UGC, the apex Regulating Body for Higher Education, has proposed ‘UGC (Categorization of Universities for Grant of Graded Autonomy) Regulations 2017’, which aim to divide all UGC-recognised public, private and deemed universities into three categories, based on parameters relating to grades / ranking by NAAC / NIRF. UGC has further proposed to amend other Regulations, which grant academic and operational autonomy to these Institutions depending on the grading.
The Commission proposes to categorize Universities into Category I, Category II and Category III and has prescribed parameters for the same.
According to the proposed Regulations, Category I, will comprise of those Universities, which have either accredited by NAAC with a score of at least 3.5 or ranked in the top 50 institutions of National Institutions Ranking Framework (NIRF) for two consecutive years. To be eligible for ‘Category II’, universities should either have been accredited by NAAC with a score between 3.01 and 3.49 or ranked between 51 and 100 in the NIRF ranking. Any University, which is not falling in Category I and II, will fall in Category – III.
Consequence to the grading of the Universities, UGC has proposed amendment in several other Regulations, relating to foreign collaboration, appointment of faculty, deemed universities granting academic and operational autonomy to the Universities, based on their categories.
The most notable departure is in the case of inspection and review of the Category I Institutions, wherein in case there is requirement of any external review by the Commission then it would be sufficient that the institution sends a report to the Commission in a prescribed review format. Similarly, for a Category II institution, the review can be done by the Institution itself through external peer review mechanism wherein the peer team members shall be chosen by the Institution themselves from representatives of Category I institutions, and the review report shall be sent to the Commission after completion of the review.
In terms of academic autonomy, the Scheme for Autonomy of Graded Universities, proposes that a Category I institution may start a new course/programme/Department /school/centre in self financing mode in disciplines that form a part of its existing academic framework without approval of the Commission. A Category I institution may also start skill courses under the guidelines of Ministry of Skill Development in self-financing mode without approval of Commission.
UGC has also proposed to give impetus to research and innovation culture by allowing Category I institution to open research parks, incubation centres, university society linkage centres, in self financing mode, either on its own or in partnership with private partners, without approval of Commission.
All Category I and Category II institutions would be automatically deemed to be under section 12B of the University Grants Commission Act and no inspections by the Commission would be required for the same.
A Category I institution may hire, without approval of the Commission, foreign faculty having academic qualification from an institution figuring in top five hundred of any of the world renowned ranking frameworks (such as the Times Higher Education World University Rankings or QS or Shanghai’s Jiao Tong University), upto 20% of its total faculty strength. The remuneration for such a faculty shall be based on mutual agreement between the Institution and the hired faculty.
Similarly in terms of International Collaborations, Category I Institution, will now require prior approval of Commission for academic tie ups with Foreign Educational Institutions. However, Category – II Institutions, will require the approval of the Commission.
A Category I Institution would be free to admit, without approval of the Commission, additionally foreign students on merit subject to a maximum of twenty percent of the strength of admitted domestic students. The Institution would be free to fix and charge fees from foreign students without restriction.
A Category I Institution, while following the pay scales as laid down by the Commission, may build in an incentive structure to attract talented faculty. Such incentive structure shall be strictly merit based with clear defined transparent and objective criteria and should not be universal. The Commission shall be informed of the incentive structure within thirty days of approval by the statutory bodies of the Institution.
The biggest beneficiaries in case of private sector Institutions, seems to be the Deemed Universities. A category I Deemed University, may conduct joint academic programme(s) with other Universities / institutions deemed to be universities in India and abroad without the prior approval of the Commission. A Category I institution or a Category II institution with accreditation above 3.25 may offer courses in the open and distance learning mode provided it satisfies all the conditions laid down under UGC (Open and Distance Learning) Regulations, 2017.
Similarly, the Deemed Universities, which are categorised in I category, now shall not be limited in terms of off campus, which are earlier limited to five in number.
This is a bold step in liberalising the educational eco-system of the country. UGC has finally realised that excellence cannot be achieved by regulations and it can only be achieved by a sufficient grant of autonomy to the Higher Education Institutions.
Academic and Operational Autonomy is one of the many facets of the fundamental right to establish and administer an educational institution, and the proposed regulations seeks to achieve those manifestations.