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Fault lines open: UGC cites 1956 law to assert itself, five IIT directors object

Directors of IIT Delhi and IIT Bombay had earlier specified that since the IITs and the UGC are two separate systems.

Written by Naveed Iqbal , Ruhi Tewari | New Delhi | Published:August 26, 2014 2:34 am
We need reforms so that colleges and universities can implement structural changes that foster academic freedom. (Source: PTI) The IITs are governed by the Institutes of Technology Act, 1961, which declares them as ‘institutions of national importance’. (Source: PTI)

Under fire for its communiqué to the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) asking them to “align their courses and degrees with the ones recognised by the University Grants Commission (UGC)”, the apex education regulator Monday issued a clarification, stating that its communication had been “misconstrued” and that it had the “responsibility of specification of degrees”. With the UGC sticking to its stand and the directors of at least five IITs emphasising that the institutes fall outside its purview, fault lines seem to have been drawn.

“Unfortunately, the aforementioned communication of the UGC has been misconstrued as an encroachment on the autonomy of institutions of higher learning, especially the IITs. In this connection, it may be clarified that the responsibility of specification of degrees to be awarded by different sets of institutions has been entrusted with the UGC through its Act, 1956 in all domains of higher education,” the clarification, issued late Monday evening, stated.

The note said that the UGC has been using a “dynamic process for specification of degrees since 1956” and “is the only statutory body in the country to specify degrees in all domains of knowledge, including engineering, medicine, agriculture, exact sciences, humanities, social science, languages, etc”.

“Where is there any question of encroaching upon the authority of IITs or any other institution? We have been given the authority of specifying degrees by the Government of India. It is a question of ensuring uniformity in nomenclature of degrees. It is a question of facilitating mobility of students from one institution to another. It is a question of ensuring employability. After all, who else specifies degrees in this country? The UGC has been doing it since 1956,” UGC chairman Ved Prakash told The Indian Express.

The IITs are governed by the Institutes of Technology Act, 1961, which declares them as “institutions of national importance”, and lays down their powers, duties and framework for governance.

“Every university has an Act, doesn’t it? Each university is a statutory body whose autonomy should not be encroached upon. This is not about the IITs alone. If the IITs have the authority to specify their degrees, then good,” Prakash said.

The Indian Express had reported how members of the Anil Kakodkar committee, which was set up to recommend autonomy measures for IITs, had criticised the UGC’s latest move, claiming that the autonomy of the institutes ought to be protected.

Meanwhile, stating that the President of India, who is also the Visitor of IITs, “will have to take a call” on the issue, the directors of some institutes have said that until now, there has been “no requirement of clearance from the UGC on any matter concerning the IITs”.

Reacting to the UGC’s clarification, IIT Kanpur director Prof Indranil Manna told The Indian Express, “We are empowered to run our courses through our senate and our statutes. This is clearly stated in the IIT Act. If there is to be a change in this, the IIT council will have to take it up… In my opinion, UGC guidelines only apply to institutes under the commission and the IITs are clearly outside their ambit.”

IIT Ropar director Prof M K Surappa emphasised the autonomous nature of the institutes and said, “We are funded directly by the HRD Ministry and do not need any clearance from the UGC.” IIT Kharagpur director Partha Pratim Chakraborty, who received the UGC communiqué last week, said that he has “written to the concerned authorities” stating his position on the notification.

Directors of IIT Delhi and IIT Bombay had earlier specified that since the IITs and the UGC are two separate systems, “they are totally disconnected with each other”. Thus, unless a change is made to the IIT Act, no UGC guideline shall apply to the IITs, they said.

Senior officials of these institutes also claim that since IITs do not depend on the UGC for funding or any other requirement, it is not binding on them to comply with the commission’s orders.

“The provision for specification of degrees by the UGC was a conscious decision taken by the central government for a number of reasons, which not only includes ensuring the uniformity in terms of award of degrees, but also for the purposes of employability and mobility of the students across the country,” the UGC clarification stated.

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