New Delhi: An official panel has recommended abolishing the two top regulators of India’s higher education that have invited public scrutiny for restrictive, and sometimes, non-transparent functioning.
The government should instead establish an “all-compassing” commission to regulate higher education, the panel formed by the ministry of human resource development has suggested in a draft report likely to be submitted to the ministry next month.
The panel recommends creating a higher education commission, or HEC, to oversee academic, financial and accreditation aspects of India’s universities, functions that are currently tackled by the University Grants Commission, or UGC, and All India Council of Technical Education, or AICTE, panel chairman and eminent physicist Yash Pal told Mint.
Better regulation: Panel chairman and physicist Yash Pal says the creation of HEC would mean doing away with multiplicity of regulatory bodies and would bring more efficiency to the education system.
“The creation of HEC would mean doing away with multiplicity of regulatory bodies,” he said. “It would bring more efficiency and is in line with the recommendations of the National Knowledge Commission (NKC),” he said.
Yash Pal was referring to the advisory body of the Prime Minister that has repeatedly called for abolition of the top two regulators. He, however, declined to comment on UGC’s future.
The panel has also recommended that institutions of higher learning, including the premier Indian Institutes of Technology, or IITs, and Indian Institutes of Management, or IIMs, broaden their menus to include more subjects and disciplines. It also says that they should be more self-regulated.
The panel has, however, suggested scrapping the provision of so-called deemed university status to state and private institutions.
Yash Pal said the trend of recognizing deemed universities is encouraging a narrow focus on courses offered by such institutions. The status of deemed universities has been granted predominantly to private institutions that allows them to operate largely free of government controls in admissions, fees and coursework.
“We do not like it. Deemed universities should be very carefully set up. The way they are being set up, they are becoming specialized universities,” Yash Pal said.
The report has also recommended that the Medical Council of India and the Dental Council of India—regulators that grant recognition of medical and dentistry qualifications acquired in India and abroad—be divested of their “licensing functions”, another member of the committee said on condition of anonymity.
The panel has effectively asked that AICTE be dissolved. “Not a single university we visited had anything positive to say about the regulator (AICTE), which is steeped in corruption and inefficiency, which has, in turn, spawned illegitimate education institutions,” the member said. “So, there is no point in allowing it to function.”
The report says the UGC could function as part of the HEC, the member added.
The NKC has repeatedly called for dissolving AICTE and UGC and setting up an independent regulator.
The ministry didn’t act on its 2006 recommendation until September 2007, when the prime minister’s office asked it to do so. Last year, it set up the panel to review the functioning of the regulators within a year, a first since the creation of UGC in 1956 and AICTE in 1987.
The panel, rechristened as committee for rejuvenation of higher education in late 2008, suggests three wings for the proposed HEC: academic, accreditation and grants.
The accreditation wing would subsume the powers of National Assessment and Accreditation Council, or NAAC, while the grants wing could continue to function like the UGC, a person with knowledge in the matter said on condition of anonymity.
The proposed accreditation wing is in line with the government’s plans to create a single accreditor for colleges by splitting the regulatory and accreditation roles of AICTE, which oversees the functioning of engineering and business schools. The ministry plans to merge the AICTE’s National Board of Accreditation and the UGC-funded NAAC.
The grants wing would release funds to colleges and universities while the academic wing would implement matters related to development of a “curricular approach to university education”, in which the departments in educational institutions, including the IITs and IIMs, become more interdisciplinary, instead of remaining “watertight compartments”, and broaden their menus to include more subjects and disciplines for research and teaching within a university system, Yash Pal said.
The committee has also recommended a self-regulatory regime for the universities, where they would be able to look into issues such as appointment of vice-chancellors, fee structure and expansion of courses, including the IITs—issues managed largely by the UGC and AICTE so far.
“We are arguing against inspection raj being practised by the regulators so far, where field visits are essential for every permission sought by universities, even if it pertains to introduction of new courses or a discipline,” the committee member quoted earlier said, adding the proposed HEC would regulate larger issues of setting up universities.
Ashok Kolaskar, adviser to the NKC, said he was not sure how much the government would be willing to accept the recommendations and powers entrusted with the proposed HEC in the report.
“My feeling is it (the government) might push for it since the people involved with the report are eminent people. It’s a good suggestion to dissolve the UGC and AICTE, but HEC may not be as independent as we wanted IRAHE (independent regulatory authority for higher education) to be, a body independent of the government to look into setting up of universities and other academic issues,” Kolaskar said.
The recommendations would need the government to frame a new draft legislation to establish the HEC, which will have to be approved by Parliament.