Constructive criticism is welcome, students can question status quo: UGC chief

By, New Delhi
Feb 12, 2022 12:31 AM IST

The former Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) vice-chancellor (V-C)’s appointment comes at a time when higher education is going through a plethora of changes following the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, implementation.

Newly-appointed University Grants Commission (UGC) chairperson M Jagadesh Kumar is a firm believer of constructive criticism. Kumar, who was appointed to the UGC top post last week, advocates the practice of universities encouraging the students to question the status quo.

UGC chairperson M Jagadesh Kumar.
UGC chairperson M Jagadesh Kumar.

The former Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) vice-chancellor (V-C)’s appointment comes at a time when higher education is going through a plethora of changes following the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, implementation.

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Since taking charge, he has already conducted a meeting with the V-Cs of all the central universities to discuss the NEP implementation on their respective campuses.

Excerpts from the interview

What will be your foremost priority as the UGC chairperson?

My immediate priority is to ensure that the NEP 2020 is implemented in a time-bound manner. We need to prioritize the elements of the policy. Certain decisions like academic bank of credits (ABC), multidisciplinary education, and multiple entry-exits can be implemented in a shorter duration.While others like improving the gross enrolment ratio (GER) and giving autonomy to educational institutions, will require long-term planning. Besides, we are soon rolling out the Central Universities EntranceTest (CUET) for the universities under the NEP implementation.

Should we expect a notification regarding CUET for universities soon?

Yes, the notification will be released at the earliest and will be executed from this year only. All central universities will use this test for undergraduate admissions. Even state universities can opt for it. The admission process of the universities won’t be affected by it. For instance, if universities have certain seats reserved, they will continue with that. For central universities, there will be a uniform policy to decide upon the weightage to be given to the entrance test score and Class 12 marks for the admissions.

Under NEP, the government is setting up a Higher Education Commission of India (HECI). How will it affect the policy?

After the HECI is established, all other regulatory bodies, including UGC and All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) will be merged with it. It is a long-term process but we cannot wait for HECI to be formed to start executing the NEP.

The Centre constituted a committee to prepare a framework for Indian universities to set campuses abroad. Any progress?

I am also a member of that committee. We have already conducted a few meetings and we will be talking to the ambassadors and high commissioners of India located abroad, who welcome the Indian educational system. There are many such countries in the Middle East, Central Asia, and North Africa. So, we are looking for two things before establishing the campuses: A country that is looking forward to getting benefitted by the Indian higher education system, and where the population of Indians is large. Besides, we need to consider everything in terms of finances and infrastructure availability. Many IITs, including IIT-Delhi, are also willing to set up campuses abroad.

Closure of campuses amid Covid-19 has created a huge learning gap and deprived students of practical knowledge. Is UGC planning to come up with some bridge courses?

The learning loss amid pandemic is a global phenomenon. The students have lost two precious years. How it will affect them psychologically and how it will impact their growth individually, these are open questions which the entire world is facing. Unfortunately, there is no fixed solution to address these issues because every institution has a unique and diverse system. Therefore, the UGC has advised all the universities to take feedback from students, understand their challenges and then design the semesters accordingly.

As the UGC chief, what do you think about the students protesting on campuses?

I always encourage my students to question the status quo. That’s the only way we can bring change in our system. I encourage them to question me, to think critically and differ with me. And, one form of questioning is to protest. It’s one way of giving feedback to the system. It implies that something needs to be improved.Universities should play a greater role in giving that opportunity to the students. In JNU also, we have a huge ground (Sabarmati ground) for all kinds of protests. But my only request to the students is to do that peacefully and in a lawful manner.

What do you think about the backlash faced by the newly appointed JNU V-C?

A person in public position is always open to scrutiny. We are funded by the public so we are answerable to them. The idea is to improve the system and not weaken it. As long as it is constructive criticism, constructive feedback, it should always be welcomed.

Will you continue teaching?

Yes. In fact, I took a lecture at IIT-Delhi before coming here today. Teaching is my passion and I will always want to be known as a teacher first.

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    Fareeha Iftikhar is a principal correspondent with the national political bureau of the Hindustan Times. She tracks the education ministry, and covers the beat at the national level for the newspaper. She also writes on issues related to gender, human rights and different policy matters.

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