Editorial✍ Prelims cum Mains

HECI Bill can uplift Indian higher education

Higher Education Commission of India (Repeal of University Grants Commission Act) Bill 2018 or HECI Bill:
  • The government recently came out with the HECI Bill.
  • The Bill seeks to repeal UGC Act and provides for setting up of Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) to replace the UGC.
  • The new commission will cover all fields of education (except medical) and institutions set up under the Central and State Acts (excluding those of national importance).
  • The Bill has numerous path breaking features.
HECI Bill:
  • HECI has power to create Universities: The Bill vests the power to create new universities in the HECI via a set of transparent criteria and, thus, eliminates the need for legislation for this purpose;
  • HECI can confer degree giving power on universities and colleges: The Bill empowers the HECI to confer degree giving power on both universities and colleges based on specified norms thereby paving the way for the emergence of high quality degree granting colleges;
  • HECI can give affiliating power to universities: It empowers the HECI to bestow affiliating power on both public and private universities provided they meet the specified norms;
  • Credit based system: It provides for a credit based system for the award of degrees thereby ending the current tyranny of forcing a student to repeat the entire year if she fails in even one subject;
  • Enforcement by self-disclosure: It promotes enforcement via transparent self-disclosure by higher education institutions (HEIs) with falsification attracting punitive action;
  • Enforce minimum standards: It proposes to enforce minimum educational quality standards by empowering the HECI to close non-performing HEIs;
  • Appointments for leadership positions: Empowers the HECI to specify minimum eligibility conditions for appointments to administrative and leadership positions in HEIs;
  • No power of grants: Denies HECI the function of allocating grants to HEIs, something that has allegedly led to rampant corruption in the UGC;
  • States’ role: Gives direct voice to the representatives of the states through the Advisory Council.
Bill can transform India’s higher education system:
  • The feature of HECI Bill are truly major desirable departures from the existing regulatory framework of higher education, bringing us closer to global best practices.
  • If the government can appoint truly outstanding individuals with unimpeachable integrity to HECI, the latter would be in a position to truly transform India’s higher education system for the better.
Weaknesses in the Bill:
  • However, it is important to note some remaining weaknesses in the Bill.
1. Need explicit provisions for foreign institutions:
  • Though the Bill seems to implicitly open the door to foreign degree-granting institutions (as long as they meet the specified norms), it will be best to make it explicit.
  • This will eliminate the threat of legal challenges should a foreign institution wish to enter India.
2. Leaves too much scope for subordinate legislation:
  • The Bill leaves too much detail to be spelt out in the rules and regulations.
  • This leaves too much scope for those writing and enforcing the rules and regulations.
  • Therefore, there is need to tie the hands of those writing the rules and regulations and those enforcing them just a little more within the legislation.
  • Example:
    • The Bill must explicitly state that HECI will not write the curriculums of HEIs.
    • Since it empowers the autonomous HEIs to write their own curriculums, other HEIs may be allowed to follow the curriculums of one or more of the latter.
3. Flexibility in credit system must be clearly spelt out:
  • The Bill must make explicit that the flexibility inherent in the credit system would allow institutions to align their systems to a three year bachelor’s degree as in the UK or a four year bachelor’s degree as in the US.
4. Need clarity in accreditation process:
  • There is need for a clear statement in the Bill that once an HEI has been cleared for operation, quality standards will be enforced through accreditation rather than micro-management.
  • The Bill also needs to spell out some details of the accreditation process.
5. Other regulators remain:
  • In the longer run, thought will need to be given to folding the All India Council for Technical Education and the National Council for Teachers’ Education into the HECI.
  • If left untouched, these councils can potentially undermine HECI’s work.
Additional reforms needed:
  • The HRD ministry will also need to follow up with two complementary reforms.
1. Power to give grants should be with an independent body:
  • A separate body is required to assume the function of providing education grants to HEIs (the Bill gives this power to HRD Ministry).
  • The decision to deny the grant giving power to the HECI is a good one.
  • But transparency requires that grant giving function be vested in another independent body and not in the HRD ministry.
  • This is needed despite the fact that transparent disbursal of funds has been done by the government to institutions of national importance such as the IITs, IIMS, IISc etc. Also, the Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA) has allocated funds to state institution to promote reforms.
  • A principle of good governance is that this function be performed by an independent, arms length agency.
2. Create National Research Foundation:
  • The HRD ministry must also create a national research foundation.
  • This foundation must be adequately funded and charged with the responsibility to make research a central feature of our leading universities.
  • Additionally, it must phase out the current system of compartmentalising research in research councils and education in HEIs.
  • There is a need to promote greater cooperation in research among HEIs, industry and government.
Importance:
GS Paper II: Social Issues

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