M A I N   N E W S

Higher Education Bill hits a bump
4 states reject the draft; law being reworked
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 10
Government’s much-hyped Bill on the overarching regulator in higher education is in for major changes after several state governments put up stiff resistance to its proposals, terming these as “anti-federal”.

The draft law seeks to establish a National Council for Higher Education and Research (NCHER) to subsume the existing regulators like the UGC and the AICTE and monitor higher education in India, including grant authorisation to function to all new universities that come up after the said law is enforced.

But the Bill has been rejected by Tamil Nadu (home to 16 of the 44 blacklisted deemed universities whose fate hangs in the balance), Left Front-ruled Kerala and West Bengal and even Narendra Modi’s Gujarat on grounds that it erodes states’ powers in higher education.

Amid opposition, the Bill will now have to go through another round of state consultations at the Central Board of Advisory Education (CABE) meeting, which the HRD Ministry plans to call after the task force, currently redrafting the law following concerns, makes it public later this week. The CABE is the highest decision-making body in higher education.

The main objection of states is to the provision with regard to the appointment of Vice-Chancellors. The draft circulated for consultations provides for a national registry of candidates fit to be VCs of central or state universities and heads of institutes of national importance. It says only those who make it to the registry can head institutes.

Under the NCHER Bill, which the HRD Ministry-appointed task force uploaded on the ministry website earlier this February, a collegium would shortlist candidates for VCs’ posts, and recommend new inclusions. The Centre, states, universities and higher educational institutions can refer names of candidates to the NCHER which will forward them to the collegium. The latter would have the last word.

The idea behind a registry of VCs, as HRD Ministry Kapil Sibal says, is: “De-politicisation of academics”. States are, however, unwilling to give up their power to appoint VCs, with most wanting the registry provision scrapped. The task force is now reworking the “Registry” proposal, with a senior ministry official admitting that appointment of VCs was an extremely contentious issue and states would have to be given freedom in that respect. The task force might look at NCHER’s role in laying down parameters for VCs’ appointments and let the states do the appointment.

Also, states are opposing the Bill’s provision that the NCHER would have the authority to grant authorisation to a new university (central, state, private or deemed), failing which the university can’t commence academic session. Gujarat and Tamil Nadu have rejected the provision, and sought that the subject of coordination of standards in education be put on the concurrent list.

“We have told the states that coordination of standards in education is a central subject as per Entry 66 of the Union List. This entry has remained unchanged since the inception of the Constitution. States are citing the 42nd amendment of 1975, which brought education into the concurrent list. But we have clarified that the NCHER law is modelled on Entry 66 on which the UGC and the AICTE Acts were modelled around 1956,” an HRD Ministry official said.

The third opposition relates to the NCHER sounding too regulatory. The task force is now blunting the “powers and functions” section of the draft Bill to make the NCHER sound less regulatory (than in the old draft) and more accountable. “There were inherent problems with the original draft which stakeholders read as “too regulatory”. We are changing it to address the concerns of states,” said a task force member, adding that universities, under the law, can appeal against the orders of the NCHER to the National Education Tribunal (for which a separate law is coming) and further to the apex court.

“We are talking of giving universities more powers. Once the university has the authorisation of the NCHER, it can recognise colleges; some can even affiliate colleges. We are decentralising education,” said an HRD official.

Points of contention

n States unwilling to give up their power to appoint VCs.

n Want registry provision scrapped.

n Want subject of coordination of standards in education to be put on the concurrent list.





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