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Capt Amarinder Singh govt overrules AG, to set up regulator for universities

Politics over education: Cabinet panel to meet on Monday; govt says need to rein in ‘teaching shops’ in the interest of students; private varsities fear it may lead to ‘inspector raj’.

punjab Updated: Oct 26, 2017 11:41 IST
Sukhdeep Kaur
Sukhdeep Kaur
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Capt Amarinder Singh,Atul Nanda,Punjab AG
Punjab CM Capt Amarinder Singh and Punjab advocate general (AG) Atul Nanda.(HT Photo)

The Captain Amarinder Singh-led government has decided to set up a state regulator to oversee its thriving private universities, despite opposition from within. The regulatory body will have say over both private and government universities and colleges in the state.

Academician, not bureaucrat to be regulator
  • A lobby within the government believes that the move to set up a state regulator is prompted by the CM’s keenness to appoint a specific individual tothe said post. “The name of an acclaimedacademician has been finalised. No bureaucrat, sitting or retired, will be made the head,” sources close to the CM said.

The decision is despite a contrary opinion of Punjab advocate general (AG) Atul Nanda. In a 20-page written opinion to the higher education department, Nanda has not favoured the move. Speaking to HT, higher education minister Aruna Chaudhary said, “The AG has opined that education falls in the concurrent list and that the Centre’s law will prevail over that of the state in such cases.”

Private universities and colleges are already regulated by central bodies such as the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE).

When contacted, Nanda said the government had sought his opinion on the proposed legislation. “It will be taken into consideration, but it is not the final word,” he said.

“We are in favour of quality education and transparency. But the government needs to encourage investment in private higher education.”

A cabinet sub-committee, headed by health and medical education minister Brahm Mohindra, and comprising Chaudhary, along with technical education minister Charanjit Singh Channi, will meet on Monday to take a final call on the issue.

“We have taken views from all stakeholders. Ministers of all three departments, along with secretaries, will hold elaborate discussion on it and put up the report before the CM,” Mohindra said.

However, Chaudhary said the government has decided to go ahead with the proposal. “A state regulator will be set up and the issue will be brought before the cabinet soon,” she said.

Meanwhile, sources close to the CM said he himself is keen on the move. “In the interest of students, the CM wants that there should be some kind of state regulation. Private universities and colleges cannot be allowed to thrive as teaching shops without being made accountable for admissions, exorbitant fee structure, ghost faculty, number of seats, teaching and research standards,” a senior official in the chief minister’s office said.

However, the move is also facing resistance from powerful lobby of private universities in the state. Punjab boasts of having some of the biggest private universities in the country, like Lovely Professional University, Chitkara University and Chandigarh University. The lobby sees this move as a “return to inspector raj”.

'Set up council not regulator'

Speaking on the issue, Satnam Singh Sandhu, chancellor of Chandigarh University and chairperson of Chandigarh Group of Colleges, said, “We are all in favour of quality education and transparency. But the government needs to encourage investment in private higher education.”

He added, “We are already complying with norms set by the UGC and AICTE. Setting up a state regulator will result in over-regulation, akin to the inspector-raj. Instead, we have proposed to the government panel that industry and academia should be brought on a common platform through an education promotion council and we should work together to meet the requirements of the industry. The courses can be changed to make youth more employable.”

Punjab boasts of having some of the biggest private universities in the country, like Lovely Professional University, Chitkara University and Chandigarh University.

Besides this, he said the government should also study model adopted by Himachal Pradesh to know if the state gained or suffered after setting up a regulator. “Has the regulatory commission helped in boosting research and education standards in universities in Himachal Pradesh,” he asked.

The move to set up a state regulator for private colleges and universities was first mooted during the previous SAD-BJP government which passed acts in the state assembly to accord university status to 15 of the 16 private universities presently in the state. Only Lovely Professional University was set up in 2005, during the previous Congress regime. Furthermore, the government’s interest in them go beyond education since they are also moneybags and can boost a party’s political fortunes.

First Published: Oct 26, 2017 11:32 IST