[Burning Issue] HECI to replace UGC

Why in News?

Union Ministry of Human Resource has prepared draft Higher Education Commission of India Bill, 2018 to repeal of the University Grants Commission (UGC) Act, 1956 and for the establishment of the Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) with focus on improving academic standards and the quality of Higher Education

Why the need for HECI (Higher Education Commission of India?

  1. The need for a single regulatory body arose largely in the context of multiple bodies set up over the years trying to cope with the ever-increasing complexity of the sector
  2. The heavy hands of multiple regulators (like the UGC and All India Council for Technical Education), together with the empowerment of professional bodies (like the Bar Council of India and Council of Architecture) have not yielded the desired dividends
  3. Mushrooming of institutions and a steady decline of standards in most of them have not done much good to the image of the government and the architecture of regulation
  4. National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) in its assessment report pointed out that 68% of institutions in India are of middle or poor quality.
  5. Nearly 35% of professor posts and 46% of assistant professor posts out of total sanctioned strength remain vacant across the country.
  6. India barely spends 2.5% of its budgetary allocations on education. This is far below the required amount needed to upgrade the infrastructure at public institutes.
  7. There is a wide gap between industry requirements and curriculum taught at colleges. This also renders graduates unemployable lacking in specific skill-sets.
  8. The multiplicity of regulatory bodies and regulatory standards has prevented foreign educational institutions from opening campuses in the country.
  9. India has barely 119 researchers per million of the population as compared to Japan which has 5300 and US which has 4500. Besides, in US 4% of science graduates finish the doctorate, in Europe, this number is 7%, but in India barely 0.4% of graduates finish the doctorate

Principles of HECI

HECI 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 which provides greater opportunities to the Indian students at more affordable cost. The transformation of the regulatory set up is guided by the following principles:

  1. Less Government and more Governance: Downsizing the scope of the Regulator. No more interference in the management issues of the educational institutions.
  2. Separation of grant functions: The grant functions would be carried out by the HRD Ministry, and the HECI would focus only on academic matters.
  3. End of Inspection Raj: Regulation is done through transparent public disclosures, merit-based decision making on matters regarding standards and quality in higher education.
  4. Focus on academic quality: HECI is tasked with the mandate of improving academic standards with a specific focus on learning outcomes, evaluation of academic performance by institutions, mentoring of institutions, training of teachers, promote the use of educational technology etc.
  5. Powers to enforce: The Regulator will have powers to enforce compliance with the academic quality standards and will have the power to order the closure of sub-standard and bogus institutions. Noncompliance could result in fines or jail sentence.

Highlights of the Higher Education Commission of India Bill, 2018

  1. The focus of the Commission will be on improving academic standards and quality of higher education, specifying norms for learning outcomes, lay down standards of teaching/research etc.
  2. It will provide a roadmap for the mentoring of institutions found failing in maintaining the required academic standards.
  3. It shall have the power to enforce its decisions through legal provisions in the Act,
  4. The Commission shall have the power to grant authorization for starting of academic operations on the basis of their compliance with norms of academic quality.
  5. It will also have the powers to revoke authorization granting to a higher education institution where there is a case of wilful or continuous default in compliance with the norms/regulations.
  6. It will also have the power to recommend the closure of institutions which fail to adhere to minimum standards without affecting students’ interest.
  7. The Commission will encourage higher education institutions to formulate a Code of Good Practices covering promotion of research, teaching and learning.

Issues in HECI Bill

  1. Bill seems to implicitly open the door to foreign degree-granting institutions as long as they meet the specified norms.
  2. With its mandate of improving academic standards with a specific focus on learning outcomes, evaluation of academic performance by institutions, training of teachers, the HECI is likely to overregulate and micromanage universities.
  3. The nature of the structure of the commission and its advisory council shows that they are bound to have more “government” in decision-making processes rather than academics.
  4. The move to replace the UGC with the HECI points to the Centre’s aim to restrict the role of the States in matters relating to education.

What corrective measures can be taken before its enactment?

  1. It must phase out the current system of compartmentalizing research in research councils and education in HEIs (Higher Education Institutions) while promoting greater cooperation in research among HEIs, industry and government.
  2. Ministry must also create a national research foundation, which would b adequately funded and charged with the responsibility to make research a central feature of our leading universities.
  3. It must make explicitly about 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. A separate body is required to assume the function of providing education grants to HEIs.
  5. HECI also needs to clear about the accreditation process in Higher Education Institution.

Way forward

  1. A complete revamp is needed to meet the present demand and address the future challenge that India is about to face.
  2. To reap the diverse culture demographic dividend and to maintain peace and social harmony among them quality education with values are the necessary area to focus.

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