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Indian universities didn’t need NEP to change things. But feared UGC too much

8 8 59
03.08.2020

There are two very striking reasons that compel me to discuss several features and recommendations of the recently announced National Education Policy, or NEP 2020, by the Narendra Modi government. While one of them is a personal success story, the other is an academic puzzle in the form of agencies like UGC that have for long been the bane of Indian universities. Let’s start with the latter one.

As I understand, nearly all the features of the NEP 2020 in the context of higher education could have easily been introduced by any central university without a push from the government. These universities have had all the powers and regulatory bandwidth to implement the policy recommendations as suggested under the NEP ‘umbrella’.

In such a scenario, it’s worth examining why this did not happen and what it portends for India’s education system.

Also read: India’s education system looks to Ivy League but regulatory bodies like UGC get in the way

There are two compelling factors why Indian universities couldn’t do what a national policy is now trying to achieve. The first is the dark shadow cast by agencies such as the University Grants Commission (UGC), which deter any experimentation.

Over the years, the UGC has acquired all kinds of strange and counterproductive powers that often run against the grain of the Acts and Statutes of a university. These actions hamper free thinking in universities, and there is micromanagement to the extreme. We need not look any further than the issue of how universities will handle examinations during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. If our universities do not have the requisite wisdom and wherewithal to deal with such straightforward situations, how will they impart any useful knowledge to their students? The matter has gone to the ridiculous length of being taken up by the Supreme Court of India.

Contrast this with the ways adopted by the highly regarded universities of the West, which have often been cited in the debates engendered by the NEP. All prominent universities have taken decisions within the confines of their own realm and environment. So why have Indian universities not been able to do so?

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