People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Vol. XXXIV

No. 07

February 14, 2010

On Draft NCHER Bill 2010

Academia, Legislatures Need Not Think but Follow New Commission’s Dictates

 

Vijender Sharma

 

THE central government constituted a task force on September 7, 2009, with joint secretary (higher Education) as its convener, to aid and advise the central government in the establishment of a commission for higher education and research as recommended by the Yashpal committee and National Knowledge Commission. On first of February, the ministry of human resource development uploaded on its website (http://www.education.nic.in/) the draft of National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER) Bill, 2010 as approved by the task force and sought “feedback and suggestions from all stakeholders”.

As one reads this draft bill, one finds that this is not to “promote” but undermine “the autonomy of higher educational institutions”. This is to restructure higher education system for “competitive global environment” and not for catering to the aspirations of our youth. This is not for helping state governments to strengthen higher education but to snatch away from them even whatever their powers were left after education was included in the concurrent list of the constitution of India during infamous Emergency. This is a bill to create an all powerful commission for the centralisation of all aspects related to higher education. This is a bill to undermine the powers of the parliament, state legislatures and representatives of the people at large to opine and decide the education policy and administration of institutions of higher education in India.

 

UNFOUNDED

PRESUMPTIONS

It is presumed that by abolishing University Grants Commission (UGC), All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) and National Council of Teacher Education (NCTE) and establishing a seven member NCHER will lead to “renovation and rejuvenation” of higher education. It is also presumed that the selection committee, consisting of the prime minister, speaker of Lok Sabha, the leader of the opposition in Lok Sabha and two ministers in charge of higher education and medical education [Section 5(5)], will chose seven members, most competent for “renovation and rejuvenation” of higher education and will be the best brains and only brains to shape the future of higher education in the country. It is further presumed that by according to the chairman and six other members of NCHER the status of chief election commissioner and Election Commissioners respectively [Section 12 (1) and (2)],  the ills of the UGC, AICTE and NCTE and prevalent corruption in these institutions can never induce the proposed NCHER.

In fact the concept of NCHER was ill thought out by the Yashpal committee itself while responding to the neo-liberal agenda of the central government. Similar structure was proposed by the National Knowledge Commission led by Sam Pitroda with market oriented motives. Both were strongly rejected by “all stakeholders”.

The central government has been privatising the work of permanent and perennial nature and appointing staff on contract basis through private manpower suppliers. The work related to security and sanitation has already been privatised. Now, its thrust is to privatise the entire ministerial work. The UGC has recently floated tender for the appointment of 130 employees for secretarial and administrative work through manpower service providers at low wages. The central government seeks to legalise contractual appointment of “academic, management, accounting, technical and scientific experts” in the NCHER [Section 14(3)]. The privatisation of such work cannot be accepted.

 

COLLEGIUM: AN

UNDEMOCRATIC BODY

A “collegium” will be established consisting of “core Fellows and co-opted Fellows, being persons of eminence and integrity in academia in higher education and research” [Section 17(1)]. Core Fellow has to be a national research professor, or a recipient of the Nobel Prize or Field Medal or Jnanpith award, or a member of an Academy of international standing [Section 17(3)]. The numbers of core Fellows and their appointing authority have not been provided in the draft bill. There is no provision under which states can recommend persons as core Fellows.

The co-opted Fellows will be chosen by core Fellows, to represent each state and each union territory from a panel of five persons recommended by the government of each such state or union territory. The election of the co-opted Fellows is very complicated. The state/UT representative has to muster first preference vote from at least two-third of the core Fellows present and voting. The core Fellows while electing co-opted Fellows will also “ensure representation to persons with expertise in such field of knowledge which, in their opinion, is not adequately represented in the collegium” [Section 17(5)].

Thus the representatives of states and UTs will have second class status as they have to depend on the support of core Fellows. The states and UTs have been treated with contempt. They will be at the mercy of the ‘wisdom’ of core Fellows and may have to change their nominations to cover particular field of knowledge as desired by core Fellows. The term of core Fellows will be life time, while that of co-opted Fellows will be five years. Lifetime appointments generate vested interests and akin to breeding corruption.

This collegium will recommend to the selection committee, constituted as mentioned above, a panel of persons for appointments of members and chairperson of the commission [Section 19(1)]. It has not been provided in the draft as to whether NCHER will be created first and then collegium or collegium first then NCHER.

 

MARGINALISATION

OF STATES

This collegium will also make recommendations to the commission for the determination, co-ordination, maintenance of standards in higher education and research, a vision on the emerging trends in different fields of knowledge and inclusion of persons eligible and qualified to be appointed as vice chancellor of a university in the national registry. The names of suitable persons eligible and qualified for appointment as vice chancellor of a university for inclusion in the national registry proposed to the commission by the central government, state governments, or universities will be referred to the collegium for assessing their suitability and competence [Section 20(2)].

The power of the states to appoint vice chancellors of their state universities will be taken away. They have to depend first on the recommendation of the collegium, heavily dominated by core Fellows appointed for lifetime, for the inclusion of persons in the national registry and then on the list of five persons provided by the commission. No person will be appointed as the vice chancellor if his/her name is not included in the National Registry.

The NCHER will be all powerful. Once it comes into being, the powers of the state legislatures to start new universities will be seriously eroded. They have to be established in accordance with the norms and processes specified by the commission. And, in order to start functioning they have to get “authorisation” from the commission to award any degree or diploma.

 

CENTRALISED

STRUCTURE

The NCHER will develop national curriculum framework, guide universities in revising course curricula, specify norms of academic quality for accreditation, affiliation of colleges, and governance in universities, and minimum eligibility conditions for appointment of vice chancellor of any university [Section 24]. It will develop policies for interaction between students and teachers. It will take necessary measures including schemes for gradually enabling colleges affiliated to universities to function in an autonomous manner independent of such affiliation. The coordination, determination and promotion of standards in distance education systems will also come under it [Section 56(3)].

It will also specify the norms for financing higher education institutions, principles of allocation of grants for their maintenance and development and will disburse grants. The principal of giving block grants, rather than financing higher education institutions on the basis of their requirements, will be introduced [Section 45]. Thus there will be a total centralized structure with no scope for the academic activity in accordance with requirements of the states and areas. Much trumpeted recommendation of the Yashpal committee regarding academic freedom of teachers and institutions of higher education is being put underfoot. There would be no scope for different syllabi in different states based on their socio-cultural conditions.

The commission will prepare, every five years, a report on the state of higher education and research in every State and its relation to national trends. The governor of every state will get such report laid before the legislative assembly along with an explanatory memorandum on the action taken, or proposed to be taken, thereon in respect of each recommendation made by the commission [Section 27]. Thus the state governments will be forced to implement the agenda set by the commission and the powers of the state legislatures will be restricted.

However, the central government has retained powers [Section 29] to frame in consultation with the state governments and the commission a national policy, for the development of higher education and research, which shall guide the commission.

 

RETROGRADE

PROPOSAL

On what basis, the central government thinks that all the ailments of the UGC, AICTE and NCTE cannot affect the NCHER. After all, these bodies were also established with similar intentions for which NCHER is being proposed! The understanding of the seven members of the commission will decide what should happen in the field of higher education in India. If this all powerful commission decides to direct the universities to look towards market for its requirements including general funds, then what would happen to our higher education system? The need is to make these bodies function democratically and efficiently, eradicate corruption prevalent in them, make them accountable to the people and serve the cause of education.

We have enough experience of how the education curriculum and structural framework of educational institutions have been communalized. We also have experience that policy thrust of these bodies and education ministry changes with the change in persons. Some of the issues which would fasten the process of commercialization of higher education taken up by the present Human Resource Development minister Kapil Sibal on priority basis were not the priority of the previous ministry.

The proposal to establish NCHER reflects the tendency of the central government towards centralisation of higher education. It negates the role of state governments and academia in strengthening the higher education system in their respective areas and in the country as a whole. It will prove to be retrograde for the development of higher education in India. Therefore, all stakeholders should respond to the central government opposing establishment of such a commission.