Saturday, October 4, 2014

Time to think beyond UGC approval

This article started as a reply to : As Delhi High Court Tightens The Rope Around IIPM, Will Fake Universities Take A Hit?

There is an unexamined assumption, and with that, a flawed perception here. Bad as IIPM may be, I think the rationale being used is barking up the wrong tree. How can we assume that any university that has not been officially certified by a centralized standardization agency (which itself is not clear of flaws).. is Fake? Whatever happened to the third bastion of the Autonomous institution : independent in choosing what discourse it gives to those coming to it?
Who gave any UGC or its compliant colleges the right to claim that they alone can define what it means to be an MBA in India, or any academic achievement for that matter? Especially glaring on the author's part here is the missing out of that inconvenient little detail that the best ranked institutions in the world that were referred to in the article, do not obey any centralized agency's diktats; they are autonomous, and they are successful precisely because they are autonomous, precisely because they can design their pedadgogy and everything related on their own. All (or most! Enlighten me if I'm wrong) of the best colleges in the world don't depend on any "UGC" for their legitimacy. Their programmes and their alumni create their legitimacy. Word of mouth, reputation emerging from the success of alumni and proof in the pudding hold higher value on the international higher education scene than any centralized government agency's stamp of approval. 

In light of such a global reality, our attack on IIPM without even bothering to examine and compare their actual programmes with those of the hundreds of pathetic colleges that the UGC has given its stamp of approval to, smacks of hypocrisy.
Forget about IIPM themselves : I have no clue about their actual programmes and if they're just empty pretenders and really lying through their noses to rip off students, then so be their fate. But I would prefer to see that fate decided by the inevitable consequence of alumni and walkouts spilling the beans, rather than a questionable governing agency's stamp of disapproval.

Learning is universal. The UGC does not hold monopoly over how learning, especially higher education, happens. How will we now treat the many emerging educational experiments that are trying to give a fundamentally different kind of higher education to the youth entering their gates? If an autonomous institution imparting valuable education to the youth coming to it, is not even trying to win any UGC's stamp of approval, will we then ruthlessly attack them also as being FAKE? Will be label them also as F.A.L.T.U ? (if you haven't seen the movie then please do) Will we blame them for failing to "win" a recognition that they have never even bothered trying to win? I am especially alarmed by the apparent assertion of this article that any institution to emerge in the future which is not ratified by UGC, is automatically going to be Fake.

This nation's history reminds us of a rich moment of this sort. Around 1920, heeding a nationwide call from Gandhi, several intellectuals and students all over the country walked out of the British-certified institutions and started autonomous independent colleges, like the famous Gujrat Vidyapith in Ahmedabad. They started teaching without bothering to beg for anybody's stamp of approval, taking the discourse in their own hands. And they taught better, fundamentally better, than the mainstream colleges of that time. They nurtured and shaped many of the minds who would go on to co-create an Independent India. Today they may be acknowledged by our governments, but back then they were precisely the "Fake" institutions we're being warned against. What if they too had been chastised with the ferocity being leveled at "unapproved" institutions today?

Look at the higher education scenario in India today. Most of our graduates come out not only learning nothing of value to prospective employers; their ordeal renders them incapable of even the most basic entrepreneurship. And citizenry? Forget it! If you're worried that an IIPM operating without UGC approval will fleece students, then look around you : there are scores of colleges peppered across the country happily fleecing the youth of this country with full UGC approval! The UGC and bodies like it have royally screwed up higher education in India. To continue valuing its holy stamp of approval over and above facts on the ground, is only going to take the Indian education sector ever lower down the tube. 

But a breaking down of traditonal barriers by increasing internet penetration, combined with a realisation among scores of employers that the official degree is simply not giving them the talent they're searching for, is creating a ripe moment for another 1920s-style walking away from traditionally certified structures and blossoming of new ones in the most unexpected of places, that fundamentally rethink the way education is defined and delivered in the 21st century. Perhaps it's really time to think beyond the UGC, time to look again at the "Fake" institutions so our youth can have a Real education.

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