government on a slew of matters. The expectation is that these 20 institutions will emerge as world-ranked universities. An Empowered Expert Committee (EEC) will be selecting the top 20 institutions in the next three-four months.

Graded Autonomy

Secondly, the Union Government unveiled a scheme for graded autonomy and granted greater degrees of freedom to 60 institutions recently. It is expected that many more colleges and universities will be granted various degrees of autonomy in the coming months and in the process become even better institutions than they are now.

Study in India Program

Third, the government launched the Study in India program with the goal of increasing four-fold the numbers of foreign students at Indian universities from under 50,000 to 200,000 over the next five years. The larger presence of foreign students is expected to enhance India’s soft power.

Smaller Reforms

Other smaller reforms have been announced or are on the way. The UGC is said to be close to announcing a revised set of rules for faculty hiring, assessment and related matters. One important issue that these reforms aim to address is the deficit of good quality research at Indian universities.

The UGC is making a PhD compulsory for applicants to faculty positions. However, applicants must also have cleared the National Eligibility Test (NET) or similar state-level eligibility tests. Exceptions are made for those who obtained their PhDs before 2009 or those with PhDs from one of the top 500 institutions in the world as per any major rankings organisation, said the report.

Plagiarism

NET remains compulsory because UGC is unable to devise a good working method to ensure that doctoral degrees awarded by universities are of reasonable quality. Plagiarism and research irregularities of other kinds are commonplace at Indian universities and usually go unpunished. For example, recent high-profile cases of plagiarism by newly-hired and older faculty members at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) — both at the level of doctoral research and beyond — appear to have been ignored by university officials, Pushkar concurred.

In April this year, the UGC introduced a tiered system to punish plagiarism, which its critics have described as unsatisfactory and difficult to implement. Overall, it is fair to assert that UGC regulations have not been particularly successful at deterring research fraud and improving the quality of research. Consider the much-hyped UGC list of legitimate journals. Though supposedly comprehensive, the list has not been prepared with due diligence. Thus, it includes several fake journals and excludes large numbers of legitimate journals. As a result, those who publish in dubious journals can continue to get rewarded while those choosing to publish in legitimate journals will remain unrewarded.

Junking API

One of the welcome changes that UGC is bringing about is junking the Academic Performance Indicator (API). API has been a complete disaster by its insistence on research output even from faculty at teaching-focused colleges most of whom neither have the skills nor the benefits of the necessary physical infrastructure or environment that is necessary for carrying out research. All that API achieved was provide good business to fake journals, many more of which emerged in response to research output requirements from faculty across India’s higher education sector. API will be replaced by a simplified appraisal system for teaching-focused faculty, Pushkar continued.

Conclusion

If past experience is any indication, these and other changes that UGC is bringing about are unlikely to have much impact on prevailing research practices or in making a dent in the existing ‘academic culture’ of Indian universities. Faculty hiring practices — which favour academic inbreeding or the hiring of fellow ethnics — will not change overnight. Neither will the widespread use of research fraud to advance one’s career. The success of reforms is more than about rewriting the rules, Pushkar concludes.

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