The Union Ministry of Human Resource Development on June 27, 2018 proposed a draft bill to repeal the University Grants Commission (UGC) and set up the Higher Education Commission of India (HECI), a move that aims to reform higher education in India.
The Minister also stated that "The draft Act is in accordance with the commitment of Government for reforming the regulatory systems that provide for more autonomy and facilitate holistic growth of the education system." The Minister has appealed to all educationists, stakeholders and the general public to give comments and suggestions on the draft legislation before July 7, 2018.
The Act entitled ‘Higher Education Commission of India Act, 2018 (Repeal of University Grants Commission Act)’ revamps UGC Act, 1951 and its parent legislation completely. The HECI Act, 2018 is expected to be introduced in Parliament in the upcoming monsoon session.
Provisions of the Draft Act and the role of Higher Education Commission of India (HECI)
• The focus of the Commission will be on improving academic standards and quality of higher education.
• It will specify norms for learning outcomes and will lay down standards of teaching/research etc.
• It will provide a roadmap for mentoring of institutions found failing in maintaining the required academic standards.
• It will enforce its decisions through legal provisions in the Act.
• It will have the power to grant authorisation for starting of academic operations on the basis of their compliance with norms of academic quality.
• It will also have the powers to annul a higher education institution where there is a case of wilful or continuous default in compliance with the norms.
• It will have the power to recommend closure of institutions which fail to adhere to minimum standards without affecting students’ interest.
• The Commission will encourage higher education institutions to formulate a Code of Good Practices, covering promotion of research, teaching and learning.
• The Bill also provides for the penal provisions which will cover withdrawal of power to grant degrees/ diplomas or direction to cease academic operations.
• The cases of wilful non-compliance may result in prosecution as per the Criminal Procedure Code with a punishment of imprisonment for a term which may extend up to 3 years.
• It will also specify norms and processes for fixing of fee chargeable by higher education institutions.
• It will monitor all matters covering the development of emerging fields of knowledge and balanced growth of higher education institutions in all spheres.
Constitution of the HECI
Transformation of the higher education set up is guided by the following principles:
• Less Government and More Governance: To Downsising the scope of the Regulation and ensure minimum interference in the management issues of the educational institutions.
• Separation of grant functions: The grant functions will now be done by the Ministry of Human Resource Development, and the HECI would focus only on academic matters.
• End of inspection raj: Regulation will now be done through transparent public disclosures, merit-based decision making on matters regarding standards and quality in higher education.
• Focus on academic quality: HECI has been mandated to improve academic standards with specific focus on learning outcomes, evaluation of academic performance by institutions, mentoring of institutions, training of teachers and promote use of educational technology.
• Powers to enforce: HECI will have powers to enforce compliance to the academic quality standards and will have the power to order closure of bogus institutions.
Criticism of UGC
The UGC and its regulatory regime have been criticised several times by a number of committees for its restrictive and suffocating processes.
Several committees including the Professor Yash Pal committee and the National Knowledge Commission of the UPA era and the Hari Gautam committee of Modi regime have recommended a single education regulator to rid higher education of red tape and lethargy.