The Human Resource Development (HRD) ministry has prepared a draft Act to replace the University Grants Commission with a new regulator for higher education in the country in an effort to improve academic standards and crack down on bogus institutions, as per the draft released by the ministry on Wednesday.
The new Higher Education Commission of India will focus solely on academic matters. Monetary grants would be the purview of the ministry, according to the draft of the law that has been seen by Hindustan Times.
The Act will be called the Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) Act, 2018 (Repeal of University Grants Commission Act).
Under the new law, for the first time, the country’s apex regulator of higher education institutions will have the powers to enforce academic standards, order the closure of sub-standard and bogus institutions, even levy fines. Currently, UGC releases the names of bogus institutions on its website to warn the public, but cannot take any action against them.
The Act will have powers to revoke authorization to grant degrees in case the standards are not maintained. And in case, an institution disregards HECI’s order on a penalty or closure, the administrators could face criminal prosecution, resulting in a jail sentence up to three years.
As per the draft, all universities including state-owned ones will have to get authorization from HECI for granting degrees, and also fulfil conditions regarding academic curricula and infrastructure for this. “This will do away with substandard universities which are operating from one or two rooms in some parts of the country,” said R Subrahmanyam, secretary, higher education, HRD ministry.
The draft has also made accreditation mandatory for all institutions; those with failing to do so by 2022 face the threat of closure.
HRD minister Prakash Javadekar has asked all educationists, stakeholders and the general public to give comments and suggestions before 5 pm on July 7 on the draft , which has been released on the ministry’s website.
The new Act is likely to be tabled in Parliament during the monsoon session which begins on July 18.
The government was earlier planning a single regulator to replace the regulators for technical education, teacher training and the UGC. However, it has since decided to strengthen the higher education regulator.
“The current commission remains preoccupied with disbursing funds to institutes and is unable to concentrate on other key areas such as mentoring institutes, focusing on research to be undertaken and other quality measures required in the sector,” said Subrahmanyam. The new commission will be tasked with specifying learning outcomes for higher education courses, and prescribe standards of teaching, assessment, and research, according to the draft.
The UGC has been criticised in the past, especially for what has been seen as its restrictive regime. The Professor Yash Pal committee, in 2009, recommended an education regulator to rid the higher education sector of red tape.
“The UGC has had many shortcomings that have impeded implementation of good policies in the realm of higher education. It is evident that this bill has been designed to try and overcome these shortcomings of the UGC. However, much will depend on the kind of people who will man this authority,” said Dinesh Singh, a former Delhi University vice chancellor.