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New education draft has states smiling
Fresh version gives them right to appoint VCs
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 29
The proposed overarching regulator for higher education in India will not be “all-powerful” and “centralised.”

Following stiff opposition from the state governments, some of which (Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal and Gujarat) rejected the old draft of the National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER) Bill 2010 as anti-federal, the Centre-appointed taskforce working on the draft law today finalised its “federal” version, allaying the concerns of states.

To that extent, the states have had their say, paving the way for the law’s passage in the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) meeting, which the HRD Ministry has scheduled for June 17. CABE is the highest decision-making body for higher education in India and has all state education ministers among the members. If the law is cleared at this meeting, it can go for Cabinet approval and finally to Parliament in monsoon session.

Fresh version of the Bill is called Higher Education and Research Bill 2010 (the word national is missing). It doesn’t infringe upon powers of states to appoint Vice-Chancellors unlike the old NCHER draft law which made it mandatory for states to choose VCs from the national registry of eminent academics, refer these names to the NCHER, which would finalise a five-member panel for states to choose from.

The provision was slammed by most states though Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal last year described the same as a “step towards de-politicising academics”.

Sibal’s idea took a hit today as the new NCHER draft law relaxes the said provision. While the directory of VCs will be maintained, states would not be obliged to choose VCs from there. “Central Universities will make choices from the directory but for states, the provision would be optional,” said Prof Goverdhan Mehta, a taskforce member.

Another victory for states is the creation of an all-new General Council within the ambit of the NCHER. With representatives from every state/UT, this council will have the power to veto the commission’s decisions by a two-third majority. “This is a welcome addition to the old draft which was too centralised. We would, however, want the council to perform the main role and the NCHER to be an executor,” Dr KN Pannicker, chairman, Higher Education Council, Kerala told The Tribune today. Pannicker, a critic of the old draft, today described the reworked version as “rational.”

Another relaxation the taskforce has granted to states pertains to functional authorization, which any new university awarding independent degrees would need to obtain from the NCHER. Under the old draft, the NCHER could refuse authorisation even after the university received a positive assessment report from an accreditation agency. “Now the commission would have to grant the declaration if the assessment report is fine,” said ministry sources.

The new draft further seeks control of education as a whole including medical, legal and agricultural despite the Health Ministry’s resistance to the move. The taskforce has recommended a constitutional amendment to include agricultural education under the NCHER, agriculture being a state subject at present.

Personally, Sibal distanced himself from the law saying the taskforce had proposed a federative law. “The Government will take a final view on the taskforce recommendations. Hopefully, the law should be in place by the next academic session. As for the NCHER, it would be a national participative body to regulate education as a whole. We don’t want it to be an adjunct of the HRD Ministry,” he clarified.





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