New Delhi, Oct. 2: The government has been sitting on appointments to key posts in the University Grants Commission, forcing the higher education regulator to make do with an ad hoc arrangement although two search panels had shortlisted possible candidates at least four months ago.
The six-decade-old UGC, mandated to determine standards of education in around 800 universities and 40,000 colleges in India, has been functioning without a regular chairman and vice-chairman for the past six months.
The posts of two other members in the 11-member commission are also vacant for over six months now.
Professor V.S. Chauhan, a commission member, has been holding charge as chairperson since April. The charge, given for six months, ends on October 3.
The post of vice-chairman has been vacant too since Professor H. Debaraj completed his tenure in March this year.
J.S. Sandhu, the secretary till August, has joined as the vice-chancellor of Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar. P.K. Thakur is officiating as the secretary.
Academics say the truncated regulator is more susceptible to giving in to pressure from the government. "The person officiating as the head of an institution is vulnerable to various kinds of pressure. It becomes easy for the government to get its agenda passed without much scrutiny," said a senior teacher at Jamia Millia Islamia.
The teacher said a truncated UGC does not augur well at a time the government is talking about bringing in reforms in higher education.
Sources in the human resource development ministry said a search panel headed by higher education secretary K.K. Sharma had conducted interviews for the post of vice-chairman in April and had submitted a list since then.
Another search panel, headed by academic and yoga expert H.R. Nagendra, conducted interviews in May this year for the chairman's post.
According to the sources, the shortlisted candidates include National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) chairman D.P. Singh; former vice-chancellor of Himachal Pradesh University A.D.N. Bajpai, and Delhi Technological University vice-chancellor Yogesh Singh.
No decision has been taken yet on the recommendations.
Sources said after Chauhan's six-month responsibility as chairman ends, senior members, like Professor Inder Mohan Kapahy or Professor M. Jagadesh Kumar may be given charge.
Jagadesh Kumar is now vice-chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University.
A UGC official said the panel had recently embarked upon a number of reforms, including graded autonomy for institutions based on their quality and grant of institution of eminence status to 20 institutions to enable them to achieve greater excellence.
Among other reforms are changes in the accreditation framework and amendments to the deemed university regulation to provide for time-bound decision-making on applications for deemed status.
Professor Kesav Kumar, who teaches in the philosophy department at Delhi University, said ad hocism in the UGC was a "symptom of the larger neglect" the higher education sector was witnessing now.
"Initially the government had ambitious plans for saffronisation of higher education. Now higher education altogether is not their priority. The government is undermining institutions," he said.
The professor said institutions have been asked to generate funds of up to 30 per cent of the additional cost for implementation of the revised pay package. The National Eligibility Test for selection of assistant professors is being held once instead of twice a year. The UGC's admission norms have reduced the intake of research students.