Top economist calls for overhaul of India’s ‘Inspector Raj’ regime

A new HE system based on the UK model should ‘promote rather than regulate’ universities 

April 7, 2020
Source: iStock

India’s powerful University Grants Commission (UGC), which controls funding and standards for the country’s nearly 1,000 higher education institutions, should be closed and replaced with a new Higher Education Promotion Commission (HEPC), a top Indian economist has proposed. 

Arvind Panagariya, a Columbia University professor, makes his case in an upcoming book, India Unlimited: Reclaiming the Lost Glory (2020), which will be published in the UK and US this autumn. He argues that it would require a “revolution” to make Indian universities world-class institutions 

Professor Panagariya told Times Higher Education that, while some private institutions were achieving high quality education and research, they are “just beginning to emerge” and are being scuttled by the UGC’s “central control and one-size-fits-all model.” 

He said that his idea is “substantially influenced” by the UK’s 2017 Higher Education and Research Act, which led to the creation of the Office for Students and UK Research and Innovation. His idea would be to pair the new HEPC with a National Research and Innovation Foundation. 

The Indian government is currently seeking views on its Draft National Education Policy 2019, which was released last June and is expected to be implemented soon. However, Professor Panagariya explains that real change would only come from new legislation to repeal the 1956 UGC Act.  

“Designed along the lines of the then existing regulatory regime in the UK, the system has outlived its utility,” he said. “The UK has reformed its system a number of times since then, but change in India has been slow to come. The UGC centrally controls all aspects of higher education with limited autonomy to colleges and universities.”  

Writing in the Times of India, he compares the UGC to an “Inspector Raj” regime, and also said that the draft National Education Policy was “too complex and unwieldy to yield the desired outcome.” He feels that “the government will do well by considering a simpler, more flexible architecture suitable for the 21st century”. 

His work concludes that India should draw inspiration from three overseas systems: the UK for its regulatory regime, China for its work in “building institutions of excellence”, and the US for its promotion of research. 

“Currently, India spends very little on research, and the bulk of what it spends goes to research councils,” Professor Panagariya said. “The foundation I propose is an instrument to both increase research funding manifold and bring research centrally to universities.” 

He also feels that India should open the doors to globalisation by lifting the UGC ban on overseas branches. “In addition to the Chinese model [of allowing joint venture universities], India should also allow foreign universities to set up campuses on their own,” he said.  

Professor Panagariya, who previously headed NITI Aayog, an Indian government thinktank, said that these changes were long overdue. “This proposal is new and different, but the discussion to replace the current regulatory regime with a new one has been going on for more than a decade,” he said.

joyce.lau@timeshighereducation.com 

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