UGC added the minimum duration of programmes of the new degrees introduced at the time. In the recent August 2014 notification, not only is the minimum duration of every degree specified, but also the entry qualifications. (Did the Central government approve this notification, as required by Section 22(3)? If so, the government should have seen the difficulties.) A set of “guidelines” has also been added. Does the act allow the UGC to impose such detailed restrictions on degrees? A reading of Section 22(3) and the initial notifications by the UGC strongly suggests that the commission has overstepped its authority. This notification, if applicable to the IITs, will render a number of programmes that existed before it “illegal”, such as the dual degree BTech-MTech programmes, and PhD programmes with a BTech as the entry qualification. What is to prevent more restrictions from being imposed through such notifications in future, if the provisions of the act are taken to mean “anything” can be specified for degrees by the UGC?
I do not think the UGC aims to encroach on the autonomy of the IITs and other Centrally funded institutions, but that is the consequence of its recent steps.
The problem is that everyone agrees that “good” institutions should be allowed flexibility with their programmes and degrees, so that they can make changes according to emerging requirements. And that “bad” institutions need strict monitoring and restrictions to ensure minimum standards. But how does one distinguish the “good” from the “bad”? What follows is a rule to fit all, which becomes overly restrictive. Is there a way out? The UGC should go back to its earlier practice of only listing the names of degrees. All other restrictions, such as minimum duration, entry qualifications and guidelines should be issued as a separate rule applicable only to universities. But this means that while the IITs and NITs will be spared, all universities, good and bad, will lose flexibility.
There must be a wider debate on the best way to maintain standards while ensuring flexibility. Perhaps accreditation could play a role in maintaining standards, reducing the need for regulation. The fact that education is on the concurrent list makes the problem complex.
The writer, a former director of IIT Guwahati, is mentor director, IIIT Guwahati