The new United Progressive Alliance (UPA) has already stoked market appetite for big economic reforms in privatization and foreign investment. Whether or not it will deliver remains to be seen. But there are signs that the UPA is serious about reform in another, quieter area: education. Altering government regulation here may not spark a short-term stock market rally, but it will have a more long-term impact on the nation.
Kapil Sibal’s appointment as minister of human resource development (HRD) has already been hailed as a positive step. Now, as Mint reported on Monday, the government is seriously considering a regulatory overhaul.
A senior official at HRD told this newspaper that the government will soon abolish both the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), replacing them with a new independent regulator. To put that in perspective, that’s like doing away with the Reserve Bank of India and installing a new banking regulator. The move may sound too bold to some, but multiple committees have found that this is the best avenue for reform.
The National Knowledge Commission (NKC) has recommended this repeatedly, as has a committee under Yash Pal. With not one but two regulators, supervision is already complicated. And heavy-handed regulation gives universities little autonomy—even introducing a new academic course requires approval.
Add to that the usual bureaucratic corruption and inefficiency, and India is left with incompetent management of perhaps its greatest resource today: its large and young population.
In the last UPA government, Arjun Singh’s HRD not only disregarded NKC’s suggestions but even downgraded the importance of the Yash Pal committee to make its recommendations non-binding. Under Sibal’s watch, we hope the government can correct this neglectful attitude.
No doubt, how the government goes about handling this is key. For instance, we still don’t know what this new independent regulator will look like. But even a small change of course from the past can help dismantle one of the last bastions of the licence raj. In turn, that would empower thousands of young Indians with opportunities.
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