Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) Vice-Chancellor Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar was on Friday appointed chairperson of the University Grants Commission (UGC).
A notification issued by the Ministry of Education said the appointment has been made for a period of five years, or until he turns 65, whichever is earlier.
Kumar’s five-year term as JNU V-C had ended in January last year, but he was asked to stay on till his successor is picked. The process to pick a new JNU V-C is underway.
Pune University vice-chancellor Prof Nitin R Karmalkar and director of Inter-University Accelerator Centre (IUAC) Prof Avinash Chandra Pandey were also shortlisted for the UGC chairperson post, which fell vacant last December after Prof D P Singh resigned on turning 65.
In a statement issued after his appointment, Kumar said, “As Chairman, UGC, this is a great opportunity for me to work for the young minds of our country in Higher Educational Institutes. My immediate focus is going to be speedy implementation of the National Education Policy, enabling research and innovation ecosystem in HEIs and making higher education more inclusive and accessible using technology. I look forward to working with students, teachers and heads of higher educational institutions across the country.”
Kumar’s appointment comes at a time when the government has been struggling to launch the Higher Education Commission of India, envisaged in the National Education Policy 2020. The Higher Education Commission is expected to subsume existing regulatory bodies such as the UGC and the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE).
Kumar, an alumnus of IIT Madras’s electrical engineering department, presided over a tumultuous tenure as JNU V-C after then President Pranab Mukherjee appointed him to the post in Jan 2016. Kumar was then serving as professor in IIT-Delhi’s Department of Electrical Engineering.
Days into his appointment, JNU landed in a major controversy with the Delhi Police booking and arresting a group of student leaders accusing them of raising allegedly seditious slogans during an event on February 9 to mark the hanging of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru.
In October 2017, protests broke out in JNU as Najeeb Ahmed, an MSc student, went missing from the campus a day after he allegedly had a scuffle with some students from the RSS-affiliated ABVP.
In November 2019, then HRD Minister Ramesh Pokhrial was stranded for over three hours on the campus during the university’s convocation ceremony as protests raged on campus against a fee hike.
In January 2020, with protests continuing, the JNU campus was the site of unprecedented violence as masked men and women launched an assault on students, leaving many seriously injured.