All colleges may soon have to get accredited, and foreign varsities will be able to offer joint degrees with Indian universities – without the enactment of laws making accreditation mandatory and allowing foreign institutions entry into India.
With 14 bills aimed at a plethora of higher education reforms stuck at different stages of parliamentary approval, the UPA has decided to try and use existing laws to draw up regulations to circumvent the logjam.
The human resource development (HRD) ministry has asked the University Grants Commission (UGC) to issue regulations that will make it mandatory for all colleges and varsities to get rated by a recognized accreditation firm. The All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) only last week announced that it was creating a new accreditation agency – to be called the Indian Board of Accreditation (IBA) – in addition to the National Board of Accreditation (NBA), the country’s only technical education rating agency at present. “We are trying to move towards making accreditation mandatory,” HRD minister MM Pallam Raju told reporters while announcing the creation of the IBA.
Both the UGC and the AICTE have also recently come out with regulations that create a mechanism that allows foreign universities a foothold in India, allowing them the opportunity for twinning agreements with Indian varsities.
Bills to create a National Accreditation Regulatory Authority that will make it mandatory for universities to get rated by licensed accreditation firms – including private ones – and to allow and regulate foreign educational institutions in India are stuck in parliament.
Repeated disruptions have derailed the functioning of both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha in the last two sessions, and the coming budget session is likely to focus on economic legislations. The 2013 budget will be the UPA’s last full budget before the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
“It is unlikely that it will be possible to devote much effort to getting the education reform bills passed in the budget session,” a senior government official said. “And waiting any later is useless both because it will take time for these reforms to show results, and because there is no guarantee that the Lok Sabha polls won’t be advanced.”
But not all major reforms can be carried out without legislation. A bill to create a single overarching higher education regulator instead of the multiple bodies than govern medical, dental, nursing, technical, legal, architectural and general higher education cannot be bypassed.
The UGC Act – despite its many powers – cannot substitute for a landmark bill that aims to punish institutions and officers that cheat and mislead students. And even the moves to allow foreign universities into India and to make accreditation mandatory will gain more teeth with laws backing them, than with just regulations.
“These regulations are only to stand in for the laws that we hope to pass,” another government official said. “They can be no replacement.”