In its visionary move, central government has proposed to set up Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) replacing the University Grants Commission (UGC), a statutory body under University Grants Commission Act, 1956 through draft Higher Education Commission of India (Repeal of University Grants Commission Act) Act, 2018.
The main concern of the government behind this move is to make place of India among the world’s top 500 universities. Thereby, main thrust has been put on creating separate blocks for regulating the institutes and their funding aspects. HECI is different from UGC in a sense that former will only be associated with “promoting the quality of academic instruction, maintenance of academic standard and ensuring the autonomy of institutes of higher education.” HECI, unlike UGC has no power to sanction grants to the institutes and this domain will fall under the hands of Ministry of Human Resource and Development.
Moreover, HECI has power to shut down those institutions which has lowered down their academic standards which would also attract the penal liability upon them and a detailed procedure has given in the Act for granting the authorization to any institution or university or college in order to ensure their compliance with the better academic standards within a framework of regulatory regime. However, it is remarkable to note that UGC had no such power.
Another facet is, the emerging and challenging issue in India’s education is that “commercialization of education” where private institutes charge exorbitant fee which becomes hurdle in the way of universal, accessible, affordable and quality education because people with lower income can’t even think to approach there. So, HECI will regulate this aspect too.
But, the question is whether creating a uniform body like HECI will solve all the problems associated with the higher education or it will actually contribute in the development of education or not.
By analyzing the whole idea of the picture, one can assume that HECI is an overarching umbrella body which would try to manage and control the institutes of higher education instead of giving them autonomy what they actually require.
Kerala’s Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has rightly pointed out that this ‘unilateral move’ of the central government would restrict the role of the states in regulating the institutes. No doubt, it would affect the spirit of co-operative federalism in the country. Moreover, the Advisory Council which is created under the draft Act has its head Union Minister of HRD which would push it for exerting more governmental influence over the body.
Since past few years, the standard of quality education has fallen down but a new regulatory and legislative regime must provide environment friendly atmosphere taking into account the considerations of the states.
Union Minister of HRD has invited suggestions from various stakeholders on setting up of HECI though the intended action of the government makes it clear that it would be done away with the UGC as soon as possible.
Recently, government has released the list of ‘institution of eminence’ under which IISc, Bengaluru, IIT Bombay, IIT Delhi in public category and Jio Institute by Reliance Foundation, Pune, BITS Pilani and Manipur Institute, Karnataka in private category have been finalized. But it attracted numerous criticisms on the ground that Jio institute is not even in existence then how central government can place it under the category. It is evident that primary focus of government is on technical education and research though these institutions are already having sufficient funds, research tools and capacity to grant quality education. Government must shift its focus towards other institutes, universities and colleges too which are working in the domain of sociology, history, management, law etc.
The government should also focus on improving the primary education which is the basis for higher education and try to make it affordable and accessible to children belonging to lower strata of the society which would pave the way for quality higher education. In our country, right to education is made a fundamental right under Article 21-A but it is still a dream for many. We should equally prioritize the education at ground level otherwise quality and accessibility could not be ensured at the higher level.
In General Comment No. 13, Committee of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights highlighted the value of education in the life of an individual. It was stated that education helps the economically and socially marginalized adults as well as children to participate fully in their communities. Further, the comment laid down four essential features that education must conform with i.e., available, accessible, acceptable and adaptable. Education should only remain a potential tool for transforming the lives of the children. Thus, we need a body which is not politically motivated and subject to whims and fancies of the government’s discretion.
However, the government’s take on Foreign University Bill, 2010 is a welcome step in the alignment of improvement of higher education that would permit the foreign universities to open their branches in India. It would facilitate the quality education, good infrastructure in India itself to those students who want to pursue their higher education from abroad. But, government has to ensure the transparency in the regulatory regime of these universities in order to prevent corruption, unnecessary political interference and commercialization.
(Writer is a budding lawyer at M.P. High Court)