People's Democracy

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


No. 23

June 06, 2010




Towards Complete Control

over Higher Education

Vijender Sharma


THE draft of National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER) Bill, 2010 uploaded by the ministry of human resource development, in February, on its website ( received strong criticism and opposition from students, academia, people’s representatives and several states including West Bengal and Kerala. This draft bill, therefore, has been revised and certain vital changes have been made. This revised bill, re-titled as Higher Education and Research (HER), Bill, 2010, is now being circulated selectively for seeking opinion while the original draft bill still continues to be on its website.


Two main issues, apart from several others, (1) over centralisation of higher education and (2) attack on the federal structure affecting centre-state relations remain crucial. The HER bill includes cleverly drafted formulations but creating confusion by the choice of alternative words (with similar meaning as in the first draft) and creation of new bodies, the general council, inferior in its mandate compared to collegium of scholars, as well as Higher Education Financial Services Corporation.


The states will continue to be marginalised. They cannot start a university unless permitted to do so by the commission (NCHER). The states may appoint their own vice chancellors but subject to the Regulations to be made under the proposed law. The corporate culture will decide which institution, university (both central and state) and college, etc., should be funded and on what basis.


In this article, the provisions of two draft bills, the NCHER bill and HER bill, are being compared section by section.


The preamble of NCHER bill included “university education, technical and professional education other than agricultural and medical education”. However, the preamble of HER bill includes all education except agricultural education. The definition of ‘higher education’ [Section 3] excludes agricultural education ‘in institutions other than universities’. This means that agricultural education being imparted in universities is within the scope of the NCHER.


All provisions of the NCHER bill were to be implemented simultaneously. But under HER bill, different provisions can be implemented from different dates [Section 1(3)]. Thus implementation of any of the provisions can be deferred by the central government at its will.




The commission continues to be of seven members who will be appointed by a 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)]. The chairperson, three whole-time members and three other members of the commission will hold office for a term of five years. The status of chairperson and all members of the commission, section 12(4) of NCHER bill, was to be same as that of the chief election commissioner or election commissioners respectively. This provision has been changed in HER bill [section 10(2)] and non-whole-time members will not have the status of election commissioners.


In NCHER bill, the distinction between members was on two counts: (1) Qualification: While the chairperson and the whole-time members were to be persons “possessing leadership abilities and proven capacity for institution building”, other members were to be with “proven contribution to economic and social development and experience of engagement with institutions of higher learning and research”. (2) The chairperson and whole-time members were to be salaried employees and other members only allowance holders.


In HER bill, another distinction has been added regarding status of the members: those having status of election commissioners and those without that status. With these three distinctions, the commission itself will not be a cohesive body and will be composed of unequals. Thus, practically four members will control the commission.




Under NCHER bill, there was a provision for establishing a “collegium” consisting of “core fellows and co-opted fellows, being persons of eminence and integrity in academia in higher education and research.” Core fellow was 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. The numbers of core fellows and their appointing authority was not provided in the bill. There was no provision under which states could recommend persons as core fellows. The co-opted fellows were to be chosen by core fellows to represent each state and union territory from a panel of five persons recommended by the respective governments. The representatives of states and UTs were given second class status as they were to depend on the support of core fellows. The states and UTs were treated with contempt. The term of core fellows and co-opted fellows was to be life time and five years respectively. Lifetime appointments generate vested interests and akin to breeding corruption.


The institution of collegiums was strongly criticized. It was an institution to undermine the role of states in higher education despite the fact the states spend more money on higher education than the central government. In order to deflect from this, but still centralising all powers in the field of higher education, a new chapter on the establishment of general council, as an advisory body, has been added in the HER bill [sections 15 and 16]. It appears that the general council has been created to take care of the criticism by state governments. These sections are deceptive, nothing concrete has been provided. The HER bill with creation of deliberate confusion is also, by and large, against the federal structure.


The general council will consist of 79 members including one representative of each state and union territory such as vice chairman of state higher education council or vice chancellor of a state university, all heads of professional bodies and research councils, and one central university vice chancellor, one IIT director, one IIM director (in rotation) and ten academics from such fields like agriculture, medicine, environment, economics, Indian languages, etc. The general council will meet once in six months.


The general council will advise the commission on enhancing access, inclusion and equity; connecting higher education and research to the practice of professions; measures to remove imbalances (including those relating to regions, academic disciplines, gender and other socio-economic factors); adequacy of funding of higher education; statement and report prepared by the commission; and on the course of reforms to rejuvenate higher education and research. It can amend every measure or regulation proposed by the commission by two-thirds majority of its members present and voting. Such amendments will be binding on the commission.





In HER bill, the ‘collegium’ has been redefined as ‘collegium of scholars’ with 30-fellows which will be constituted by the central government with persons of integrity and eminence in higher education and research [sections 17(2)]. Distinction between core fellows and co-opted fellows of collegium provided in the NCHER bill has been done away with.


The first fellows will be persons who are or have been national research professors or recipients of Nobel prize and Fields medal. Their membership will be for life. If no such person is willing to be a fellow, the selection committee headed by the prime minister will nominate ten persons of integrity and eminence in higher education and research who will be the first fellows of the collegium. Their term will be for a period of ten years. These fellows will propose the rest of the fellows for a ten year term.


The distinction between first fellows, in the category of national research professors and recipients of Nobel prize and fields medal, and other fellows is similar to two types of membership as it existed earlier among core fellows and co-opted fellows.


The collegium will aid and advise the commission, [sections 19, HER bill], for the determination, co-ordination, maintenance of standards in higher education and research and recommend a vision on the emerging trends in different fields of knowledge. It will propose the names of three persons for the appointments of chairperson and other members of the commission. It will assess the performance of the commission and also make recommendations in respect of the statements and reports of the commission. It will also propose a set of names to the President of India for constituting a committee to review the performance of the commission.


From the functions of general council and collegium, it is seen that some of the powers of the two bodies are overlapping. But the functions of collegium are wider than those of general council.




The NCHER bill had provided for the preparation, by the collegium, of national registry of persons eligible and qualified to be the vice chancellors of universities or the heads of the institutions of national importance. The names of suitable persons eligible and qualified for appointment as vice chancellors of universities for inclusion in the national registry proposed to the commission by the central government, state governments, or universities were to 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 was taken away. They were to depend first on the recommendation of the collegium, heavily dominated by core fellows appointed for lifetime, for inclusion of persons in the national registry and then on the list of five persons provided by the commission. No person could be appointed as the vice chancellor if his/her name was not included in the national registry.


This provision has been changed and national registry has been renamed as directory of academics for leadership positions in the HER bill [section 20]. The collegium will recommend names for inclusion in the directory. The central government, state governments, universities, professional bodies and research councils and state higher education councils can also recommend the names for inclusion in the directory. However, such names will be forwarded to collegiums, as earlier, and will be included only if they satisfy the standards to be set out under its section 25.


The commission will recommend a panel of five names to the central government for the appointment of vice chancellor for a central university. State governments can appoint their vice chancellors without reference to this directory of academics [section 29(3), HER bill]. But such vice chancellors must satisfy the standards which will be set out in regulations [section 25] about which at present nothing is known. Thus the freedom of the states to appoint their vice chancellors has been restricted to this extent.


The 5-member executive council of the collegium has been dropped. But its functions will be performed by the chair or co-chair selected by majority from amongst fellows of the collegium for a term of two years [Section 22].


(To be continued)