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Veda spearhead for UGC rejig

New Delhi, Aug. 5: The Centre has set up a committee on restructuring the UGC under a controversial former chairperson, Hari Gautam.

The human resource development ministry issued an order on July 30 to set up the committee that will evaluate the University Grants Commission’s performance in co-ordinating and determining education standards in varsities and regulating them.

It will also suggest measures for effective regulation of distance education, improving the accreditation system, curbing commercialisation and promoting research.

The choice of Gautam, who was the UGC chairperson when the NDA was in power, to head the panel has drawn the attention of academics. Under Gautam, the UGC in 2001 had asked universities to introduce Vedic astrology as a science course — a move that triggered a huge controversy, with scientists ranged against the proposal.

P.M. Bhargava, a former director of the Centre of Cellular and Molecular Biology who had unsuccessfully challenged that order in court, told The Telegraph the ministry wants to push the “saffron agenda” and had appointed Gautam for this purpose.

“I am not surprised Gautam is the chairperson of the committee. The ministry wants to push the saffron agenda,” Bhargava said.

At least one university, in Andhra Pradesh, is teaching Vedic astrology as a result of the 2001 initiative. Gautam later became chancellor of KIIT, a private deemed university in Bhubaneswar.

The July 30 order says the UGC is unable to do justice to its mandate of regulating higher education institutions. It gives the committee six months to submit its report.

The UPA government had set up a committee on “Renovation and Rejuvenation of Higher Education” under Yashpal in 2008. That committee, in its report in 2009, suggested setting up an overarching body — over and above the UGC and the All India Council of Technical Education — to regulate all branches of higher education, including medicine, law, engineering and humanities.

“At present there is too much compartmentalisation in higher education. As a result, there is not much coordination. Inter-disciplinary approach is missing. We suggested a comprehensive solution,” Yashpal said. “But not much follow-up action has been taken on that report.”

Legal luminary N.R. Madhava Menon, who was a member of Yashpal committee, said the UPA government had introduced the Higher Education and Research Bill providing for setting up of a National Commission for Higher Education and Research as an overarching regulator. The bill is pending in Parliament.

“The restructuring of UGC was part of the Yashpal committee. The committee had done substantial work. Now a new committee has been set up. I think it may delay the process of reforms,” Menon said.

The UPA government had also set up a panel under Menon to examine the issues in distance education. The recommendations are yet to be fully implemented.

No reaction could be obtained from the HRD ministry.