New Delhi: Four days after it kicked-off reforms in higher education by allowing entry of foreign universities, the government followed up with more legislative proposals aimed at regulating private institutions and preventing administrative abuse of students.

The Union cabinet on Friday approved three Bills to prohibit and punish unfair practices in technical and medical educational institutions and universities, establish tribunals to settle disputes in higher education and make accreditation mandatory. “The proposed laws pave the way for stringent punishments against both educational institutions and people indulging in unfair practices in the higher education sector," Kapil Sibal, Union minister for human resource development (HRD), said after the meeting.

The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance has been focusing on the higher education sector in its second term.

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Wielding the stick: Human resource development minister Kapil Sibal. Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint

“The proposal would provide redress to students and those seeking admission in cases where institutions attempt to adopt unfair practices," the HRD ministry said in a release.

Although Sibal refused to give details on the punishment, a PTI report said duping students by charging capitation fees or failing to keep promises of quality education could attract a fine of up to Rs50 lakh or imprisonment for up to three years. The proposals, cleared by the cabinet, will have to be passed by Parliament. All three Bills are expected to be introduced in the Budget session that resumes on 12 April.

The proposal for a regulatory authority for accreditation of higher education institutions is expected to help assess academic quality.

“At present accreditation is voluntary. An independent regulatory body is proposed to be established, which would register, monitor and audit accreditation agencies which would in turn accredit higher educational institutions through a transparent process for assessment of academic quality," Sibal said.

Experts welcomed the move, but were not optimistic about the Bills being implemented once they become Acts. “It would be something to wait and see. Educational institutions and specifically those that are in the field to make profit would find newer ways to charge extra money. It will be difficult to determine what is genuine and what is capitation fee. Unfair practices in the education sector are difficult to prove," said B.B. Bhattacharya, vice-chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University.

In separate decisions, the cabinet also approved an 8% increase in the dearness allowance of government employees and pensioners. Another draft law approved by the cabinet seeks the death sentence for hijackers.

PTI contributed to this story.