Govt drops plan to control funding of universities after criticism from states under proposed HECI
According to the draft of the HECI law, the new commission was to exclusively focus on academic matters with monetary grants coming under the purview of the ministry.
The human resources development (HRD) ministry has walked back a provision in a draft law that put it in charge of grants given to institutions of higher education after this was criticised by states and also other stakeholders. Instead, it will create an independent body of experts that does this.
A number of states and experts had also alleged that the provision of an “Advisory Council” — which was to be chaired by the HRD minister — will lead to politicisation and that provision too has been modified in the amended draft Act.
On June 28, the ministry announced its decision to replace the University Grants Commission with the Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) by repealing the UGC Act, 1956 and passing the HECI Act. According to the draft of the new law that was published seeking feedback from stakeholders, the new commission was to exclusively focus on academic matters with monetary grants coming under the purview of the ministry.
The move faced immediate criticism.
A senior HRD ministry official said that the ministry received over 6,000 suggestions and comments as feedback, and that on the basis of those remarks, amended the proposed law. The last date for sending suggestions is till July 20, but major changes have been incorporated in the revised draft, a copy of which has been accessed by HT.
The government is likely to put up the amended law for cabinet approval and table it in Parliament during the monsoon session that begins on Wednesday. A number of states, teachers union and other stakeholders had alleged that putting the HRD ministry directly in charge of grants would result in interference by it. “The proposal to give this power to the HRD ministry has been dropped and this power will be given to an independent body. This would be a body of experts and will operate in a transparent manner by being completely online,” added the HRD ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Tamil Nadu was one of the states that opposed the draft and wanted the existing arrangement with the University Grants Commission (UGC) to continue. Chief minister EK Palaniswami wrote t o Prime Minister Narendra Modi on July 14 saying that his state saw no need to disband UGC, which has both regulatory and financial powers. Puducherry chief minister V Narayanasamy said on July 16 that his government was not in favour of setting up a new panel replacing the UGC.
In the amended draft, the provision of an advisory council has also been dropped and any advice to the states from the government will flow through the existing bodies like the Central Advisory Board on Education (CABE). In the draft the government had suggested an advisory council chaired by the HRD minister with the Chairperson/Vice-Chairperson and members of the Commission (HECI), and Chairperson/Vice-Chairpersons of all State Councils for Higher Education as members. This was criticised by a number of associations and states.
Among other feedback received was one on the appointment of HECI members. The draft said this would be done by a search-cum-selection-committee (ScSc) of secretaries to government. With feedback saying this could lead to bureaucratisation, “the provision has been amended and ScSc will now consist of reputable academicians under the chairmanship of Cabinet secretary,” added the HRD ministry official.
The draft also said HECI would have the power to give authorisation. “We got suggestions that it would lead to centralisation and all existing universities would have to apply to HECI again. So the provision of the existing universities to come to HECI for authorisation has been dropped. Now only the new universities will need to come for authorisation”.
The section on penalties has also been redone, and different penalties have been proposed for various offences.
Some of the highlights of the proposed law include less government and more governance, separation of the grant-related functions from the regulatory ones, the end of inspections, focus on academic quality, powers to enforce compliance with the academic quality standards, and the power to order closure of sub-standard and bogus institutions.
“The design is very clear that they are moving towards privatisation and commercialisation of education. If they were so serious then a due process would have been followed. After seeing the initial reactions they have made certain changes but everything is being done in a rushed manner,” said Rajib Ray, president of Delhi University Teachers Association (DUTA) who had criticised the draft HECI Act.