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UGC counsel confounds campuses

New Delhi, July 17: What do good universities like? Handloom and weapons of mass destruction. What do good universities avoid? "Elements" that promote terrorism.

After angering some varsities with what they deemed officious diktats, India's higher education regulator has now targeted campuses with weapons of mass confusion.

Three letters issued by the University Grants Commission on July 15 and 16 have left many of India's 700 universities scratching their heads. The advisories:

♦ Make handloom fabrics mandatory at your convocations.

"Avoid", while drawing up journalism courses, "elements" that may promote terrorism.

♦ Make weapons of mass destruction, disarmament, and the peaceful uses of chemistry part of your curricula.

Gravest matters first. Terrorism is a grave threat that requires extraordinary and multi-pronged action by all organs of government and society, one of the letters says.

"Therefore media policy should include principles of self-restraint. The institutions imparting education in mass communication and journalism need to be sensitised to avoid such elements which may advance agenda of terrorism," commission secretary Jaspal S. Sandhu wrote.

But he didn't explain whether "elements" meant "people" or "study material". So, should budding reporters be taught to avoid talking to terrorists or people sympathetic to militant ideologies?

Sociologist and Delhi University professor Satish Deshpande said the piece of advice was vague without an explanation of "such elements".

Perhaps the commission will issue a clarification, he conjectured, adding: "One would presume that any educational institution would be promoting peace and harmony."

Commission chairman Ved Prakash told The Telegraph that "elements" referred to "content". He failed to cite a single "element" from any journalism course that he thought might promote terrorism.

One of the other letters said: "You are requested to kindly take necessary measures for inclusion of vital issues such as weapons of mass destruction, disarmament and peaceful use of chemistry in university curricula."

It did not clarify which courses these topics should come under - chemistry, political science, modern history?

"What's wrong with creating awareness on such issues?" Prakash asked.

The third letter said that wearing ceremonial robes made of "handloom fabric" at convocations would give participants a sense of pride in being Indian and would be more comfortable to boot in hot and humid weather.

"The honourable Prime Minister has emphasised on revival of handloom and improving the earning of handloom weavers," the letter said.

"Handloom fabric not only forms an integral part of our rich culture and heritage but also provides livelihood opportunity to lakhs of people living in rural areas."

The vice-chancellor of a state university, who didn't want to be quoted, questioned the commission's authority to issue such advisories saying its mandate was just to help maintain standards at universities.

Recently, the regulator had attracted charges of exceeding its brief by releasing "model" syllabuses on various subjects and asking all universities to follow them with at best a 20 per cent deviation, later relaxed to 30 per cent.

The vice-chancellor said every university had its own dress code for convocations, and attempts to impose uniformity ran counter to the spirit of diversity the institutions had been built on.

Prakash would not comment on this one.

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