This is a compilation of opinion pieces and media reports on the HECI Draft Bill. It is by no means exhaustive, and we will continue to update this page as and when required. (For a compilation of statements made by students’ and teachers’ bodies, please see here.)
* The Problems with the HECI draft Bill – P Radhakrishnan
Mr. Javadekar argues that the draft Bill is in accordance with the government’s commitment to reform the regulatory mechanism to provide “more autonomy” to higher education institutes. He believes that the HECI will cater to the changing priorities of higher education. The UGC, it is argued, is preoccupied with disbursing funds and is unable to concentrate on mentoring higher education institutes, focus on research, and implement other quality measures required in the education sector. So, the HECI will focus solely on academic matters while grants will be issued by the Ministry.
The argument is perplexing as what is expected of the higher education system as envisaged by Mr. Javadekar can very well be done by the UGC. To do so, the UGC needs to be restructured in a manner that will ensure that its autonomy is strengthened without any scope for patronage politics and political interference. However, no such restructuring has been attempted, taking into account the UGC’s founding goals, achievements, shortcomings and the reasons for such shortcomings.
* The draft higher education Bill needs some tweaking – Ayesha Kidwai
There is absolutely no doubt that the HECI Bill needs to be altered if the Centre wants it to promote, in its own words, “less government and more governance”, “downsize the scope of the regulator”, “remove interference in management of educational institutions”, and “focus on academic quality”.
In its current form, the Bill will do only the opposite:
Far from “less government”, the proposed HECI is to be packed with more government than ever, and with the State controlling the purse strings as the regulator will not have the power to disburse grants to institutions. Not only are the chairperson and all other members of the HECI to be chosen by a search-cum-selection-committee headed by the Cabinet secretary, along with the secretary of higher education and three other academics, the UGC Act’s proscription that neither the chairpersonship nor majority in the commission should reside with officers of the central/state governments has been removed.
* Interview with Prof. Sukhdeo Thorat – Shreya Roy Chowdhury
Now a professor emeritus at the School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Thorat still believes reform of the commission is long overdue. But he said the proposed policy has some “serious limitations”. That it takes away the regulatory body’s funding powers is one. According to Thorat, the process of funding is closely linked to the academic exercise of ascertaining eligibility and monitoring progress. He also pointed out that the draft makes little mention of inclusion and access, and that there is no indication of a change in the current system of appointing university vice-chancellors – which has been criticised in recent years for being politically driven.
The so called ‘autonomy’ or ‘freedom’ of the IoEs is the freedom to start new courses without the approval of the UGC, or as it may be, the Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) in the coming days. This autonomy is only on the condition that they avoid taking money from the government for new courses. Sounds familiar? Yes, the ‘Autonomy’ granted to 60 higher educational institutions earlier by the MHRD also meant the same— a push towards ‘self-financing’ and fee-hike.
While the proposed HECI that is supposed to replace the UGC, will be empowered to determine learning outcomes, academic standards, employability of courses offered in other public funded institutions, and order closure if any institute falls short of the determined standards, the IoEs including private universities are given the freedom to determine courses without approval. This dual strategy formulated by the same government will end up disrupting the Indian education system altogether. In such a situation, courses that suit the profit needs of the sponsoring body will be promoted. The government’s economic policies are, in any case, pro-corporate and anti-poor, will they not be all too ready to change the policies further to help courses offered in institutions like Jio to flourish? Courses that are needed for a self-reliant, democratic India are going to be the victims since these courses will not be able to survive in such a situation.
This new commission will have unbridled powers over all colleges and universities across the country, including the authority to shut them down and at worst, jail the college or university authorities for up to three years if the commission finds that they disobeyed its orders and refuse to pay the penalty. The only exceptions will be the “Institutions of National Importance”, which are mostly institutes like the IITs.
Never before has a law authorised jailing of a college principal for refusing to heed what a government body dictates in academic matters. But a strong authority to rein in substandard colleges and universities is good, right? Again, the devil is in the details.
Government’s decision to replace University Grants Commission (UGC) with the Higher Education Commission for India (HECI) has been condemned by experts and academicians. HRD Ministry had earlier released a draft bill proposing to scrap the UGC by repealing the UGC Act 1951. As per the draft bill, while HECI will solely focus on the academic matters, the monetary grants disbursal will be under the control of the MHRD. However, the government has backtracked on its decision and has now decided to form a body of experts for the grant giving authority, reported the Hindustan Times today.
* The HECI Bill: Liquidating the State’s Stake in Higher Education – Ayesha Kidwai
In the study of language, the concept of antagonymy is when a word comes simultaneously to mean its ordinary meaning as well as its opposite. One of the ways that such contradictory meaning lives in the same word is when the contradictory meaning is aggressively pushed by those in power. One such obvious word is ‘reform’, which now means, on the one hand, a change that improves processes and institutions for public and social good, and, on the other, its polar opposite of deregulation and state divestment for the good of the market. The Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD)’s Draft Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) Bill, 2018, takes antagonymy to the greatest heights.
Two points are likely to strike the reader immediately, about the new proposed legislation, purportedly for the reform of higher education (HE) in India, titled the Higher Education Commission of India (Repeal of University Grants Commission Act) Bill 2018, especially when compared to the UGC Act that it intends to replace. One, the replacement of the word “university” with the phrase “higher education”; and two, the disappearance of the word “Grants”, with nothing specific replacing it. The implications of both are far-reaching, and will be engaged with in detail later. Before that, however, I would like to
list some of the less immediately striking differences between the two legislations;
outline their individual implications where necessary;
and finally (though not necessarily at the end), analyse the larger picture that emerges, as a sketch of some fundamental changes in policy directions;
though not necessarily in this sequential order. I will conclude with a few comments on the implications of the timing of this proposal.
What the Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) has proposed in a draft Bill of the NDA government, may prove to be the most far-reaching change in the higher education in the country. This Bill does not just change or add to the existing sets of regulations. Rather, as the parentheses of the title, (Repeal of the University Grants Commission Act) claims, it aims at no less than the demolition of the old system. Such deep uprooting can be a consequence of self-assurance, or of delusional zealotry and only time will tell of which one. However, there is a very little doubt that the two Acts, the one to be repealed, the other to be enshrined, are motivated by very different visions and understandings of the higher education.
* The Proposed Abolition of the UGC Will Increase Political Control – Prabhat Patnaik
The Modi government is bringing in legislation in the coming monsoon session of the parliament to abolish the University Grants Commission. The UGC has two important roles at present. One is the distribution of funds to colleges and universities; this will now be handled by the ministry of human resource development. The other role is a regulatory one, which will now be taken over by a Higher Education Commission of India (HECI). This commission however will have no funds to distribute.
* The Unwanted Makeover of India’s Higher Education – Nandini Sunder
The destruction of Nalanda University in 1193 is something that the Hindutva Right likes to talk about. But an equally consequential destruction of India’s university system is now underway. First, the government announced a new Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) to replace the University Grants Commission (UGC) in existence since 1956. This was followed by the unveiling of six ‘Institutes of Eminence’, including the non-existent Jio Institute promoted by Mukesh Ambani. Combined, they form part of the shock and awe tactics by which the annihilation of Indian higher education is taking place.
* UGC to HECI: The Future of India’s Education System Looks Bleak – Interview with Nandita Narain (video link, no transcript available)
* Why UGC rule change means greater political control of higher education – Prabhash K Dutta
peaking at the centenary celebration of Patna University last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi raised a pitch for reforms in higher education saying that it was a blot that no Indian university figures among the top few in the world. Now, the ministry of human resource development has come up with a draft bill to relaunch the University Grant Commission (UGC).
* Withdraw Proposed HECI – Letter by Prasenjit Bose
Rather than reforming the UGC to better serve the country’s higher education system—which is already plagued with severe underfunding, reckless commercialisation, administrative high-handedness, inequity in access, rampant discrimination based on class, caste, gender, language, religion, etc, and undue political interference—you are out to abolish the UGC altogether. The proposed changes will further institutionalise the maladies and lead to downright degeneration.
* Disbanding UGC – Editorial, The Statesman
The discourse over the move to put in place a new higher education regulator might linger for some time yet. Suffice it to register that neither the teachers nor the taught are convinced about the Centre’s rationale, but of course, the government seems intent on reinforcing its intervention in matters academic. Sixty-two years after its foundation, the University Grants Commission seems poised to be relegated to the footnotes of academic history should a “pragmatic” school of academic administration in the Union HRD ministry have its way. If the draft Bill is any indication, a Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) is on the anvil to replace the UGC Act of 1956. Instead of an autonomous entity, that has been functioning reasonably well albeit, with occasional contretemps, the successor commission will be vested with sweeping powers.
* A critique on Draft HECI Act – K Viyanna Rao
In the galore of reforms being proposed by the present Central government, there comes yet another ill-conceived measure aiming to scrap the existing University Grants Commission (UGC). As it appears, there is nothing new in the Draft, except transfer of the function of funding from UGC to the Ministry of MHRD. Going by the very object and the functions intended to be performed by the HECI, the same are being attended to by the UGC, too. Except nomenclature, there is nothing new.
* HECI: An Act to repeal Higher Education – Abha Dev Habib
On June 10 this year, the Department Related Parliamentary Standing Committee of the Human Resource Development Ministry (MHRD) invited suggestions on “Issues Relating to Functioning of University Grants Commission (UGC)”.
It gave the general public 15 days to respond. Just two days after the notice period, on June 27, HRD minister Prakash Javadekar invited suggestions towards the proposed “Higher Education Commission of India (Repeal of UGC Act) Act 2018”, giving only 10 days to respond. And later extended the deadline till July 20.
So the ministry has clearly decided to disband the UGC, even before the Parliamentary Standing Committee could review citizens’ feedback, let alone publish its report. This drives home the point that we are faced with a government which has no respect for the statutory processes of Parliament or the feedback given by stakeholders. Democratic decision-making processes have been eroded and reduced to entries in the logbook, to make paperwork seem proper.