Higher education management needs reorganization

University Grants Commission (UGC) is the organization responsible for improving the quality of education in India. Education institutions in India need huge quality improvement. However, the structure of the UGC seems to be an inhibiting factor for achieving its mission.

The Times of India feature, “Varsities fail to utilize UGC plan fund” (May 18, 2016) [2, 3, 4, 5, 6] highlights that the management and operation of the universities in Kerala are in a mess. However, the universities are not the only ones to share the blame.

Your report says, “With less than a year left for the plan period (2012-2017) to expire, there is apprehension that most of the institutions may lose 40% to 50% of the money allocated to them. The objective of this UGC scheme is to improve the infrastructure and basic facilities at universities so as to help them ‘achieve at least the threshold level and promote enhancement of quality.'” The use of funds “includes construction and renovation of buildings, campus development, appointing staff, funding for books and journals, innovative research activities, ICT requirements, health center, creating student amenities, university-industry linkages and publication grant.”

These UGC programs fail miserably as the universities do not even attempt to make an effort. “The major reason for the failure to utilize allocated funds is their inability to take decisions, lack of initiative, leadership and planning.” However, the UGC may share part of the blame. The report adds, “a university registrar who didn’t wish to be quoted said, ‘sometimes universities do prepare projects and spend the money, but it gets stuck as UGC raises objections and reject it.'” In addition, “conflicts between university officials syndicate members as well as the financial and audit teams can lead to confusion and delay and delay in submitting necessary documents. I will inquire into why we have failed to utilize the released grant money,” said MG university vice chancellor Babu Sabastian (“Lack of planning land them in a mess”).

Your feature also points out a critical data: India “spend only 0.6% of GDP on higher education, while in the US it is 2.7%.” This shows there is huge funding gap for higher education in India.

Your feature identifies another important factor for improving education quality: “Trying to solve academic problems through academic reforms alone won’t help, unless one addresses the administrative and financial issues.”

Based on the reports, higher education in India needs drastic reforms.

The current command-and-control model of the UGC needs to be converted into a model based on collaboration. At present, the universities requests grants from the UGC, and UGC approves the grant proposals. But UGC can second-guess the universities and deny the funds. This puts the universities in a bind, since they lack independent funding sources. This is probably the reason for under utilization of UGC grants.

So the fund approval process in the UGC need to separated out from the auditing function. Maybe the audit function can performed by an autonomous agency responsible for auditing all central government funding for all sectors, making it possible to have uniformity in performance, and develop data on funding needs and utilization for all sectors.

Currently, universities are left to their on devices for project planning, management and execution. Since the needs are common, UGC could take the initiative to develop organization and project prototypes for common development needs universities have. And provide know-how and knowledge transfer for effective project planning and execution.

Another problem apparent from the reports is the centralized nature of UGC funding system. Rather than allocating funds at the university level, decentralize funding to smallest-operating-unit level. For example, a chemistry department in a university could request and get funding for improving their lab facilities without involving the whole university bureaucracy. Or, a university facilities department could request and obtain UGC funds for an auditorium without involving all of the university.

Also, why should the funding be based on 5-year plan periods. Each projects has its own natural lifecyle. Many will require less than 5 years, but others may take more than 5 years. Government of India has abolished the socialistic centralized planning. It is high time UGC also abandoned centralized planning vestiges. Instead of plan funds expiring at the end of plan terms, continue to make funds available to deserving projects without having to duplicate proposal activities.

To sum up,

  1. Change current command-control UGC model to a decentralized model based on collaboration.
  2. UGC should provide project/ organization know-how and knowledge transfer for effective project planning and execution to universities.
  3. Eliminate fund expiration at plan periods, but make funds available throughout the lifecycle of deserving projects.
  4. Decentralize, and distribute funds to smallest operating units within universities. For example, students, staff, departments.
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