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Unreasonably fashionable notions of world-class education


The current government, in continuation of a similar attempt by the earlier government, is committed to set up 20 "world-class universities". Under this policy, 10 private and 10 public institutions of higher learning will be designated "world-class institutions deemed to be universities" if they meet certain requirements. These requirements will start as contractual promises to be carried out in the near-term (five years) and later in the future (15 years). A monitoring body will ensure that these promises are kept. In return, these institutions will be freed from the shackles of regulation by the University Grants Commission. Government institutions given this designation will get an additional incentive. They will receive, from the Central government, Rs 500 crores over the next 5 years as financial support in addition to whatever they have been receiving till now or will routinely get in the future. A draft of the proposed policy has been put up on the UGC website.

As a stand-alone initiative to improve the quality of higher education in the institutions that will be finally chosen, such attempts are commendable. For instance, there are many parents and students who believe that a four-year undergraduate programme is more in keeping with the type of higher education the modern global world requires. There are many institutions both in the private (Shiv Nadar University and Symbiosis University) and public (Delhi University) domains that are willing to provide this. However, the UGC regulations have prevented these institutions from moving to four-year undergraduate degrees till last year. Under the imminent policy, once they have been so designated, 20 institutions in India will be able to implement four-year undergraduate programmes. This would certainly meet the demands by certain groups of students and that cannot but be a good thing. Also, 10 government institutions will have the independence to design their own programmes, get additional funding from non-government sources, decide how much to pay their teachers or, how much to charge foreign students. All of this will free up the institutions to make choices that will be better able to meet the students' expectations.


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