The wait has begun for the quiet burial of the country's apex higher education regulator.
In a clear signal of the winding down of the 54-year-old behemoth, the government plans to avoid appointing a full-fledged chairman to the University Grants Commission after economist Sukhdeo Thorat, officials concede.
The proposed National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER) will subsume many of the roles of the UGC and other regulators, including the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE).
"But the end of the UGC is more than just the creation of a new regulator. It epitomises the end of an era when the government micro-managed higher education. We now want to act as a facilitator," a senior government official said.
While the NCHER will set standards in higher education, the new regulator will relinquish direct control of many other functions of the UGC, including funding universities and testing candidates for teaching jobs.
The NCHER will act against institutions on complaints under a self-disclosure regime that human resource development minister Kapil Sibal is pushing. But the change in philosophy of the Centre isn't the only reason behind the decision to wind down the UGC and AICTE.
The recommendations of the National Knowledge Commission and the Yash Pal Committee - both set up by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh - to replace these institutions with a single overarching regulator came amid a corruption cloud over Indian higher education. AICTE chairman RA Yadav was suspended and is set to be prosecuted by the CBI.
Thorat, who ended his tenure at the UGC earlier this week, has faced repeated corruption allegations though he has rejected all charges.
IAS officer Raju Sharma was repatriated from his post as UGC secretary after he locked horns with Thorat, accusing him of corruption in a Rs 230-crore e-governance project and in the award of recognition to deemed universities.
Final nail in the UGC's coffin possibly came from differences that emerged between the regulator and the HRD ministry over the mess in deemed universities - for which the Centre blames UGC.
The minutes of a meeting of the parliamentary standing committee on HRD on a proposed law to punish colleges that cheat or mislead students state that Thorat told the panel the UGC was not consulted by the Centre.
Thorat has subsequently changed his stance, and said he had clarified to the panel that the UGC had been consulted. The damage, however, has been done.