People's Democracy

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


No. 38

September 23, 2012




NARA Bill: A Dangerous Move


Sheikh Saidul Haque


THE government has reintroduced in parliament the National Accreditation Regulatory Authority Bill 2012, which was first introduced in Lok Sabha on May 3, 2010. The earlier bill was referred to the standing committee which submitted its report on August 12, 2011, with its recommendations and suggestions. The latest bill seeks to make it mandatory for every educational institution and every programme conducted by it to get accredited by an accreditation agency in order to certify academic quality. So far, the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) has been assessing and accrediting the institutions of higher learning in the country, except those of legal and medical education. The NAAC primarily assesses the quality of institutions of higher education that volunteer for the process, through an internationally accepted methodology. It is the opinion of the government that as this assessment is voluntary, less than one-fifth of the colleges and less than one-third of the universities have obtained accreditation. It is thus that the government brought the NARA bill to make accreditation mandatory. The government itself has proposed as many as 47 amendments while the present writer has submitted six. The passage of the bill is pending.




One of the objections coming from many quarters is that the bill is against the spirit of the federal structure, as enshrined in the constitution. The criticism is that the bill negates entry 44 of the union list in the seventh schedule of the constitution, which reads thus: “incorporation, regulation and winding up of corporations, whether trading or not, with object not confined to one state, but not including universities.” At the time of the 42nd amendment to the constitution in 1976, this entry was not amended. While the Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD) has sought to argue that entry 25 of the concurrent list gives that power to the centre, regulation of universities is categorically excluded from the union list itself. That is why some experts say the union government cannot consider this bill under entry 25 of the concurrent list. According to them, entry 32 of the state list only empowers a state government to introduce a bill on incorporation, regulation and winding up of universities.


Four former chief justices of India, namely Justices K N Singh, M M Punchhi, R C Lahoti and A S Anand, have also opined that the parliament cannot legislate for state universities and that only states can make laws for universities.


Thus one may say that before framing the provisions of such an important bill, the government must have more consultations with various stakeholders --- state governments, teachers’ organisations, UGC, Bar Council of India, Medical Council of India and noted academicians. As the passage of the bill is still pending, it is better to send it to a select committee of both houses.


As for the bill’s thrust about accreditation of all institutions including those of medical and legal education, objections have come from some noted legal and medical experts, and also from medical and legal organisations. So their points of view need to be given due consideration, given the specialised nature of these subjects. The standing committee, after considering the bill, recommended that specific provisions for such institutions must be included in the bill in order to avoid any possible overlapping or conflict of interest with other institutions to be set up under the Ministry of Health or the Ministry of Law.




There are a number of contradictions in the provisions of the bill. As per a provision of the bill, an accreditation agency has to meet two conditions: 1) It must be a non-profit organisation registered as a company under Section of 25 of the Company Act, a society or trust, and 2) It must be controlled by the central or a state government. Now, as soon as we talk of a non-profit organisation like a society or a trust, an NGO registered under the Company Act may well opt in future to become an accreditation agency. Another point of contradiction is that the bill says the agency would be independent but also says that it would be controlled by the centre or a state government. How is it possible? Of course, a government agency must be there but it must act without government interference. There should also be some institutional mechanism to regulate an accreditation agency. At the same time, a grievance redressal mechanism needs to be put in place in order to ensure transparency. Needless to say, the procedure to grant a certificate of registration to an accreditation agency must be made more transparent.


Here is yet another instance of contradiction in the bill: it is not at all clear from the bill whether it is mandatory for an educational institution to accept the accreditation given by an accreditation agency. As the bill goes, there is scope for an educational institution to apply to multiple agencies and accept only the one that gives it the highest rating.


Clause 31(1) tells that an institution or a person may appeal to the NARA for withdrawal or modification of the accreditation given by an agency. Now the question is: whether NARA must have the power to modify a rating? It may be that the NARA itself may not have the competence to perform the functions of an accreditation agency.


Clause 29(1) (d) tells that accreditation agencies have to assist the institutions in enhancing their academic quality and give a quality rating. Clause 37 says that an agency is liable to penalty in case it fails to perform its duties. These two provisions may lead to a conflict of interest since downgrading an institution would be an admission of failure on the part of the accreditation agency. It is clear that agencies would not like to downgrade any institution.


The bill proposes penalty for any person who contravenes the provision of this law or who resists or obstructs any officer of the NARA. But the principle of natural justice is not followed here properly. That is why the standing committee recommended that the procedure of reinforcement of this provision must be clearly prescribed as rules in order to prevent arbitrariness and that an accused must be given an opportunity to clarify his position.


Another question is about the violations of this act. Why is there the provision of regarding a violation as a criminal offence, one for which draconian punishment of imprisonment has been prescribed? If it is so, will anyone come forward to lead an institution as its vice chancellor or director?


Clause 49 of the bill gives power to the central government to exempt any class of institution from mandatory accreditation. The question is: Why this power to the central government? And why an exemption? Or, exemption for whom? May not this lead to misuse or corruption or favouritism? In fact, by taking advantage of this clause the central government would like to give exemption to foreign education providers or big corporate houses selling educations. This will thus be a dangerous move.




As for mandatory accreditation as a means of enhancing quality, the government’s view is that making accreditation mandatory will make the higher education system in our country a part of the global quality assurance system. But the question is: Who will be favoured by the provision of such mandatory accreditation? Ensuring quality is related to proper funding. While presenting the bill in parliament, the minister said that academic quality means quality of teaching, learning and research including physical infrastructure and enhancement of human resources. But how can we achieve all that without proper funding?


One may note that the present, neo-liberal government has continuously been cutting the funds for public education. For example, almost 50 per cent of the plan fund of a premier institution like the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) has been curtailed. The demand for spending six per cent of the GDP and ten per cent of the budget on education has been neglected continuously by the central government though this was recommended by the Kothari commission and other bodies set up by the central government itself. A shortage of funding, coupled with mandatory accreditation, may turn out to be a big blow to educational institutions, in particular those located in rural areas.


The fact is that expenditure per student in higher education continues to be abysmally low in India. Spending per student in higher education is only about 400 dollars here. In contrast, it China it is 2728, in Brazil 3986 and in Russia 1024 dollars. In developed countries like the USA it is 9629 dollars, in UK 8502 and in Japan 4830 dollars.


It is no wonder, then, that close to 80 per cent of the government aided colleges and 60 per cent of the universities across the country are either of middle or poor quality. On almost all indicators from infrastructure to faculty standards, student-teacher ratio, computer availability to library facility, the higher education sector in India is lagging much behind the global standards. It needs more funds, not less, for upgradation and modernisation. 


It is undeniable that in case of mandatory accreditation, public educational institutions with poor infrastructure and faculty may be ranked inferior and not up to the mark and, as such, they may face a crisis of existence. However, it is not improbable that instead of increasing the funding for public institutions, the central government may in future use the mechanism of mandatory accreditation as a tool to sabotage the public education system itself and thereby pave the way for more privatisation of higher education sector and for entry of FDI in education. So long as there is proper funding for public educational institutions, it is better to exempt them from mandatory accreditation and thus the funding for them must be free from mandatory accreditation. Let us remember: accreditation is not mandatory in many countries. At the same time, there must be a separate mechanism to access the quality of the teachers and students in such institutions. It can be done by the University Grants Commission itself.


If at there needs to be a provision for mandatory accreditation, it must be for the private institutions which are mushrooming and making crores of rupees through commercialisation of education and fraud upon the public in the name of quality. Many of the so called “deemed universities” and foreign institutions operating here are offering substandard education while introducing fancy courses. Quality check of such institutions must be made a part of the social audit. 




Let’s admit: Mandatory accreditation is no panacea for the falling gross enrolment ratio (GER). Quality is no doubt important, and we must not compromise it. But quality for whom? The vast mass of Indian youth aged 18 to 25 still remains out of the higher education sector. Almost all of them belong to the downtrodden families. We have only 12.6 per cent GER in higher education. Out of those going to a higher education institution, only 5.4 per cent are from the SC/ST groups, less than five per cent are from the minorities and eight per cent from the OBC groups. On the other hand, our GER must be at least 20 per cent so that we are at par with the global standards.


Thus, it is clear that what we need is more of colleges and universities, not less. We have now close to 30,000 colleges and 500 universities. But we need at least 800 new universities and 40,000 new colleges across the country not --- only to compete with the rest of the world but also to take the GER from the present 12.6 per cent to 30 per cent by 2020. The central government, along with the state governments, needs to come forward to take this responsibility. Higher education cannot be left in the hands of private players.


It is a matter of serious concern that higher education system in the country is facing a deep financial crisis. The government has to face this problem head on and also re-examine its policy in the field of education, particularly in higher education. In sum, before it introduces mandatory accreditation for higher education institutions, the central government must, allow us to say, have an accreditation of the HRD ministry itself.