The UGC was first formed in 1945 to oversee the work of the three Central Universities of Aligarh, Banaras and Delhi. Its responsibility was extended in 1947 to cover all Indian universities.
In August 1949 a recommendation was made to reconstitute the UGC along similar lines to the University Grants Committee of the United Kingdom. This recommendation was made by the University Education Commission of 1948–1949 which was set up under the chairmanship of S. Radhakrishnan "to report on Indian university education and suggest improvements and extensions". In 1952 the government decided that all grants to universities and higher learning institutions should be handled by the UGC. Subsequently, an inauguration was held on 28 December 1953 by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the Minister of Education, Natural Resources and Scientific Research.
In November 1956 the UGC became a statutory body upon the passing of the "University Grants Commission Act, 1956" by the Indian Parliament.
Private universities are approved by the UGC. They can grant degrees but they are not allowed to have off-campus affiliated colleges. As of 6 October 2017[update], the UGC list of private universities lists 282 universities.
The University Grants Commission (UGC) has also released the list of 24 fake universities operating in India. UGC has said that these 24 self-styled, unrecognized institutions functioning in contravention of the UGC Act have been declared as fake and are not entitled to confer any degrees.
UGC, along with CSIR currently conducts NET for appointments of teachers in colleges and universities. It has made NET qualification mandatory for teaching at graduation level and at post-graduation level since July 2009. However, those with PhD are given five percent relaxation.
In 2009, the Union Minister of Human Resource Development, Kapil Sibal made known the government of India's plans to consider the closing down of the UGC and the related body All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), in favour of a higher regulatory body with more sweeping powers. This goal, proposed by the Higher Education and Research (HE&R) Bill, 2011, intends to replace the UGC with a National Commission for Higher Education & Research (NCHER) "for determination, coordination, maintenance and continued enhancement of standards of higher education and research". The bill proposes absorbing the UGC and other academic agencies into this new organisation. Those agencies involved in medicine and law would be exempt from this merger "to set minimum standards for medical and legal education leading to professional practice". The bill has received opposition from the local governments of the Indian states of Bihar, Kerala, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, but has received general support.
On 27 June 2018, the Ministry of Human Resource Development announced its plans to repeal the UGC Act, 1956. A bill was expected to be introduced in the 2018 monsoon session of the Parliament, which if passed would have led to the dissolution of the UGC. The bill also stipulated formation of a new body, the Higher Education Commission of India (HECI). This form of the bill was ultimately dropped in the face of strong political opposition, and was reworked in 2019 in order to gain political consensus. As of mid-2020 the UGC continues to remain in existence. Ministry of Human Resource Development, MHRD, was renamed as 'Ministry of Education'.
On 13 April 2022 The University Grants Commission of India (UGC India) announced to allow the students to complete two academic programmes simultaneously keeping in view the proposals outlined in the National Education Policy - NEP 2020 which emphasizes the need to enable multiple pathways to learning involving both formal and non-formal education modes.
In a joint notification with All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), University Grants Commission advised Indian nationals & overseas citizens of India against pursuing higher education in Pakistan stating that any such student with a degree from an educational institution in Pakistan “shall not be eligible for seeking employment or higher studies in India”.The notification also stated that this will not be applicable to migrants who have been granted Indian citizenship and have obtained security clearance from MHA.
^"Central Universities". mhrd.gov.in. Ministry of Education. Archived from the original on 3 March 2012. Retrieved 13 March 2012.
^"Consolidated list of Central Universities as on 12.12.2018" (PDF). UGC. 12 December 2018. Retrieved 13 January 2019.
^"List of State Universities as on 06.10.2017" (PDF). University Grants Commission. 6 October 2017. Retrieved 30 October 2017.
^"Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology (IISST) Thiruvanathapuram Declared as Deemed to be University". Union Human Resource Development Ministry, Press Information Bureau. 14 July 2008. Retrieved 3 September 2011.
^"List of Institutions of higher education which have been declared as Deemed to be Universities as on 06.10.2017" (PDF). University Grants Commission. 6 October 2017. Retrieved 30 October 2017.
^"Listing of Homi Bhabha National Institute as deemed university". ugc.ac.in. University Grants Commission. Retrieved 13 September 2011.
^"State-wise List of Private Universities as on 6.10.2017" (PDF). Ugc.ac.in. University Grants Commission. 6 October 2017. Retrieved 30 October 2017.
^"UGC releases list of 24 fake universities". ugc.ac.in (Press release). University Grants Commission. 7 October 2020. Retrieved 7 October 2020.
^"CSIR UGC 2013". Archived from the original on 2 October 2013. Retrieved 29 September 2013.