UGC Act Needs to Be Revised to Regulate Admissions, Writes Olav Albuquerque

UGC Pushes For Diversity in Foreign Students Coming to India for Studies

Tamil Nadu has thwarted the Narendra Modi government’s bid to introduce uniformity in admissions to central universities throughout India. The Modi government’s move is commendable given that the evaluation parameters of students in state universities vary widely within the same state and across the country so that students who secure 100 out of 100 in English and Hindi can neither write nor read both languages perfectly.

This is why Parliament must consider enacting a law to create uniformity in higher education throughout India. The University Grants Commission which regulates all universities in India is itself a creature born out of an Act made by Parliament and this law can be amended to ensure that variations of the Common University Entrance Test can be introduced in all state universities across the country. This has become imperative after Tamil Nadu opposed the introduction of the CUET in 48 central universities.

Tamil Nadu has always opposed homogeneity such as Hindi being made the national language of India given that the scripts of Tamil and Hindi are as similar as the late Jayalalithaa was to the late Marilyn Monroe. This is why if the UGC Act is amended, it will have to iron out variations in education standards across the country that are as dissimilar as the figures of the late Jayalalithaa and the late Marilyn Monroe. The right to primary education is a fundamental right but the right to higher education is subject to the mutable rules and regulations enacted by governments to cater to their vote banks. The Modi government’s introduction of the Common University Entrance Test (CUET) is a step towards aligning central universities with global standards which are regulated by tests for undergraduate admissions.

Forty-five out of 48 central universities in India have put in place the machinery for the CUET which will select 540,000 undergraduate students out of 1,30,00,000 hopefuls who will take the test. This proves that the right to higher education is certainly not a fundamental right but depends on the caprices of the central government which comprises political parties espousing a certain ideology. Ironically, the Modi government owes its bid to radically alter admissions to 48 central universities to its bete noire, Indira Gandhi, who shifted education from the state list to the concurrent list in 1976 after enacting the 42nd amendment to the Constitution. This is why both the Modi government and states such as Tamil Nadu can legislate on the subject. Tamil Nadu exercised its sovereignty by passing a resolution demanding the Modi government repeal the CUET.

But such resolutions passed by the late DMK chief’s son, who is the present chief minister of Tamil Nadu, M.K. Stalin, had zero effect outside the state. This is why the Modi government will ignore the resolution so that the CUET is here to stay. It is definitely illogical to argue that the syllabus framed by the National Council for Educational Research and Talent will marginalize disadvantaged children, as Stalin opines. The Supreme Court has observed in the past that the framers of the Constitution would not have given absolute rights to any group to administer educational institutions in such a way as to conflict with the other parts of the Constitution. This is why the resolution passed by the Tamil Nadu assembly is not binding on the Modi government. What the UGC declares amounts to binding law on the universities but not the other way around. Now the right to education is inextricably linked to the right to livelihood which gives rise to over 50,00,000 coaching classes spread from Kota in Rajasthan to Tamil Nadu. These coaching institutes guarantee success if you pay first, and pray later. Some of their students do indeed crack these entrance tests like NEET and JEE because they are provided with notes to learn by rote which they can quote to enter the medical and engineering colleges of their choice. Whether they really turn out to be the best doctors or engineers we have is a debatable point.

But although the right to higher education is not a fundamental right, the right to access higher education through an equal opportunity for all, whether disadvantaged or privileged, cannot be denied by either Parliament or the Supreme Court. This right to access higher education in the 48 central universities will cease to be uniform which is the opposite of what the National Education Policy of 2020 sought to achieve.

This is because the different state boards of secondary and higher secondary education across the country have variable syllabi which focus on their own culture. Undoubtedly, Tamil Nadu is an ancient culture but the standards of English and Hindi taught in that state are not the same as that taught in Mumbai, Kolkata, and Delhi. This is why the elite who are fluent in the English language will always have a head start over the underprivileged in states like Tamil Nadu.

Hence, the teachers in state government and private schools will be pressurised to cater to students aspiring to enter these central universities. And the number will increase exponentially with time so that the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) will rise with time. This GER has already risen throughout India registering 51.4 percent for higher secondary education during 2019-20, and 27.1 percent for higher education after the twelfth standard.

There is no doubt that higher education has turned into an industry like the practice of law and medicine where demand outstrips supply. Teachers with and without B. Ed qualifications are constantly in demand throughout the country so they are taken on contract without any security of service or regular pay scales. They may be absorbed as permanent teachers or more often than not, thrown out after they complete their contracts of service. If eased out, they start their own coaching classes to ensure CUET or NEET and JEE hopefuls are taught what to write without the need to think. This is why we need the UGC Act to be amended to regulate entrance examinations like the CUET, NEET, and JEE.

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