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Big Brother UGC casts its eyes over IITs

- Told to rename course and change duration, tech schools cite rules to assert autonomy

New Delhi, Aug. 21: The University Grants Commission’s sudden crusade to impose uniformity on course names and durations has now triggered a clash with India’s premier tech schools after similar confrontations with Delhi University and the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.

The Indian Institutes of Technology have objected to a notification by the higher education regulator that would force them to truncate and rename their four-year Bachelor of Science (BS) courses or add a year to their five-year combined BTech-MTech programmes.

The commission notification, published in the Gazette of India last month, lists the nomenclature and duration of the 129 degrees it recognises and asks India’s 700-odd degree-granting institutions to adhere to the specifications.

“We are not taking cognisance of the commission’s letter,” IIT Kanpur’s dean of academic affairs, Dheeraj Sanghi, told The Telegraph.

IIT Kharagpur director P.P. Chakrabarti has written to higher education secretary Ashok Thakur challenging the commission’s authority over the blue-riband tech schools on the ground that they are governed not by the UGC Act of 1956 but by the Institutes of Technology Act, 1961.

He wrote that the IITs were empowered to “institute their own degrees and courses of study” without the need to seek the regulator’s approval, asking that this be conveyed to the commission to remove its confusion about the institutes’ autonomy.

But the human resource development ministry, which governs education, has taken the regulator’s side and cited a technical point: the 1961 act does not define “degrees”. So, the ministry says, the 1956 and 1961 acts should be construed in tandem and not to the exclusion of each other.

The ministry has asked IIT Kharagpur to list its degrees that do not conform to the commission notification and work out a solution in consultation with the regulator.

All the IITs stand with the Kharagpur and Kanpur institutes, whose officials have been quoted, in the matter. Institute sources explained their problems with the notification:

Following it would mean changing the name of the BS programme, offered by IIT Kanpur in physics, chemistry, mathematics & scientific computing, and economics — to BSc and cutting its duration from four years to three.

The programme was started in 2011 and its first batch of 150-odd students is to graduate next year. The commission’s list does not include the BS.

The duration of the dual five-year programmes (BTech-MTech or BS-MS) that most of the IITs offer would have to be increased to six years — the sum of the two degrees’ prescribed durations.

This is so because the tech schools issue separate certificates and mark sheets for the two degrees. Under commission rules, only combined courses that award a single certificate at the end of the course can compress the duration — by up to 20 per cent.

Job handicap

However, the commission directive restricts some students’ job options. For instance, the post of assistant professor in a central university requires applicants to have scored at least 65 per cent in their master’s exam.

But those earning an integrated MSc/PhD, a degree offered by many universities, get just one certificate for PhD. They cannot show how much they scored in MSc.

Some government jobs too demand a certain percentage score in the graduation exam, but those who have obtained an integrated master’s do not receive a graduation mark sheet and become ineligible.

Asked about this, commission chairperson Ved Prakash merely said the universities offering these combined courses must inform the students that they would not be eligible for certain jobs.

The IITs say that faculty recruitment norms, at least, must be left to the institutes and not decided by the government or the commission.

‘Anti-research’

Sanghi, the Kanpur dean, said the idea behind the BS and dual degrees was to encourage bright students to take up research. The BS has a substantial research component, and any undergraduate who enrols for the dual degree has to complete the master’s component too, which includes research.

“Prescribing a uniform standard will go against innovation and research, and the interests of bright students,” Sanghi said.

He added that the IITs do not receive funds from the commission, and their academic matters are decided by the IIT Council and the senate of each institute.

A ministry official held out some hope, saying the commission “may be asked” to include the BS course in its list since it is a research-oriented programme.

So far, though, the commission has tended to have its way since it began championing the 10+2+3 formula advocated by the National Policy on Education, 1986, after the new government came to power.

It arm-twisted Delhi University into abandoning its four-year undergraduate course --- a BJP poll promise --- after a year’s silence following the programme’s launch.

It then asked IISc Bangalore to drop its four-year BS programme, triggering accusations of “meddling” from the students’ parents. The premier science institute has now bought peace by offering to change the degree’s name to BSc (Research), which will stay a four-year programme.

Sources had earlier said the programme would offer an exit option at the end of three years but IISc director Anurag Kumar has denied this.

Commission chairperson Ved Prakash said the notification was issued to ensure that all degrees issued in India were recognised everywhere in the country.

He said many universities had launched “peculiar” courses such as BCL (Bachelor of Civil Law) and BSS (Bachelor of Social Studies), which could land the graduates in trouble if other universities, where they might go for higher studies, did not recognise these degrees.

IIT degrees, though, have a brand value in India and abroad.