Govt asks panel led by Prof. Hari Gautam to submit report on improving functioning of UGC

New Delhi : An educationist, who created controversies during the previous NDA regime with attempts to saffronise higher education and directions to universities to introduce Vedic astrology course, has been roped in quietly for restructuring the University Grants Commission (UGC).

The Human Resources Development Ministry issued an order on July 30 setting up a committee headed by Prof. Hari Gautam, a controversial former UGC chairman, and giving it six months time to submit its report. The order says the UGC is unable to do justice to its mandate of regulating higher education institutions.  The committee has been asked to evaluate the UGC’s performance in co-ordinating and determining education standards in universities and regulating them.

It has been also asked to suggest measures for effective regulation of distance education, improving the accreditation system, curbing commercialisation and promoting research.

Prof. Gautam’s choice to head the committee has stirred up academics because of his past attempt in 2001 as then as UGC chairman to promote vedic astrology as a science course in universities.

P M Bhargava, a former director of the Centre of Cellular and Molecular Biology who had unsuccessfully challenged his order in court, said the government appeared to wanting to push the “saffron agenda” by appointing him.

At least one university in Andhra Pradesh is teaching Vedic astrology as a result of the 2001 initiative of Gautam who became chancellor of Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology (KIIT), a private deemed university in Bhubaneswar, in 2008.

Other academics expressed surprise since the government is already sitting over a report submitted in 2009 by a committee on Renovation and Rejuvenation of Higher Education headed by Prof. Yashpal, which suggested the setting up an overarching body — over and above the UGC and the All India Council of Technical Education — to regulate all branches of higher education, including medicine, law, engineering and humanities.  Legal luminary N.R. Madhava Menon, who was a member of Yashpal committee, said the restructuring of UGC was part of the task assigned to the committee.

He said the committee had done substantial work while setting up of a new committee would only delay the process of reforms.

Already pending in Parliament is the Higher Education and Research Bill introduced by the previous UPA government to set up a National Commission for Higher Education and Research as an overarching regulator.

The UPA government

had also set up a panel

under Menon to examine the issues in distance

education. Its recommendations are yet to be fully implemented.

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