The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Education should be a well-rounded affair. But the University Grants Commission should not forget its less idealistic, and more circumscribed, role in higher education. Quite over-stepping the limits of its legitimate concerns, the UGC has now started allocating funds for community service. This money is meant to convert undergraduates from 300 colleges in West Bengal into socially useful human beings, with their hearts in the right place. If at all a Central body should remain so pervasively involved in higher education, then it should keep itself focussed, quite exclusively, on maintaining standards of academic excellence. A social conscience may well be the natural consequence of a good education, but its cultivation should not fall within the purview of a body like the UGC. There remains a great deal within the less exalted business of running colleges and universities which could engage the imagination and money of the UGC. The propagation of legal and medical good sense, or furthering the cause of rural development is, and should remain, far from what preoccupies the UGC.

Behind a monitored scheme of social service for undergraduates there also lies a disciplinary mentality which is not appropriate to a body responsible for funding higher education. But there are other aspects of the students’ relations with their society which have a more direct bearing on their lives after graduation. And these could well fall within the purview of the UGC. Career counselling, for instance, could certainly be improved and made available to the benefit of the students. This should include not only good advice, but also proper access to information regarding further education and employment. Placement services for more professional and practical work-oriented subjects should also be extended and modernized. Building a social conscience is the responsibility of the education provided at school and at home. By the time students become undergraduates, their feelings for the community should be an entirely voluntary matter, which could be taken up by the individual colleges on their own initiative and funding if they so wish. Funding and monitoring such initiatives centrally could only foster administrative complications, tokenism and double standards. It could only make planning and implementation a more unwieldy business for the colleges, and distract the students and teachers from what they ought to be urged to do better — attain and maintain academic excellence. Nothing less, and more, than this should be the UGC’s objective as well.

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