Govt to increase checks on private universities

Fake degrees, irregularities in finance, threefold increase in complaints have forced the govt and UGC to take a close look at state private universities


Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint

New Delhi: The Union government will tighten oversight of private universities, which have grown almost 14-fold in the last nine years, as complaints of malpractices against them have multiplied.

Fake degrees, irregularities in finance and other operations, and a threefold increase in complaints in the last couple of years have forced the government and higher education regulator University Grants Commission (UGC) to take a close look at state private universities, said two government officials, requesting anonymity.

The loosely regulated state private universities, popularly known as private universities, are created by an Act of state legislature and enjoy a lot of freedom in academic and other matters.

The rise in the number of private universities have come amid close government scrutiny on deemed universities, or those created by executive orders of the Union government, because of quality concerns.

“In recent times, the number of complaints received from such universities has almost doubled from what HRD ministry and UGC received against deemed universities. Irregularities call for a close scrutiny,” said the first government official.

“Private participation in education is a good thing in India, but administrators have a role to play in checking the quality and restricting fraudulent activities in the name of education,” the official said.

In the last several months, UGC has sent expert committees to at least 137 private universities and prepared inspection reports. Most of these universities have been asked to rectify shortcomings and submit action-taken reports by July.

“At least three universities, including one in Rajasthan and two from north-eastern states, have been found fit to be shut down and the UGC has advised states for the same, said the first official, without disclosing the names, as a formal announcement in this regard is expected soon.

A second official said that while there has been a lot of focus on deemed universities and their quality, private universities have grown faster, “without much to show” in terms of quality. Several million students are pursuing higher education in such institutions.

“In the last three years, the number of complaints received against such universities were nearly 750, as against 400 such complaints from deemed universities. And the nature of complaints were more serious from such state private universities,” said the second official.

As of 16 February, India had 744 universities, including 46 central universities, 123 deemed universities, 343 state government universities and 232 state private universities. But in the last two months, five more private universities have started operations, and the government is likely to give a statement to the Parliament on private universities in the second leg of the budget session that starts on Monday.

In 2007, there were only 16 private universities among 368 universities in India, according to government data.

While the total number of universities has doubled in the last nine years, private universities have grown 14-fold in the same period.

“As education administrators, both the HRD ministry and the UGC are answerable to the Parliament, and when questions are asked, there should be tangible answers,” said the second official, adding it has come to their notice that even some politicians have “apparently procured illegal degrees” from some of these institutions.

The private sector has played a key role in higher education, despite it being young as a sector, said Ashok Mittal, chancellor of Lovely Professional University, a private university in Punjab.

“Private education providers need support to grow and help achieve education missions of India. In every sector, there are bad apples. If the country wants to achieve 30% gross enrolment ratio in higher education (from 22% now) in the next few years, private investment in education is key,” said Mittal.

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