The UGC in India is different from any grant-giving agency in any country of the world in one significant respect.
It is possibly only in India that the UGC has been vested with two powers simultaneously. One is the power to provide funds and the other is the power to determine and coordinate standards. In other countries, for instance, Canada, Australia, USA, even West Germany, funds are provided by the Federal Government and there is a good deal of argument about the quantum of grant, the procedures of release and other related issues. In none of these countries however does the Federal Government have the same right in respect of the determination and coordination of standards as the Union Government in India has.
According to the Constitution enforced in 1950, the Centre was given the requisite powers in respect of higher and professional education. In respect of the other levels of education, the Centre has come to acquire increased powers after the 42nd amendment was adopted in 1976. Whatever be the political realities on the ground, on the constitutional plane the Union Government in India has powers which perhaps no other federal country has. The focus of discussion in this article is on how the UGC came to be established and how it was decided to vest it with the powers that it commands today.
The greater part of this story is a forgotten chapter in the history of higher education. To re-call some of those controversies and the circumstances in which the UGC came to be established can throw a certain amount of light on how the UGC came to be vested with powers which are hardly to be found in any other grant giving body in a democratic country.
Whether those powers have been used or not is another question. A number of committees appointed by Parliament as also a Review Committee appointed by the Ministry of Education have gone into those questions. Those who wish to know about this aspect of the problem may refer to these various volumes. The point just now is to trace the process of thinking which, step by step, led to the establishment of the UGC as we know it today.
The Republic was inaugurated on the 26th of January 1950. A few months later the Ministry of Education prepared a draft bill entitled “The Universities (Regulation, of Standards) Bill”. The sub-title of the Bill was “To Regulate certain matters relating to the Coordination and Determination of Standards in Universities”.
The statement of objects and reasons stated as follows:
The Constitution of India vests Parliament with exclusive authority in regard to ‘coordination and determination of standards in institutions for higher education’. It is obvious that neither coordination of the institutions nor determination of their standards is possible unless the Central Government has some control over the establishment of new universities, the definition of territorial jurisdiction and the determination of standards of teaching and examination in Universities, both old and new.
With this objective in view the proposed bill put forward certain proposals and the principal ones are enumerated below:
(i) No university established after the commencement of this Act by or under a State Act shall be deemed to be a university unless the Central Government by notification makes a declaration to that effect.
(ii) It is open to the Central Government to declare any institution for higher education other than a university to be a university.
(iii) No institution other than a university would have the right to confer degrees.
(iv) In order to carry out the work of coordination and determination of standards, a Central Council of University Education is to be established. At least one-third of the members of the Council would be Vice-Chancellors.
(v) The Central Council can ask for information about any aspect of university work from a university and would have the powers to direct the executive authority of any university to take such action as may be specified.
(vi) In case any university fails to comply with the directions issued within a reasonable time, the Central Council would be authorized to advise the Central Government to de-recognise any degree conferred by such a university for the purpose of employment under the Central Government or for any other purpose.
This draft Bill was circulated to State Government as well as to universities for opinion. Except for one, none of the State Governments opposed the Bill. This was stated by Humayun Kabir at a Conference of Vice-Chancellors and representatives of universities in India which was held in September 1952, i.e. approximately a year after the bill was circulated. During this period, however, the universities opposed the bill strongly and with a certain measure of persistence.
As far as the State Governments were concerned, they had little to say in criticism of it, possibly for the reason that the Indian Constitution has been adopted only a couple of years earlier and the power to coordinate and determine standards vested in the Central Government was a part of the consensus that had been worked out under the benign leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru.
Not only was the ethos of political life more or less homogeneous in its approach and orientation, the same political party exercised power in all the States. Some of the subsequent contentions between the Centre and the States of which one has been hearing a good deal during the last couple of decades were not heard of at that time.
The universities, however, reacted differently. They were vehemently opposed to the bill.
They advanced three main arguments and these may be described as follows:
(i) It is for the universities themselves to regulate, maintain and coordinate their own academic standards.
(ii) For any outside agency to seek to undertake this job would amount to violating university autonomy.
(iii) If the standards were low it was mainly for lack of funds. Once adequate funds were made available, there would be hardly any problems.
At this meeting speaker after speaker waxed eloquent on how the Central Government was planning to take away the autonomy of universities. The number of universities at that time was not particularly large; it was more in the neighbourhood of a quarter century than otherwise.
More than 20 universities were represented at this meeting and amongst some of the luminaries who spoke the following may be mentioned-
Prof. Hadi Hasan; Prof. A.C. Banerjee; Dr. V.S. Krishna; Dr. R.K. Shanmukhan Chetty; Mrs. Hansa Mehta; Sir Navroji J. Wadia; Sir Vithal N. Chandalvarkar; Dr. G.S. Mahajani; Dr. V.K.R.V. Rao; Sir A.L. Mudaliar; and Sir Ramaswamy Mudaliar.
On behalf of the Ministry of Education Humayun Kabir was present. He described his presence at the conference as almost that of “a culprit in the dock.”
All kinds of interesting things were said at this conference.
Some of the remarks made at that conference may be reproduced here in order to convey a flavour of what was said-
(a) We feel that no outside body should tell us how to coordinate our standards and how to determine our courses of study. I feel, therefore, Sir, that this Bill, if passed into legislation, will do untold harm and I am unable to see any good that it will do. It is true that a Central Council might do some good but only if it is made purely an advisory body and if it is constituted almost entirely of Vice-Chancellors and other representatives of Universities (Sir N.J. Wadia, Vice-Chancellor, Bombay).
(b) If the Central Government had begun to realise their constitutional responsibility in the matter of higher education, this Bill, instead of taking this shape, must really have taken the shape of a Bill to create a University Grants Committee and then to define what the powers of the University Grants Committee would be and what the functions of the Central Government would be in regard to their responsibility.
Because once you recognise that the Central Government must be the source of finance to the universities, then even the most ardent advocates of university autonomy cannot deny the implications of such a statement, viz. that if the Central Government which is responsible for finding the major part of the finances must have some voice, in some manner or other, for the way in which all this money is spent so that the whole basis of this proposed legislation must start from the kind of financial help that the Central Government is expected to give and what consequences regarding control of the Central Government would follow the grant of financial resources to meet the needs of the universities. Instead of doing that, the Bill has been shaped in such a manner that one is tempted to think that the Central Government is following in respect of the education the example of non-democratic countries. (Dr. R.K. Shanmukhan Chetty, Vice-Chancellor, Annamalai).
(c) Let us confess frankly that standards vary from University to University but there is the constant attempt on the part of political bodies to lower the standards, to revise examination results, to have more percentage of passes than the University authorities think it desirable, to give grace marks and in fact influence the Universities in such a way that the number of first classes is more than the number of second classes. These are this obvious defects which the Inter-University Board can tackle, if it has only a little more power than it has at present.
A fundamental difficulty of this Bill that has not been realised is the clash between the powers already existing and the powers proposed to be given to the new authority. It has ignored all the existing structure – it has ignored the Inter-University Board which has been in existence for 26 years and has done some little to put up standards of education. If in spite of that, here and there, standards are low, it is because sufficient powers are not given to the Inter-University Board. (Sir A. Ramaswamy Mudaliar, Vice-Chancellor, Travancore).
(d) It is no use asking us to do this and that and not helping us at all with money. There was a Grants Committee appointed in the past, of which Mrs. Hansa Mehta, Vice-Chancellor of Baroda was a Member, but we met once or twice and became defunct and there was no grant to distribute. If the Government of India think of raising standards, they must give financial assistance. (Mrs. Hansa Mehta, Vice-Chancellor, Baroda).
(e) The question of standards is of a question of finance. If the standards are low it is not because of the Universities but in spite of them. (Prof. Hadi Hasan, Aligarh).
(f) Even supposing that the Central Government agrees that the Central Council should consist only of Vice-Chancellors, Dr. V.K.R.V. Rao of Delhi would very strongly put it to this body that we cannot allow any other body to issue directives.
Dr. Rao can understand that they can argue and try to persuade us but he is of opinion that it is a complete breach of the very principle even if the Constitution is changed and it consists only of Vice-Chancellors…. Dr. Rao therefore suggest that the Government should take note of the views expressed by us regarding the constitution of the Grants Committee which would be an autonomous body and would disburse grants to different Universities in India.
The Grants Committee should advise the Universities in all matters, but they should refer all such matters to a Committee of Vice-Chancellors appointed by the Inter-University Board or the Standing Committee of the Inter-University Board, which would act as a liaison between the Grants Committee and the Universities. (Dr. V.K.R.V. Rao, Delhi)
Clearly, the Universities were opposed to the idea of any agency other than themselves to regulate standards. Quite a number of them felt that if the Inter-University Board had more powers than it exercised at the moment they could perhaps do the job equally well. In any case the one over-riding concern was to get additional funds from the Central Government. Several of them suggested the establishment of a Grants Committee on the lines of the UGC in Britain.
Indeed some of them harked back to the pre-1947 days when an informal Grants Committee had been established in the Ministry of Education and did dole out some grants. Some of the well-known Vice-Chancellors were even associated with it. Both Lakshmanswami Mudaliar and Hansa Mehta referred to their association with this Committee but obviously there was very little money to disburse and so the Grants Committee either did not function or became defunct.
Humayun Kabir who was present at this meeting in his reply made the following points:
(i) The Government did not for a moment want to encroach upon the autonomy of the Universities.
(ii) If the Inter-University Board could suggest some machinery for improvement in standards, the Government would be glad to consider those suggestions.
(iii) Uniformity in standards and attainments was all that was contemplated and not necessarily uniformity in courses and syllabuses.
(iv) There were some slighting references to the amount of Rs. 2½ crores in five years which was to be made available to the universities from the American Wheat Loan. But Humayun Kabir informed the conference that even in the First Plan the Planning Commission had provided Rs. 12 crores for the Universities.
(v) He conceded that the use of the word “direct” was unfortunate. What was intended, according to him, was to draw the attention of the Universities to certain matters. Maybe the word “direct” could be replaced, he said.
(vi) He assured the Vice-Chancellors that if this bill was passed it is not the Central Government that would assume these powers. These would be exercised by a body which would be autonomous in its constitution and working. In fact he said that it would be a statutory body and all the members would command the confidence of the Universities. “It will not be a department of the Government, but it will be a statutory body where the University interests will be fully represented”, he affirmed.
All this happened in September 1952. For the next year or so the matter continued to be debated within the Government. Perhaps the two persons who were actively involved in the whole thing were Maulana Azad and Humayun Kabir. Both of them passed away some years ago and neither of them has left a record of the conflicting pulls and pressures experienced by them.
It is only from the records of the Government that it would be possible to reconstruct the details of the arguments which must have taken place at that time. On the one hand was the desire of the Ministry of Education, as expressed through this bill, to regulate standards. On the other hand was the vociferous and persistent opposition of the universities to the proposed bill principally on the ground that it would rob them of their autonomy.
In retrospect, one can see that while the universities have been robbed of their autonomy in any case, this did not happen in the interests of high standards. Before 1947 universities were certainly much more autonomous than they are today. It was indeed a distinguished man who was selected to be the Vice-Chancellor of a University. Once selected, nobody breathed down his neck, nobody whispered anything into his ears, there was hardly any wheeling and dealing and, what is more important, nobody’s tenure was cut short because at some point or other he became unacceptable to the powers that be.
Universities then were truly sub-systems of the larger system and there was hardly any attempt to run the subsystem in a manner so as to make it subservient to the larger system. If most of the university representatives assembled in this conference protested against the attempt to take away their autonomy, it is but reasonable to conclude that they were thinking of the kind of autonomy that the universities had enjoyed till then rather than of the kind of autonomy which the universities enjoy now-a-days.
Those were the days when the universities were on the whole left free to manage their own affairs. More or less as a concomitant to this attitude, they were hardly given any financial assistance. The universities were expected to have a surplus from the examinations that they were conducting and this was used for running the establishment and may be a few university departments as well. Except for unitary universities, the rest either did not have any departments or they somehow managed to exist. This was the general situation and the demand for financial help was therefore a genuine demand.
In this situation, the Ministry of Education found it difficult to work out a clear course of action for itself. If it established a Central Council, as visualised, and vested it with the powers to issue directives and penalised those universities which did not implement the directives, it would perhaps be violating the autonomy of the universities. And yet if such a central body were not to be established and the universities were to be left to their own devices, the standards would continue to be uneven, indeed unsatisfactory, and the obligation cast upon the Centre to coordinate and determine standards would remain un-discharged.
How to resolve this issue? Universities which were starved of funds (and almost each one of them was) required to be helped through the agency of a Grants Committee. A Grants Committee had fitfully functioned for several years. The University Education Commission presided over by Dr. S. Radhakrishnan had also recommended such a body. The planning era was about to begin in Indian economy and it was proposed to help the universities with funds from the Central Government.
The obvious agency for such a large scale flow of funds could be a body like the Grants Committee. Clearly, the establishment of such a body would meet the needs of the universities. In the Indian context, such an agency had to be statutory in character. What was easier than to describe it as the University Grants Commission? It could always be referred to as the UGC, a name which corresponded to the UGC in Great Britain. The British model was all the time in the background and nothing appeared more natural to the decision makers than the fact that the agency created in India should also be called the UGC.
To establish a Central Council as envisaged in the bill and to have to defend the Government against the charge of violating university autonomy would have been awkward. All that the Ministry of Education was doing was to concretize one of the provisions in the Constitution, yet this would not prevent the universities from repeating, day in and day out, that something had been imposed on them from above and that they were no longer as autonomous as they used to be.
To combine both the functions in one body, the function of disbursing grants to universities as also the function of advising them on how to improve their standards of performance seemed to be the natural thing to do. What was more, the Constitution did not come in the way of adopting such a course of action.
Today it seems natural and indeed obvious that the two functions should have been combined in one body. But let it not be forgotten that there was no precedent for it in any country of the world. Federal funding to universities is a fairly widespread practice. It is to be encountered in several countries and on the whole everybody seems to be happy about it.
Universities are chronically short of funds and it is rarely that any university refuses to accept a grant from any quarter unless it is of a highly suspect character. But in no country of the world does the grant-giving agency have the power to sit in judgement upon the quality of performance of a university.
Two other things require to be dealt with here. One is to analyse the UGC bill as adopted in 1956 and see its relationship with the 1951 bill which was discarded. The second is to examine whether the changes made were such as were calculated to improve standards and indeed to what extent the experiment of combining both the functions in one body had yielded good results.
The 1951 bill vested the Central Government with the power of approving or not approving a university established by a State Legislature.
The exact wording of the bill was as follows:
No University established or incorporated after the commencement of this Act by or under a State Act shall be deemed to be a university unless the Central Government, by notification in the Official Gazette, has made a declaration to that effect.
According to the Constitution, education was and is a State subject. It was only in respect of coordination and determination of standards that the Centre had been vested with powers. It was in pursuance of this obligation that this particular clause had been inserted.
In view of the outcry against the 1951 bill however this clause was deleted from the UGC Act passed in 1956. To what extent this was a step in the right direction or not should be apparent from one fact. In 1956, the number of universities was almost one quarter of what it was in 1972. There is a good reason why 1972 has been mentioned here.
It was in the 1972 Amendment of the UGC Act that the following clause was introduced:
No grant shall be given by the Central Government, the Commission, or any other organisation receiving any funds from the Central Government, to a university which is established after the commencement of the University Grants Commission Amendment Act 1972, unless the Commission has, after satisfying itself as to such matters as may be prescribed, declared such university to be fit for receiving such grant. (Section 12A)
Two things may be noted here. One, even when the UGC Act was amended in 1970 (the first amendment after 1956), this particular provision was not inserted. In other words, the Central Government continued to be cagey in respect of what the States would say in the matter. Secondly, even when in 1972 the Act was further amended the provision inserted was not as categorical or as far- reaching in its implications as it had been in the 1951 bill. The 1951 bill refused to recognise a university as a university unless a declaration to this effect was made by the Central Government.
The 1972 Act (which is still in force) merely empowered the Central Government and its agencies to withhold the release of grants to a university. Which is only a way of saying that a university could come into being nevertheless; only it would not receive any Central assistance.
True to pattern, this did not prevent, a few years later, half a dozen universities in U.P. from coming into existence without clearance by the Central Government, though it must be added in all fairness that the Central Government has not yet given them any grant. Clearly the Centre even in 1972 was not prepared to go as far as it had chosen to go in 1951.
Another provision in the 1951 bill was that it would be open to the Central Government to declare any institution of higher education other than a university to be a university. The existing provision in the UGC Act in respect of an institution ‘deemed to be a university’ is only a variation upon the original provision. Some of the other provisions were either repeated or slightly modified. For instance, it was stated in the 1951 bill that no institution other than a university would have the right to confer a degree. This was repeated in the 1956 Act.
Similarly, one-third of the membership of the Central Council was to consist of Vice-Chancellors. The proposal to this effect made in the 1951 bill was retained in the 1956 Act. This provision has however been whittled down step by step both in the 1970 and 1972 Amendments to the UGC Act. During the last few years only one or two Vice-Chancellors have served on the Commission. They may be members of the Commission. There is nothing to bar them, but there is no mandatory provision as it existed until 1972.
It was in respect of two other provisions however that the real whittling down was done. One was in respect of directing the universities to take such action as may be specified and the second was in respect of the de-recognition of degrees. The first proposal was altogether dropped.
As to the second one, the precise proposal made in the 1951 bill was as follows:
If any university fails within a reasonable time to comply with any directions issued by the Council under Section 7 or Section 8, the Council may advise the Central Government to refuse to recognise any degree conferred or granted by such university for the purpose of employment under the Central Government or for any other purpose.
This particular provision made no concession of any kind. The Central Government gave unto itself the right to de-recognise degrees given by a particular university on the recommendation of the Central Council. That was the only qualifying clause. For the rest the Central Government had the absolute power to de-recognise any degree. This was more or less in line with the power given to the Medical Council of India. The Medical Council Act was passed before the UGC Act was passed. Despite the lapse of so many years the Medical Council still has that power.
The power has never been used. Only on one occasion was a particular university threatened with the use of this power. Even there, all that the Medical Council could have done was to have recommended to the Central Government that the degrees of that particular college should be de-recognised. By itself it could not have done anything more. But the fact remains that the Medical Council does have this power and on the whole this fact has had a salutary effect on medical education.
It should not be difficult to see that the issue is more political than legal. Legally speaking, the Centre laid down in the 1951 bill that no State university would be recognised as a university unless the Centre approved it. Furthermore, if a university did not carry out a directive issued to it, the Government would have the power to de-recognise its degrees.
Today, to quibble about whether the Centre has this power or not, as is sometimes done, is beside the point. Under the Constitution, the Centre has the power. That is why the Centre introduced these provisions in the 1951 bill. Nobody objected to this power on legal grounds. All objections were on grounds other than legal.
If in the UGC Act of 1956 the Centre choose to delete these provisions and did not re-induct them in any of the subsequent Amendments, the meaning is clear. The Centre hesitates to take any decision which would dilute the powers that the States have enjoyed all these years. In 1976 when the 42nd Amendment was adopted and education became a concurrent subject, it had hardly any effect on the Centre-State relationship in respect of higher education.
Higher education was already more or less on the Concurrent List. In terms of the power to coordinate and determine standards, the Centre could enforce whatever it wanted to enforce. The 42nd Amendment simply put other sectors of education also on the Concurrent List. The significance of this particular Amendment was not that the Centre acquired more powers in respect of higher education. Those it already had. Its significance lay in the fact that even in respect of other levels of education the Centre now could legislate and this legislation would have precedence over State legislation.
Can one link up the argument with the different points of view held by different political parties? The evidence is not decisive enough to do so but a couple of pointers do exist. It was the Congress Party which sponsored the 42nd Amendment and got it accepted. To that extent the Congress Party may be said to be in favour of a greater role for the Centre in respect of education.
On the other hand, one can see that there has been no follow up legislation of the 42nd Amendment so far and the situation therefore virtually remains what it was. In regard to the Janata Party, there is an interesting tell-tale piece of evidence. The UGC Review Committee suggested that the UGC might be given the power to de-recognise the degree of any university.
This was nothing but a reiteration of what had been provided for in the 1951 bill. When the report of this Review Committee came to be processed by the Janata Government, then in power, this particular recommendation was not accepted. The moral is clear and need not be made explicit.
The fact of the matter is that the Centre-State relationship over the decades has developed in such a manner that no political party would find it possible to take a strong line vis-a-vis the States. In 1951, the situation was qualitatively different. The Constitution had been adopted only recently. Different kinds of pulls and pressures had been exerted during the years the Constitution was being hammered out. The Constitution as it finally emerged, in a sense, represented a consensus.
In the vision of future India that Jawaharlal Nehru and Maulana Azad had, education was to play a very important role. There is evidence of Maulana Azad urging “Central guidance, if not Central control, on provincial progress” in the field of education. Pandit Nehru’s mind also worked on the same wavelength and that is how the Centre came to have the power to coordinate and determine standards in respect of higher education.
To have made constitutional provision, was one thing. To have created agencies and instruments for the purpose was another thing. The 1951 bill sought to establish an agency for the purpose. It was vehemently opposed by the universities and after a year or so of soul searching and mutual consultations, the Ministry of Education eventually established the UGC in late 1953. For the next two years and a half it functioned as an ad hoc agency till such time as the 1956 Act gave it statutory standing.
At this stage, a quarter century after the formal establishment of the UGC, it is legitimate to ask to what extent the UGC has utilised the powers of coordination and determination of standards vested in it. The simplest answer would be that had these powers been put to use even partially the situation in higher education would not have been what it is today.
This statement as a matter of fact requires to be qualified. To the extent that the situation today has been shaped by the economic and political forces at work (which is what makes the Centre hesitate to use the powers at its disposal), the UGC could not have done anything to change the situation.
But there was a role for the UGC to play and it was the role of an agency acting in the interest of higher standards. In plain words, it could have played the role of a professional body. To quite an extent it did not play this role and, indeed, it allowed itself to be swamped by the economic and political forces at work.
These forces cannot be contained even by the Centre. Without question there are elements at the Centre which would like to control and contain them but they feel thwarted and outmaneuvered by these forces that are too powerful for them. To expect the UGC to have stood up to these forces is to be both naive and unconvincing.
However, there was one way in which the UGC could have offered resistance and that was to act as a professional body. This is precisely what the Medical Council of India has done. It can be nobody’s contention that the Medical Council of India has covered itself with glory all its way.
At the same time one can see that the situation in medical education would have been much worse, but for the restraining and professional role played by the Medical Council of India. Can one say the same thing about the UGC? The answer, sad to say, is in the negative.
It would be best to illustrate this point of view with one or two examples. As of today something like 50-60% of the colleges are sub-standard. They have an enrolment of not more than a couple of hundreds and what happens in the four walls of those colleges can hardly be described as education. Now there was no way of regulating the proliferation of these colleges. The colleges were being established because of a certain conjunction of interests between the politicians and educational entrepreneurs.
The whole thing was rooted in the reality of political life and even the State Governments found it difficult to resist these pressures. The stark fact today is that more than 50% of the total colleges in India are intellectual and social slums and they are as difficult to take care of as it is difficult to convert slums into habitable areas in a city.
All this is undeniable but what justification is there for the fact that, after more than a quarter century of existence, there is no set of rules covering the establishment of colleges, even though some ‘norms’ have been developed by the Commission recently. There should have been no difficulty about convening a meeting of principals and vice-chancellors and laying down a certain set of ground rules to govern the establishment and affiliation of colleges.
Even the Central Advisory Board of Education would have eventually accepted most of them, though in the process quite a few of them would have been watered down. And yet it was left to the Review Committee (which submitted its report in 1977) to suggest that a set of ground rules ought to be prepared. Even four years after the report was submitted the item is still to be put on the agenda of the UGC.
Another illustration; the UGC Review Committee suggested that standards of performance at the Ph. D. level called for some regulation. Now this a purely professional matter. What rules and regulations are laid down in this behalf and how the evaluation of the thesis is done are matters which are totally professional and do not admit of any other consideration. Even in this respect however an adequate initiative by the UGC is yet to be taken.
The point made here is that it is only as a professional body that the UGC can exist and function and be effective to some extent. If it ceases to be professional or allows its professional judgement to be influenced by political considerations, sooner or later its effectiveness as an instrument of coordination and determination of standards would decline. This is precisely what has happened and this is precisely what ought not to have happened.
Indeed one criticism often made in respect of the UGC is that it acts only as a grant-giving body and has seldom given serious attention to the problems of coordination and determination of standards. The illustrations given above point in this direction. But there is a prior question to be asked here. Is this mode of functioning by design or by accident? Unless the history of the last quarter century can be wished away, it would seem that this is hardly an accident.
Over the years the UGC has made a virtue of leaving the universities to act on their own. Not only that, non-intervention has been elevated into a principle. It can be nobody’s contention that the UGC ought to lay down the law as far as the universities are concerned. Such a policy would ultimately inhibit the growth of universities and that is why this policy should be eschewed. At the same time, it is equally wrong to let every university function as if it were a law unto itself.
This philosophy of functioning (or shall we call it non-functioning?) is at variance with what the founding fathers of the Indian Constitution had visualised. There is enough evidence in the Constituent Assembly debates and other papers connected with the framing of the Constitution to show that the Centre visualised a positive and forward-looking role for itself in respect of higher education.
That is precisely why Entry 66 in Schedule VII was inserted. If the Centre were to play only a passive role and everything was to be left to the universities concerned, there would have been no need to provide for coordination and determination of standards by the Centre.
At the 1952 meeting of the Vice-Chancellors who opposed the 1951 bill, almost every single speaker argued that it was for the universities themselves to regulate their own affairs and that it was unthinkable for any outside agency to issue directives to them. Representing the Centre, Humayun Kabir argued, rather weakly, that it was no one’s intention to interfere from the Centre and all that was being done was to create a Central Council which would be an autonomous body and would function in close collaboration with the universities.
Humayun Kabir argued along these lines but there was hardly anybody of precedents for him to assure the universities that their fears were unfounded and that all that the Centre meant to do was to be helpful. If the Ministry of Education had been more resolute about their original intention, the situation could have been distinctly better than what it is today. But it appears that both Maulana Azad and Humayun Kabir allowed themselves to be persuaded against their better judgement.
How does one strike the balance-sheet? One thing is definite. No government in the foreseeable future would be able to adopt the posture that had been adopted by the Central Government in 1951. In plain words, even though the Constitution permits the Centre extensive powers in respect of higher and professional education (the right to de-recognise degrees for instance), those are not likely to be exercised today. They could not be exercised even in 1951. In 1981 the situation has undergone almost a sea change.
At that time opposition to the powers sought to be assumed by the Centre came from the universities. Only one State Government was opposed to it. Today almost every State Government would be opposed to it. As to the universities, even though they are battered day after day by the State Governments, not many of them are likely to take the unqualified stand that the last word should be with the Central Government.
What is to be done in this situation therefore? To treat the UGC mainly as a grant-giving body, as has been the practice hitherto, would be to circumscribe its functioning. Indeed such an approach cuts at the roots of the unique experiment launched by India in 1950. This must not be allowed to happen. At the same time one has to be realistic and understand the parameters within which academic change can be brought about. The UGC can function as a body which determines and coordinates standards provided, and this is an important proviso, it is protected as well as insulated against political pressures.
To the extent that this requires some kind of self- abnegation on the part of political parties, one may not be too sanguine about it. But to the extent that the UGC itself can function as a non-political organisation, this is perfectly feasible. Perhaps the right way of putting it would be that the UGC should function as a professional body. Even when there are pressures exerted on it those should be met on the professional plane.
There would be limitations, nevertheless. The analogy of the Medical Council of India is correct but upto a point. The composition of the Medical Council is, on the whole, professional in character. In the case of the UGC the professional element is almost absent and all said and done the UGC is treated as a limb of the Government.
Notwithstanding this difference in composition and, by implication, in its outlook, the UGC deals with a sector of activity where its effective functioning depends upon the extent to which it can be professional. If it is professional in its orientation and programme of work, there is no reason why its performance should fall short of its promise.
The issue is political rather than legal. In legal terms, the utmost power that the Centre has given to the UGC is to withhold grants whereas there are many more powers which the Centre could have given. This has not been done for reasons which are entirely political. Universities functioning on their own cannot fight these political forces. By the same token and more or less for the same reasons the UGC with its limited powers is obliged to come to terms with these forces.
It would be an over-simplification however to assume that the battle is lost. This is not so and that is for two reasons. For one thing, over the years the UGC has acquired a kind of standing in the country which can always be put to good use. For another, what the UGC has to do is to function as a professional body. Once it does so it would have enormous leverage with everybody concerned. The important precondition however is that it must function as a professional body.