Insights into Editorial: Reform 101: On higher education

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Insights into Editorial: Reform 101: On higher education


 

               

 

Context:

In a landmark decision, a Higher Education Commission of India (Repeal of University Grants Commission Act) Bill 2018 (HECI) which seeks to repeal UGC Act and provides for setting up of Higher Education Commission of India has been prepared by the Ministry of HRD and placed in public domain for comments and suggestions. The focus of Higher Education Commission of India will be on improving academic standards and the quality of Higher Education.

It has embarked on a process of reform of the regulatory agencies for better administration of the higher education sector. In fulfilment of the above, several reform measures have already been launched viz, reform of NAAC, Regulation for grant of Graded Autonomy to Universities, granting of Autonomous status to colleges, the Regulation for Open Distance Learning, Regulation for Online degrees etc.

 

Is UGC a failure:

Since its inception, the University Grants Commission (UGC) has been witness to a spectacular growth in higher education. The number of universities has multiplied 40 times over, and student enrolment has increased a hundred-fold. However, the UGC has been a silent spectator to the languishing quality of education in many of these institutions.

  • Few recent policies including increase in teaching hours of the faculty and its subsequent cancellation, the implementation of the choice-based credit semester system in Delhi University, and the decision to discontinue UGC non-NET scholarship for MPhil and PhD students and its abandonment after protests, have been unpopular.
  • Also, UGC is This affects the commission while disbursing grants and fellowships thereby affecting quality standards.
  • Its policies also suffer from two diametrically opposite issues—under-regulation and over-regulation. While it lets smaller substandard institutions slip by as deemed universities, it also instigates witch-hunts against reputed deemed universities.
  • Hence, it is argued that UGC has not only failed to fulfil its mandate but also has not been able to deal with emerging diverse complexities.

 

Higher Education Commission of India (Repeal of University Grants Commission Act) Bill 2018 (HECI) Draft:

The draft Act is in accordance with the commitment of Government for reforming the regulatory systems that provide for more autonomy and facilitate holistic growth of the education system which provides greater opportunities to the Indian students at more affordable cost.

The transformation of the regulatory set up is guided by the following principles: 

  • Less Government and more Governance: Downsizing the scope of the Regulator. No more interference in the management issues of the educational institutions.
  • Separation of grant functions: The grant functions would be carried out by the HRD Ministry, and the HECI would focus only on academic matters.
  • End of Inspection Raj: Regulation is done through transparent public disclosures, merit-based decision making on matters regarding standards and quality in higher education.
  • Focus on academic quality: HECI is tasked with the mandate of improving academic standards with specific focus on learning outcomes, evaluation of academic performance by institutions, mentoring of institutions, training of teachers, promote use of educational technology etc.

It will develop norms for setting standards for opening and closure of institutions, provide for greater flexibility and autonomy to institutions, lay standards for appointments to critical leadership positions at the institutional level irrespective of University started under any Law (including State Law).

  • Powers to enforce: The Regulator will have powers to enforce compliance to the academic quality standards and will have the power to order closure of sub-standard and bogus institutions.

 

Highlights of the Higher Education Commission of India (Repeal of University Grants Commission Act) Bill 2018:

  • The focus of the Commission will be on improving academic standards and quality of higher education, specifying norms for learning outcomes, lay down standards of teaching/research etc.
  • It will provide a roadmap for mentoring of institutions found failing in maintaining the required academic standards.
  • The Commission shall have the power to grant authorization for starting of academic operations on the basis of their compliance with norms of academic quality.
  • It will also have the powers to revoke authorization granting to a higher education institution where there is a case of wilful or continuous default in compliance with the norms / regulations.
  • The Commission will encourage higher education institutions to formulate a Code of Good Practices covering promotion of research, teaching and learning.
  • The Commission will also specify norms and processes for fixing of fee chargeable by higher education institutions and advice the Central Government or the State Governments, as the case may be, regarding steps to be taken for making education affordable to all.
  • The Commission will monitor, through a national data base, all matters covering the development of emerging fields of knowledge and balanced growth of higher education institutions in all spheres and specially in promotion of academic quality in higher education.

 

Finally, the Act must also chart a path to integrate teaching and research. The separation between teaching at universities and colleges and research at research councils has not served the cause of either higher education or research well.

To be motivated to do research, students must have access to state-of-the-art laboratories and opportunities to interact regularly with scholars actively engaged at the frontiers of research. Conversely, scholars stand to benefit from interacting with young, inquisitive minds. It is critical for this interaction to be brought to the centre of university education.

 

Conclusion:

Reform should, therefore, lead to the creation of an agency that has the intellectual corpus to help universities and colleges adapt, and the vision to plan for public funding in the emerging spheres of activity. There is a positive attempt in the draft legislation to weed out degree mills and dubious training institutions, with a provision for prosecution and imprisonment of management officials who defy the HECI.

It is important to remember that students from socially and economically disadvantaged sections continue to face disadvantages in higher education. The increase in suicides among students coming from these sections is alarming. The educational spaces that remain equal and socially just should  be kept away from the forces of evil market.

Yet, this will take political will, given that over the past three decades laissez faire expansion of higher education has been pursued purely for commercial motives.

 

Way forward:

The commission also have the power to order the closure of sub-standard and bogus institutions. This should be implemented in letter and spirit. Currently, UGC releases the names of bogus institutions on its website to inform the public but cannot take any action.

The draft Act will have to reform the regulatory systems, provide more autonomy to higher education institutes to promote excellence and facilitate holistic growth of the education system. The transformation is based upon minimum government & maximum governance, separation of grant functions, end of inspection raj, focus on academic quality and powers to enforce.