UGC letter to central universities on courses based on students’ demand draws ire of teachers’ body

The University Grants Commission (UGC) has written to central universities citing Union government instructions that courses should be taught based on demand from students, drawing criticism from a teachers’ body that it will lead to job losses and weaken language and social science departments.

In its communication dated December 28, 2021, the UGC said that the Ministry of Education had on November 30 written to it conveying its observation that some departments have been started in central universities “without any assessment of the number of students interested in such courses”.

“Therefore, it is requested that you may conduct the courses based on the demand of the students and the number of students attending a particular course and do a rationalization of all Departments within the sanctioned number of students and teaching staff aligned with the number of students enrolled in such courses,” the UGC wrote to the registrars of all central universities on December 28.

In a statement Tuesday, the Delhi University Democratic Teachers’ Front (DTF) criticised the move, saying the government should not be guided by job prospects only while deciding on such matters.

“This UGC advice will not only see small language and some social science Departments closing down across universities and colleges and loss of jobs for teachers and scholars but also truncate growth of research in these areas. It will weaken these subjects at the school level too. This exposes the farcical NEP (National Education Policy, 2020) propaganda that it emphasizes on languages and diversity,” the teachers’ front said.

The UGC, in its communication to the registrars, also cited a May 26, 2020 note of the Department of Higher Education in which the Centre had set certain norms on the number of departments that can be opened in a central university in the initial five years of their operations, keeping in mind the number of potential students expected to sign up.

Referring to that guideline, a UGC official said on condition of anonymity that the apprehensions over the latest UGC communication are “misplaced” as it is a reiteration of existing guidelines that central universities should launch courses and departments after a thorough assessment of demand from students.

“The universities should promote any course they want to launch and raise awareness among students. But there may be a case where there are very few or no takers for a course even after attempts by a particular university to promote it. Going ahead with the launch of that course or department in such a situation cannot be encouraged considering the UGC funds them. The letter makes it clear that some universities launched departments without following the laid down norms,” a senior official said.

The official also rejected suggestions that the directive will disproportionately hit language and social science departments. “The demand for high quality liberal arts education has not reduced. But the policies also need to be attuned to the 21st century marketplace of ideas,” the official added.

Meanwhile, the DTF has also expressed fear that the decision to rationalise will disproportionately hit ad-hoc teachers. “Any such move is unacceptable especially in DU, where 4,500 teachers have been working on an ad-hoc basis for the last several years,” it said.

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