HECI: Great expectations

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“To draw you must close your eyes and sing.”

– Pablo Picasso

 

After demonetization, the BJP-led NDA government is going to take another major decision, this time it is pertaining to the education sector.  There has been a lot of hue and cry as the government set in motion its plan to dissolve the University Grants Commission (UGC) and replace it with a new Higher Education Commission of India (HECI). “This Act provides for establishing the Higher Education Commission of India repealing the University Grants Commission Act, 1956,” said the draft bill which is open for public feedback till 7 July. The HECI will be the new apex regulator for university and higher education in India. It has to set benchmarks for academic performance, ensure that institutions adhere to these and act against those that violate standards. There were only 20 universities and 500 colleges with a total enrolment of 0.21 million students when the UGC was set in motion in 1956. The scenario has changed since than with the increase in number of universities, colleges and student enrollment. The plan to scrap the UGC has been in the works for several years now due to the changed scenario. A similar restructuring was discussed and promoted by the previous United Progressive Alliance government but could not become a law due to lack of support from the parliament. Over the last four years, the HRD ministry has deliberated on several models like a single regulator for higher education by merging UGC, National Council of Teacher Education (NCTE) and All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE); however, the plans were not taken forward.

The UGC reform was part of the BJP’s general election manifesto in 2014. “The draft Act is in accordance with the commitment of the government for reforming the regulatory systems that provide more autonomy to higher educational institutes to promote excellence and facilitate holistic growth of the education system,” Human resource development (HRD) minister Prakash Javadekar said in a tweet. HECI will have its task cut out. For this reason, the Centre should have given sufficient time to submit considered opinions on the draft proposals and ten-day (from June 27 to July 7) is too less a time to submit opinion on crucial subjects like this one.

Why does the government want to close the UGC down? There is no clarity from the government on this aspect. The UGC, according to the government, failed to keep an eye on several issues because its entire function is geared towards the disbursal of grants rather than regulation. So, the new commission will not have grant-making authority, will promote reduced inspection system and will focus more on quality outcome at universities and colleges. It is now evident that the HRD Ministry will do the funding. If it happens (ministry takes care of finance of universities) the danger of political interference increases. Moreover, three government secretaries will be included in this organisation. This again will strengthen the government’s control over decision-making. So, we cannot expect the HECI to function as an autonomous body.  It’s good that the new regulator’s singular focus will be on quality. If HECI is able to come out of the UGC mould and bring in implementable parameters, it will have a lasting impact on higher education.

 

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