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Manmohan Singh says UGC should now play a role of national `think-tank'
The Prime Minister of India Dr. Manmohan Singh suggested that the University Grants Commission (UGC) should now play the role of a national ‘think-tank’ and organize a professional and purposeful discourse about issues that have a close bearing on the sound management of Higher Education system in our country.

Speaking at the Diamond Jubilee celebrations of UGC, he said that the integrity and authenticity of basic statistics about our institutions of Higher Education are critical for informed policy planning and strategic interventions. This points out to the need for strengthening the university information management system on a priority basis, he added

 As the principal regulator of Higher Education, the UGC has done very well so far. However, he deplored that the tasks that lie ahead require fresh thinking and innovative ways of doing things. According to him, this period has also seen a very rapid expansion of the Higher Education system. Several new institutes have been set up, including 23 new Central Universities, 7 Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), 9 Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), 10 National Institutes of Technology (NITs), 5 Indian Institutes of Science Education & Research (IISERs), 4 Indian Institutes of Information Technology ( IIIT), and 2 Schools of Planning and Architecture (SPAs).

Dr. Manmohan Singh said that the government also made a sincere effort to leverage the potential of Information and Communications Technology to strengthen the Higher Education system. The National Mission on Education through Information and Communications Technology (NMEICT) was launched in the year 2009. So far about 400 universities and 20,000 colleges have been provided high speed broad-band connectivity under this mission. Under the National Program on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL), web and video courses are being developed for engineering and humanities streams. 

He said that the recently launched Rashtriya Uchttar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA), recognizes the importance of the State Higher Education institutes which cater to a majority of the students receiving Higher Education in our country. It aims to create 278 new universities and 388 new colleges and to convert 266 colleges to Model Degree Colleges by the end of the 13th Five Year Plan, besides providing infrastructure grants to 286 State universities and 8500 State colleges.

With the recent approval of the National Skill Qualifications Framework (NSQF), he said that our country now has an integrated and unified qualifications framework linking technical & vocational education on the one hand with general education on the other. This is a part of our efforts to encourage skill development in a big way so that a trained workforce is available to meet the needs of our growing economy and new opportunities for productive employment are created in large numbers, he added. He said that it will now be possible for people who have acquired training through non-formal channels to get their skills certified and therefore get better opportunities in the formal job market. 

Dr Manmohan Singh advised that our university system needs to put much more emphasis on research and more specifically on enhancing the number and quality of the doctoral programs. It is important to note that inter-disciplinary perspectives are the cornerstone of present day research. We must therefore ensure that inter-disciplinary research takes firm roots in the culture of our universities. 

“We must reverse today’s situation where individual departments largely operate as islands, and there should be greater focus on problems that engage the faculty in inter-disciplinary research. A substantive research initiative should also be designed to specifically address issues of critical national importance like climate change and disaster management”, he added.

He felt that there is also an urgent need for strengthening the university – industry interface to give a boost to Research and Development. This would be of immense benefit both to the university system and Indian Industry at large. Today, he deplored that our universities depend largely on research grants for undertaking research. Greater support from Industry will not only lead to better research outcomes but also enable Industry to utilize these outcomes for meaningful practical application. It may be worthwhile on the part of our university academics to make a detailed study of how this interface works in other countries so that we can replicate the international best practices. 

The Prime Minister said that the ability of our universities to promote innovation excellence in teaching and research requires that they operate in an environment of academic freedom. This requirement of academic autonomy has to be balanced with the need for ensuring accountability. He reaffirmed that his Government stands committed to putting in place appropriate policies and institutional structures for ensuring the academic autonomy of the institutes of Higher Education in our country. 

Although the demand for Higher Education has increased enormously over the years, he deplored that the Central and State Governments’ financial support to institutions of higher education has declined in real terms.

New models of financing higher education, based on well-established norms, and improvements in the existing system of funding by the Central and State governments, therefore, are critical concerns. State universities in particular require focused attention and support to improve their quality of teaching and research. He said that the Rashtriya Uchhtar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA) 

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