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NLS Bangalore started a master's degree without UGC approval 2 years ago, now it hopes it can still fix it

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NLSIU Bangalore is vying for the University Grants Commission’s (UGC) permission to allow the college to award its public policy course students the degree for which they signed up for in 2014. The law school has time until August.

NLSIU began a post-graduate course in public policy, for the first time ever, in 2014. It called the course the “Master of Public Policy” – a nomenclature which is used globally, for instance, at the Oxford University and the Harvard Kennedy School. In NLSIU's case, 40 students took admission to the course in 2014 and 49 students took admission in 2015.

However, around four months ago, the law school informed the students of the course that it lacked permission from the UGC to award them a degree with the name “Master of Public Policy”, and if permission was not forthcoming, the degree that would be awarded to them would be an “MA in Public Policy”, where MA stands for Master of Arts.

A source with knowledge of the development confirmed the news and told Legally India that NLSIU had also formed a committee, around three months ago, with three of the course’s faculty members and several MPP students, to prepare a case for the UGC. The aim: to convince the UGC to accept NLSIU’s original "Master of Public Policy"' nomenclature for the program.

According to two sources, NLSIU had requested the UGC for such permission in 2014 too before starting the program, but the UGC had denied permission at the time. It is understood that JGLS Sonepat, The Azim Premji University and the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) had also attempted offering MPP degrees in India, but after also having been denied the UGC’s permission they had changed the nomenclature for their offered post-graduate degree in public policy.

A source with knowledge of the MPP, who declined to be named, said that the course outline of NLSIU’s MPP programme was comparable to global standards and syllabus for such courses, with students undertaking unique clinical workshops, research work and dissertation. The course is taught by “distinguished academics”, said the source, such as ICSSR National Fellow Prof G Hargopal, TISS Prof N Jayaram, former NLSIU registrar Prof Babu Mathew, Osmania university Prof BN Reddy and Dr Abdul Azeez from the Institute of Social and Economic Change.

“An institution such as the NLSIU should not be subject to the same standards [for degree nomenclatures] as mushrooming private universities,” the source commented, adding that after the internal committee submitted its report to NLSIU vice chancellor Prof Venkat Rao this week, and the NLSIU academic council ratified the report, the law school would work with the UGC to expedite the body’s consideration of NLSIU’s case.

He said that it would take at least 15 days to convene an academic council on the issue, after Prof Rao signs the committee’s report.

UGC perspective

In 2013 the UGC had adopted the degree nomenclature recommendations submitted by Indian Law Institute (ILI) Prof Dr Furqan Ahmad’s committee. Since then, the commission does not allow colleges to award any degrees whose name is not included in the recommended list.

The “Master of Public Policy” does not fall on the list.

A source within the UGC told Legally India that after 2013 the commission had become extremely stringent about maintaining uniformity in the application of its rules on degree nomenclatures.

“There is a list of specified degrees which the UGC has, which is essential to maintain uniformity and to maintain standards. Because when one candidate goes from one university to another, if the degree [awarded] is not on the same pattern the issue of equivalence emerges leading to a lot of difficulty. So UGC became strict with respect to adherence to uniformity,” the source commented.

“But you can make a special request to the UGC [for approval of a special nomenclature not on the UGC’s list]. It has been done in the past also. NLSIU did all this at a very late stage, after admitting students.”

“For a Masters in [any stream] the UGC has no objection. But the thing is you should honour the UGC's academic and administrative authority. You can’t try to ignore the UGC because the UGC is also doing these things to make the procedure and processes simple.”

The UGC source added that “it is not a big academic crime that [NLSIU has] done” but the fate of the degree now “depends on the attitude of the people” before whom NLSIU will present its application. Since the commission is far more strict now than it was before 2013, the result could go either way, he said.

Prof Rao commented: “I will stand by whatever the [MPP] course coordinator Prof Japhet says.” NLSIU MPP Prof S Japhet declined to comment when contacted.

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