As a step to reform higher education in India, the Government of India recently took a revolutionary step for a complete remodelling of the University Grants Commission (UGC) with HECI (Higher Education Commission of India). The government has introduced a fresh legislation to set up the HECI, a Repeal of University Grants Commission Act to improve the quality of higher education in India and producing more Educational institutes to international standards.
The idea of merging all regulatory bodies as was foreseen by the Human Resource Development (HRD) ministry earlier, and the ministry has finally decided to rebuild UGC and its parent legislation completely so that the HECI focuses on setting up academic standards and ensure their implementation rather than divert its energies on grant-giving, which would be now carried out by the HRD Ministry in the proposal.
The HECI will also be backed with penal powers to impose fines where necessary, provisions for imprisonment up to three years where necessary, and even closure order of institutes that violate set norms.
The upcoming monsoon session is expected to be the platform for HECI Act, 2018 in the parliament, however, it will be challenging for the current government to get parliamentary passage for a fresh legislation as its current term is coming to an end in next year.
The UGC and its restricting administration have been criticised by a number of committees including the Hari Gautam committee in the Modi regime, the National Knowledge Commission of the UPA era and the Prof Yashpal committee and their reports suggest a single education regulator to relieve higher education of red tape and lethargy and suffocating and restrictive processes.
The HECI will not comprehend the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) and the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) as was originally planned due to some technical issues and some concerns raised over cadre merger. The provisions of the new HECI Act, 2018 will override the Architects Act as far as academic standards are concerned, however, there will be revisions in the NCTE Act and the AICTE Act so as to synchronise with the new HECI so as to ensure effective regulations for academic standards.
Bringing an end to ‘Inspection Raj’, the major focus points of the HECI will be de-escalating over governance of institutions, bring in powers of enforcement of regulations and disclosure-based regulatory regime. A huge focus will be there on quality of education with an emphasis on evaluation of academic performance by institutions, mentoring of institutions, training of teachers, use of technology, improving learning outcomes and so on in higher education.
Standards will also be set for opening and closure of institutes by the HECI, which will provide greater autonomy and flexibility to institutes and will lay tankards for appointments to critical managerial and leadership positions at institutions falling under state laws and also institutions across different spectrums.
UGC staff would be instructed to adjust to the HECI regime, which will eliminate the paperwork and will be fully digital. The HECI will have a Chairperson, a Vice-Chairperson and 12 other members, including eminent academics, ex-officio members and veterans of the industry. An advisory council will be set up to advise on various issues every six months headed by the HRD minister, Higher Education Secretary and state higher education council heads besides experts as per the HERC Act.
HECI V/s UGC
HECI will be a new avatar of UGC with a different vision, focus and powers. HECI will have no funds to spend, unlike UGC who had been bestowed with grant-giving powers. This is a decision based on the recommendations of many government committees which pointed out how the fund-giving functions of the UGC allowed for over-regulation –– an oft compromised UGC inspection regime that has led to an inevitable quality decline in India’s higher education.
The fund divestment move will ensure that HECI focuses single-mindedly on academics. HECI will also be distinct as to the powers it will have to act against institutions in case of violation of norms. That it brings in provisions to ‘mentor’ deficient institutes rather than order closure is also a new approach to upping quality.
HECI AS A SOLUTION
Since it is the university system and its regulatory framework that was found wanting, HECI could help fix this up. Keeping the regulator off money matters may also reduce the huge trust deficit that UGC had. The Commission will also specify norms and processes for fixing of fee chargeable by higher education institutions and advice the Central Government or the State Governments, as the case may be, regarding steps to be taken for making education affordable to all.
Many top institutions had been at the receiving end of UGC’s regulatory stick for matters often related to governance rather than academic concerns. If HECI is able to overcome the UGC image and bring in feasible parameters, it will have a lasting impact on higher education.
The Commission will monitor, through a national database, all matters covering the development of emerging fields of knowledge and balanced growth of higher education institutions in all spheres, especially in the promotion of academic quality in higher education.
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