It is alarming to contemplate the possibility that the University Grants Commission will never be able to shed certain habits of governance. The will to control is one of them, for a deep-seated unwillingness to grant genuine autonomy to the institutions that fall under the UGC’s jurisdiction has now become past of its history since India framed its Constitution. It is a tendency that is endorsed by no less than the Union human resource development ministry. To say that a Central body cannot help centralizing may sound like the mother of all truisms. But this need not be the case in higher education. The UGC has deferred a controversial proposal to allow the entry of foreign educational institutions within the existing legal framework, although it has given “in principle approval” to regulations on collaborative and joint courses. The UGC also wants only the best foreign universities to have tie-ups with their Indian counterparts. Some UGC members have strongly opposed the idea of tie-ups because of their concern for quality and accountability.
Although couched in terms of a commitment to excellence, this deferral tactic and knee-jerk contrariness sound too much like the familiar symptoms of control that Central institutions of higher education, including the premier institutes of technology and of management have learnt to deal with. Centralizing admissions to engineering institutions was based on the assumptions that colleges and universities cannot form and operate their own admissions criteria and procedures. This deferral implies a similar lack of confidence in an institution’s capacity to test and control the quality of a collaborator. In what way would a government body be better at this is what the UGC would explain if it wants to make sense.