(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
June 13, 2010
THE REVISED DRAFT BILL FOR NCHER
Towards Complete Control
over Higher Education - II
SECTION 24 of the NCHER bill has been split into four sections in HER bill. Almost all powers and functions have been rearranged in these sections. The commission will “take measures to spearhead transformative change in higher education.” For this purpose [section 24, HER bill], the commission will promote autonomy for the free pursuit of knowledge and innovation, facilitate access, inclusion and opportunities for all, and promote culture of quality, rational inquiry and reform. It will also promote accountability and curriculum frameworks, and code of good practices in leadership, governance and management. It will also develop norms for financing higher education institutions.
Interestingly, the measures taken by the commission under section 24, HER bill, will not be obligatory for higher education institutions to adopt but will act as reference for them to advance quality, access and inclusion [section 24(4)]. This provision appears to have been made to thwart the criticism that the central government was trying to over centralise higher education and taking away the powers of the states.
This is clear from section 25 of HER bill. According to its section 25(1), the commission will frame regulations to determine, coordinate and maintain standards of higher education and research. Without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing provisions, section 25(2), the commission will have the power to regulate almost everything related to higher education institution – requirements for the award of any degree, norms and standards of academic quality and accreditation, norms and process of a university to award any degree, standards of leadership positions for appointments as vice chancellors, the entry and operation of foreign educational institutions, norms for allocation of grants, etc. However, the commission, section 25(3), will create an “enabling environment for universities to emerge as autonomous and self-regulatory bodies.”
The provisions of section 24(4), 25(2) and 25(3) are self contradictory. Once the regulations are made under the section 25(2), the provision of section 24(4) will not hold good. If the universities have to “emerge as autonomous and self regulatory bodies”, then there is no need to vest the commission with so much power. In fact, given the provisions in sections 24(4) and 25(3), if they are really meant for implementation, the national commission of higher education and research is not required at all. What is actually required is a set of guidelines for helping the universities in becoming autonomous and self regulatory.
Section 27 of the NCHER bill remains by and large same but renumbered as section 30 in HER bill. 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. 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.
The central government will prepare, from time to time, in consultation with state governments and commission, a national policy for the development of higher education and research. This policy will guide the commission. The central government will also inform the commission of all decisions taken by it on matters of policy concerning higher education and research [section 32]. However, the state governments have not been given any power under which it can inform the commission about its decision regarding higher education in their states. These provisions will continue to marginalise state governments in the field of higher education.
Under Sections 32 to 36 of the NCHER bill, process of starting a new university was provided and no university could be started unless it got “authorisation” from the commission to do so. These sections have been drastically changed. In HER bill, sections 33 to 35 provide such process. Every university empowered by or under any law intending to commence its operation has to intimate such intention to the commission, in accordance with the regulations which have yet to be framed, along with an assessment report from a registered accreditation agency [section 33]. As per section 33(3), “the commission shall not refuse commencement of academic operations in a university” established by law if it “fulfils the norms” provided in the regulations which have yet to be made. The commission will either ‘declare’ or ‘reject’ such request within 120 days. Thus, instead of “authorisation”, the university can start its operation only after getting “declaration” from the commission. The meaning is same: the states cannot start universities unless permitted by the commission to do so.
Thus, the word ‘authorisation’ from the commission to operate a degree/ diploma granting university has been changed to ‘declaration’ by the commission. Only language of the provisions has been changed. Condition still remains that a ‘declaration’ has to be obtained from the commission to start and operate a university. It has been further made clear in section 39 that no university or institution can start functioning unless it has been “declared” to do so by the commission. By making use of deceptive language, the central government is trying to present that it has given the state legislatures freedom to start new universities. The central government and ministry of human resource development think that people are gullible and can be misled!
The commission remains 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 to be specified by the commission later. And, in order to start functioning they have to get “declaration” from the commission to award any degree or diploma.
The powers of the civil court which were vested in the commission have been dropped in the HER bill.
IN HIGHER EDUCATION
A new chapter VIII has been added in the HER bill for the creation of higher education financial services corporation under section 25(1) of the companies act. This corporation will have an 11-member board of directors [section 44]. The chairperson or a member of the commission will be the non-executive chairperson of the corporation. It will include only two representatives in rotation from amongst the representatives of the states in general council. It will also include two nominees of the central government, and two persons as expert in finance, banking and management and a managing director to be appointed as whole-time officers of the corporation.
The corporation will notify its memorandum and articles of association, and its authorised and paid-up capital. It will disburse grants to higher education institutions in accordance with the regulations yet to be made [section 45]. It will also give proposals of grants to be allocated to each higher education institutions. It will be guided by the commission and the managing director will be responsible for the disbursal of grants. Thus corporate culture in funding of institutions of higher education is being developed.
THE REVISED BILL
The draft HER bill, which is the revised version of the draft NCHER bill, does not respond to any of the concerns of the stakeholders. It undermines the autonomy of higher educational institutions and creates an all powerful commission for the centralisation of all aspects related to higher education. It negates the role of state governments and academia in strengthening the higher education system in their respective areas, states and country. It undermines 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.
The commission or NCHER cannot be most competent for “renovation and rejuvenation” of higher education and best and only brains to shape the future of higher education in the country. Corporate culture has been proposed for funding of institutions of higher education. If this all powerful commission or the corporation directs the universities to look towards market for its general funds, then what would happen to our higher education system?
The need is to make the bodies like the UGC, AICTE, MCI, etc., which are proposed to be subsumed in the NCHER, function democratically and efficiently, eradicate corruption prevalent in them, make them accountable to the people and serve the cause of education. The proposal to establish NCHER reflects the tendency of the central government towards centralisation of higher education and marginalisation of states. It will prove to be retrograde for the development of higher education and research in India. Therefore, even the revised higher education and research bill should be rejected.