The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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UGC pushes varsities to revamp syllabi

New Delhi, Oct. 7: The University Grants Commission is piling pressure on universities to restructure courses. It has sent committees to various universities to persuade academic councils to diversify their syllabi.

The move comes with an incentive: cash-strapped universities will get special funds from the UGC if they follow its recommendations. But the universities have not bitten the bait so far. Their response has been tepid.

“While doing their degrees, students should do parallel add-on skill development courses,” says UGC chairperson Arun Nigavekar.

Of the total 8.5 million students in higher education at present, only 17 per cent are into professional courses like engineering and medicine. The rest --- a whopping 83 per cent --- are studying science, humanities and commerce.

“For these students totalling almost 6.4 million, we want to make education more relevant,” says Nigavekar.

The UGC is suggesting that parallel courses be introduced along with the main one, which would help students get more job opportunities.

For instance, a commerce student can also be admitted to a foreign exchange management or foreign trade course. Or a student doing BA in history can simultaneously do a course in journalism or tourism.

“At the end of one year, the student can be given a certificate, at the end of two years a diploma and at the end of three years an advanced diploma. This will widen job options,” stresses Nigavekar.

If the universities agree to the UGC’s recommendations, there will have to be a change in the composition of academic staff. “We will have to widen the definition of a teacher,” he says.

For example, if a university offers a course in foreign exchange, it can hire the services of a bank professional. “Or if there is a course in event management, event management companies can contribute to the staff,” says Nigavekar.

For existing university staff, the UGC is suggesting refresher-cum-orientation courses in parallel courses. “We feel this will make the teacher more useful to the system. Academic councils should seriously try to face the challenges of higher education,” he says.

According to him, universities in Pune, Bangalore and Mysore are ready to accept the UGC’s suggestions. But there are others like Delhi University, which are refusing to fall in line.

During its recent spat with the UGC, Delhi University teachers had alleged that the commission’s policies were geared towards hurting their community by freezing new appointments. “But we are not reducing the general plan grant. In fact there would be more money in the 10th plan,” says Nigavekar.

He cautions that once the GATT agreement is implemented, Indian universities will face more competition because higher education will be open to foreign universities.

“They will be able to set up universities here as a part of this policy. And we have to make our universities better to face up to the challenge.”

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