People's Democracy

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


No. 29

July 22, 2012



Towards Complete Control over Higher Education


 Vijender Sharma


THE central government had constituted a task force on September 7, 2009 with joint secretary (higher education) as its convener to advise the central government for the establishment of a commission for higher education and research as recommended by the Yashpal committee and National Knowledge Commission. On the first of February 2010, the Ministry Of Human Resource Development (MHRD) uploaded on its website 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.”




It received strong criticism and opposition from students, academia, people’s representatives and several states. It was further revised within three months and re-titled as Higher Education and Research (HER) Bill 2010, and this draft bill was circulated selectively for seeking opinion. The second revised draft bill also met with strong opposition because the main issues of concern remained in the new HER Bill as well. It was re-modified as The Higher Education and Research (THER) Bill 2011 and was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on December 28, 2011 by the minister of human resource development. It has been referred to department related standing committee on human resource development.


As one reads this 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 in their states, 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 --- National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER) --- 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.


When read along with five other higher education related bills introduced in parliament, which are basically to promote the entry of private players in higher education, both domestic and foreign, in a big way, this bill seems to provide them with a single window system for their easy entry in education business.


The provisions of this bill shall apply to all the higher educational institutions and universities other than those institutions engaged mainly in agricultural education and research. The provisions of this act shall have overriding effect notwithstanding anything inconsistent therewith contained in any other law, other than the Companies Act 1956. The central government can also supersede the commission and all bodies under it if it is not discharging its functions under this bill. The commission will also submit to the central government its regulations, policies or activities for reporting to parliament or for making the policy.




It is presumed that abolishing the University Grants Commission (UGC), All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) and National Council of Teacher Education (NCTE), and establishing an eight member commission, will lead to “renovation and rejuvenation” of higher education. It is also presumed that the selection committee, consisting of the prime minister, speaker of the Lok Sabha, the leader of the opposition in Lok Sabha and two ministers in charge of higher education and medical education, will chose seven members, most competent for “renovation and rejuvenation” of higher education, and these will be the best brains and the only brains to shape the future of higher education in India. It is further presumed that the ills of the UGC, AICTE and NCTE and prevalent corruption in these institutions would never infect the proposed NCHER.


In fact, the concept of an NCHER was ill-thought out by the Yashpal committee itself while responding to the neo-liberal agenda of the central government. A 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 Yashpal committee had recommended that the proposed NCHER should be a constitutional body, like the Election Commission, the provision for which was there in the earlier two draft bills. But in the present bill, it has been withdrawn.


The central government will appoint a commission called “National Commission for Higher Education and Research” with its headquarters in the national capital region. It will be consisting of a chairperson, three whole-time members and three part-time members, to be appointed, by the president, on the recommendations of the selection committee as mentioned above.


The chairperson or a member of the national commission for human resources for health will be an ex officio member.




There are four distinctions between members of the commission:


(1) While the chairperson and the whole-time members have to be persons “possessing leadership abilities and proven capacity for institution building” with 25 years of experience, other part-time members have to be with “proven contribution to economic and social development” with 20 years of experience.


(2) The chairperson and whole-time members will be salaried employee, and other part-time and ex-officio members will be allowance holders only.


(3) The term of office for the chairperson and all other members except the ex-officio one will be five years. While the chairperson and whole-time members will cease to hold office after attaining the age of 70 years, there is no such restriction on part-time members.


(4) The chairperson and all other members will have to disclose their interests of whatever kind in any educational institution and will not sit in the meetings in which the matters of such institutions come for discussions, the chairperson and whole-time members will not be allowed to take employment for five years after their ceasing to hold office in any educational institution, whether public or private. But there are no such restrictions on part-time and ex-officio members. This also means that any part-time member may not be initially having interest in an educational institution but may later develop interest in one after having dealt with its case, and also can take up a job after ceasing to be a member of the commission. 


With these distinctions, the commission itself will not be a cohesive body and will be composed of unequal members. Thus, practically, four members will control the commission and part-time members will be enjoying certain immunities.




The commission will take all steps (Section 16), in consultation with the General Council, for promotion and coordination of higher education and research. It will be responsible for promoting accountability framework in regulatory systems, development of a curriculum framework with specific reference to new or emerging or inter-disciplinary fields of knowledge, development of a flexible academic framework, the exercise of choice by students for self-development, joint and cross-disciplinary programmes between and amongst the universities like those in meta-universities and other higher educational institutions, code of good practices, coordination between universities and higher educational institutions, and industry, encourage universities for enabling colleges to evolve into universities or institutions with an authorisation to award degrees by itself, etc.


It will make regulations (Section 17) with the approval of the General Council regarding the norms and standards of academic quality for accreditation, norms and processes for establishment and winding up of a higher educational institutions and university, norms and processes for permitting a university or an higher educational institution to award any degree and to enrol students in any course or programme of study for the first time, norms of academic quality for a university to affiliate colleges, the entry and operation of foreign educational institutions, norms and mechanisms for transparent, efficient and accountable governance in universities and other higher educational institutions, standards for leadership positions for appointment as vice chancellor of a university or the head of a central educational institution not being a college, allocation of grants to higher educational institutions and universities, etc. It will also create an enabling environment for universities to emerge as autonomous, self-regulatory bodies.


The commission will also advise the central government, state governments and professional bodies on policies relating to higher education and research in any field of knowledge.


The commission will maintain a “directory of academics” prepared by the collegium for appointment as vice chancellor or head of a central educational institution. It will recommend a panel of three names from this directory for the post of vice chancellor of a central university or central educational institution.


All these are the functions and responsibilities of the academia and academic councils of the universities which are being taken away. The commission will issue directions to the universities and institutions of higher education to follow its norms. Thus it will be an all powerful body for the higher education in the country.




Interestingly, the measures taken by the commission under Section 16 will not be “obligatory for higher education institutions to adopt but will act as reference for them to advance quality, access and inclusion” [Section 16(3)]. 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 17 of the bill. According to its Section 17(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 17(2)], the commission will have the power to regulate almost everything related to higher education institution as pointed out above. However, the commission, under Section 17(3), will create an “enabling environment for universities to emerge as autonomous and self-regulatory bodies.”


The provisions of Sections 16(3), 17(2) and 17(3) are self-contradictory. Once the regulations are made under the Section 17(2), the provision of Section 16(3) 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 16(3) and 17(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 bodies.”




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 on 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. 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.


The powers of the state governments have also been limited as they can appoint vice chancellors of their universities only when they satisfy the standards set by the commission.




The General Council will consist of about 90 members including one representative of each state and union territory such as vice chairperson 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 director or head each of IIT, IIM and institution of national importance in medical education (in rotation), one national law university vice chancellor, and ten academics from such fields like agriculture, medicine, environment, economics, Indian languages, etc, three persons from the associations of industry, trade and commerce, two persons from NGOs, directors of CBSE and NCERT and a principal of an autonomous college. The General Council will meet once in six months. It does not have any representative from the real stakeholders in higher education like students and teachers.


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.


The General Council is just an advisory and recommendatory body. In the HER Bill 2010, the General Council could amend every measure or regulation proposed by the commission by two-thirds majority of its members present and voting. Such amendments were to be binding on the commission. This provision has been withdrawn.




The central government will constitute a ‘collegium of scholars’ with 30 fellows who will be of “integrity and eminence” in higher education and research. 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” 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 collegium will advise the commission 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 recommend persons having prescribed qualification and experience for inclusion in the directory of academics. It will assess the performance of the commission and also make recommendations in respect of the statements and reports of the commission. 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.




Every university empowered by or under any law intending to enrol the students for the first time in any course or programme of study 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. The commission will either accept or reject such request within 120 days. Thus, a new university can start its operation only after getting acceptance from the commission. It means that the states cannot start universities unless permitted by the commission to do so.


It has been further made clear that no university or institution can start conferring or awarding a degree unless it has been “declared” to do so by the commission. 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 the permission from the commission to award any degree.




The central government will also constitute a 13-member board for research promotion and innovation. The board shall recommend measures to the commission to promote and facilitate research in the fields of knowledge in higher educational institutions including research in recognised health educational institutions.


The board will also identify and recommend to the commission to grant funding for competitive, merit-based proposals by higher educational institutions and universities for research and related infrastructure in such institutions.




Under this bill, the central government will establish the higher education financial services corporation. This corporation will have an 11-member board of directors. 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 one nominee each from members of the General Council from professional bodies, research councils and vice chancellors, and two nominees of the central government. It will also include 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. It will disburse grants to higher education institutions in accordance with the regulations yet to be made. 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 central government will establish several “qualifications advisory councils” in vocational education. Each qualifications advisory council will be headed by a chairperson and eight other members. Of the eight other members, two shall be from amongst heads of state councils of vocational education, two shall be from amongst members of the General Council with exposure to vocational education, one shall represent trade unions and two shall represent associations of industry, trade or commerce.


Each Qualifications Advisory Council, constituted for specific skill areas, shall advise and make recommendations on qualifications framework in such skill areas, standards of academic quality and study leading to the award of any diploma, elements of curriculum and syllabus, etc.




On what basis, the central government thinks that the ailments of the UGC, AICTE and NCTE would not affect the NCHER. After all, these bodies were also established with similar intentions for which the NCHER is being proposed! The understanding of the eight 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 communalised. 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 commercialisation of higher education taken up by the present human resource development minister on priority basis were not the priorities of the previous ministry.


The proposal of the central government to establish the NCHER, which will have control over all functions of universities and higher education institutions including policy framing, their regulation and financing, reflects the tendency of the central government towards centralisation of higher education. The NCHER can certainly not be most competent for “renovation and rejuvenation” of higher education, and one having the best and the only brains to shape the future of higher education in the country. It negates the role of the state governments and the 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 need to oppose the central government’s move of establishing such a commission.