It’s time to replace the UGC Act
India’s grand illusion
Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of Aspirational Districts Programme (ADP).
(GS paper II)
- In the recent conceived 115 Aspirational Districts Programme (ADP) by Prime Minister, the first time a government in India has focused on India’s most backward districts but because the exercise envisages a serious re-imagination of government and governance, and deepens cooperative federalism.
- The Programme is informed by the failures of the past and therefore has a more contemporary vision of how public services are best delivered to those who need them most.
Aspirational Districts Programme (ADP)
- ADP aims to transform 115 Indian districts that lag in specific development parameters. The dimensions covered include education, health and nutrition, financial inclusion, agriculture, skill development and basic infrastructure. The programme leverages the collective efforts of the central, state and local governments, and puts in place real-time monitoring mechanisms to measure progress.
- The programme is central to policymaking. Up-to-date statistics on health, education and other dimensions of development lend the programme a rigour that an observational approach could not. Through ADP, data is advancing policymaking in three important ways: strengthening analysis and monitoring, enhancing accountability and transparency, and taking into account the heterogeneity across districts and states.
- The 115 districts were chosen by senior officials of the Union government in consultation with State officials on the basis of a composite index of the following: deprivation enumerated under the Socio-Economic Caste Census, key health and education performance indicators and the state of basic infrastructure.
- A minimum of one district was chosen from every State. Unsurprisingly, the largest concentration of districts is in the States which have historically under-performed such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, or which are afflicted by left-wing extremism such as Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.
- Also the areas that have been targeted for transformation are: education, health and nutrition, agriculture and water resources, financial inclusion, basic infrastructure and skills. Deliberately, the districts have been described as aspirational rather than backward so that they are viewed as islands of opportunity and hope rather than areas of distress and hopelessness.
- There is no financial package or large allocation of funds to this programme. The intent is to leverage the resources of the several government programmes that already exist but are not always used efficiently. The government doesn’t always need to spend more to achieve outcomes but instead to spend better.
- Achieving success in this programme requires three tiers of government, the Centre, States and district administrations, to work in tandem. There is a structure in place. It is necessary for the Centre and States to be involved because not all decisions can be taken at the level of district.
- The spirit of cooperation needs to be supplemented by a culture of competition. This programme takes the principle of competitive federalism down to district administrations. Each district will be ranked on the focus areas which are disaggregated into easily quantifiable target areas. So as not to bias the rankings on historical achievements or lack of them, the rankings will be based on deltas or improvements. The rankings will be publicly available.
- The ADP has opened its door to civil society and leveraged the tool of corporate social responsibility to form partnerships which will bring new ideas and fresh energy with boots on the ground from non-government institutions to join the “official” efforts. The force multiplier on outcomes from such participation is potentially massive.
- ADP is a big pilot programme from reorienting how government does its business of delivering development. A decisive shift in the paradigm of governance is likely to finally fulfil the many broken promises of the past.
Question– To achieve the success in the programmes like- Aspirational Districts Programme (ADP) requires three tiers of government, the Centre, States and district administrations, to work in tandem. Analyse.
It’s time to replace the UGC Act
Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of higher education reforms in India.
(GS paper II)
- Universities in India continue to give out credentials through rote learning and standardized examinations, have uninspiring classrooms with extremely low engagement, and a student experience that is violent and intolerant both on the body and the mind. India’s higher education sector is faced with twin problems: First, reforms as initiated, are directionless and second, future of researchers lies in limbo.
- The Prime Minister’s vision to create 20 institutions of eminence and the Ministry of Human Resource Development’s reforms push have set the stage for an overhaul of higher education in India that is long overdue.
- It has been suggested to replace the UGC Act, 1956, with a new law that should respond to the current needs of higher education. Such an Act will take forward the reforms adopted until now, remove the clutter of regulatory agencies under the HRD Ministry’s purview, and pave the way for the emergence of high-quality higher educational institutions.
Assessment of the reforms
- The HRD Ministry first saw the passage of the Indian Institutes of Management Bill, 2017, which will extend greater autonomy to the IIMs. It followed this up with reforms in the rules and regulations of the University Grants Commission (UGC), giving autonomy to India’s best-ranked universities and colleges.
- Subsequently, the Union Cabinet approved the continuation of the Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan, which has been working quietly to improve the quality of higher educational institutions in the States through outcome-based grants.
- The new Act should establish a higher education regulatory commission (HERC), which will subsume the functions of all the three existing regulatory agencies under the HRD Ministry. Recognizing the critical role of States in higher education, it should further establish an advisory council consisting of representatives of all States and the Central government.
- In addition, it must have as members leading educationists from diverse fields. The council should advise the HERC on all matters, though the final decision-making power needs to be vested in the Commission and its different bodies.
- The UGC recently issued new rules and regulations under which it divided universities into three categories: I, II and III. Category I and II universities were awarded autonomy, with Category I universities receiving greater autonomy than Category II. Under the Act, we propose merging Category I and Category II universities under the recent rules into a single category.
- Under the proposed Act, Category I universities will be free to write their own curriculums. In addition, they will oversee the curriculums of the colleges affiliated to them. Autonomous colleges will write their own curriculums as well.
- Category II universities and the colleges affiliated to them will adopt the curriculums of one or more Category I universities. Colleges affiliated to these universities will adopt curriculums of colleges affiliated to Category I colleges or autonomous colleges.
- The HERC should formulate guidelines for the establishment of new institutions. A new institution should be able to enter on honour basis once it posts in a transparent statement on its website explaining how it has satisfied all the criteria stipulated by the Commission. The HERC should have the power to review whether the entering institution has genuinely fulfilled all the entry criteria, and in cases of deviations from the criteria, to close it down.
- The HERC will have a secretariat to maintain a separate grievance and redress office. The office will receive complaints from students, the faculty and university authorities. While routine complaints can be dealt with at the level of this office, those with wider ramifications will be brought to the Commission.
- By adopting the reform, a major function on which the UGC currently spends a vast amount of time will be eliminated from the responsibilities of the HERC. This will leave the HERC with two major tasks: decisions on the disbursement of funds and accreditation.
- To fulfil the first function, the HERC should have a finance board. To discharge the second function, it should have an accreditation board. Both these boards should have full autonomy in discharging their functions once the broad policy is formulated at the level of the Commission.
- As India has a large young population, foreign institutions will have an incentive to enter the country. In turn, India stands to benefit from the expertise and reputation of these institutions.
Question– Discuss whether the time have come to replace the UGC Act, 1956, with a new law that should respond to the current needs of higher education or not?
India’s grand illusion
Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue that India, China should cooperate.
(GS paper II)
- The power corridors in New Delhi are abuzz with the prospects of a “reset” of India-China ties. The idea is to get a leadership-level bilateral summit ahead of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meet in June. There is now a possibility that Indian Prime Minister will visit China later this month. Some analysts have suggested that these moves represent a much needed corrective to the last three years, during which the government moved too close to the US.
- There are two questions that need to be addressed here. First, is a “reset” in current circumstances a smart move? Second, what should be India’s broader strategic outlook towards China?
- The limits of the current “reset” exercise have been borne out by the events that have transpired in recent weeks. Union minister of state for culture did indeed attend the “Thank You India” event organized in Dharamsala by the Central Tibet Administration on 31 March. It is not clear whether the government changed its view on participation in light of public opinion or because of China’s refusal to reciprocate India’s move in the manner that New Delhi had initially anticipated.
- China has refused to accommodate India’s interests in other spheres. New Delhi was disappointed with the outcome of the latest joint economic group (JEG) meeting where Beijing yet again failed to take seriously India’s concern on rising bilateral trade imbalance and lack of market access for Indian goods in China.
- India has, once again, taken up the issue of its entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) with China but a breakthrough seems far away. China has been insisting on simultaneous entry of India and Pakistan into the NSG and is unlikely to budge from that position.
- The biggest problem with the current “reset” exercise is that a bilateral summit is being seen as an end in itself. This has been an old problem with India’s foreign policy but has been exacerbated in recent years. A visit is seen as something to be celebrated, rather than outcomes from that visit. Given the structural problems between the two countries, PM’s visit, if it happens, is unlikely to turn the tide in bilateral relations, the histrionics of the summit notwithstanding.
- India should stick to a new version of non-alignment where it can maintain equidistance from both China and the US. This, they argue, will help India avoid becoming a pawn in a bigger US-China war. There are two massive problems with this suggestion. One, it fails to address the scenario where the war is not between the US and China but between India and China. The 73-day stand-off at Doklam last year indicates that the latter is no less likely than the former.
- Two, equidistance from both the US and China will have to be artificially manufactured because it does not exist naturally. India has a territorial dispute with China, not with the US. The US supports India’s elevation in the UN and the NSG, China doesn’t. India is raising a mountain strike corps to fight the People’s Liberation Army, not the US military. It is, therefore, monumentally silly to talk of equidistance here.
- China is India’s No.1 strategic threat. The ideal way of countering this threat would be to build indigenous military and economic capabilities. But that won’t happen immediately; China is already decades ahead of India in terms of material capabilities. External balancing through a close US partnership is thus essential. External balancing may also help build India’s own capabilities through cooperation on defence production.
- India and China should cooperate with each other in any domain. China is willing to side with India when it is assured of immediate pay-offs. It helped in grey-listing Pakistan at the financial action task force (FATF) to combat money laundering and terrorist financing because India helped in Beijing’s leadership bid of the inter-governmental body.
- Recently, China and India have initiated discussions to jointly use their leverage in oil price negotiations. Similarly, the two countries have an enviable track record of cooperation in global climate change negotiations.
- India should definitely make use of these opportunities of collaboration with China. But it should not delude itself into thinking that a reset in New Delhi will lead to melting of hearts in Beijing.
Question– Can India manage to reset ties with China? Analyse and suggest some way out.