Rev. Dr. Sebastian Ousepparampil M.A., M.P.H., PhD.
Principal, St. Josephs College, Jakhama, Nagaland.
The Government of India has proposed a bill introducing Higher Education Commission of India (Repeal of UGC) Bill 2018 with deep implications and serious consequences. The MHRD made public the proposed the HECI Bill on 27th June, 2018 and set the deadline for 7th July, 2018 to send in the responses. A mere 11 days for discussion, is too short a time to posit any serious and formidable critique to the bill, from various stakeholders such as Teachers, Students and parents, who ultimately would be affected by this legislation. All of us are aware that a bill with far reaching consequences certainly need more time to be discussed in the public domain. And what is more mysterious is this – Why this hurry. The bill is introduced to raise the quality of higher education but the way the bill is designed and introduced itself is a challenge to the quality of the bill. The draft bill has faulted on number of vital areas of quality.
The Bill is ambiguous on several counts. It fails to provide a clear-cut section on “definitions” that clarify what the legislation means by “quality”; “less government and more governance”; “affordability” etc and these are vital issues that can be interpreted and misinterpreted at will.
UGC, as a premiere body has been serving us for the last 60 years to provide quality education. It is also a concern that when the times group made a study and selected 200 best universities, our country did not figure in the list in spite of the fact that we are a country that rank third with the number of universities. We certainly have reasons to be concerned. Instead of replacing the UGC with HECI, (Higher Education Commission of India) what we need is strengthening the structural and procedural aspects of the UGC. And make it relevant and effective to serve the Higher Education sector. The proposal to dissolve the UGC is premature and replacing it with the HECI provides room for distortions and arbitrariness in promotion of quality education. The UGC as a premier body is a body of intellectuals meant for intellectuals and so what is needed is to strengthen the structural and procedural aspects of the UGC.
The bill has proposed to diversify quality control and grant control which the UGC was dealing with so far with considerable amount of consistency. The Bill is creating a dichotomy by assigning quality control to HECI, and grant control to MHRD with the intention of centralizing the system of distribution of fund. And it will certainly lead to arbitrariness in the distribution of funds.
Education is a concurrent subject and why the legislative autonomy is centralized it should be more consultative, deliberative and democratic? And the state should be consulted.
The UGC had clear and detailed norms for fixing the fee and making education accessible and affordable. Bur Section 15(4) empowers HECI to specify norms and process for fixing the fee and advice the government on the procedure to be followed. It is arbitrary and not acceptable.
By the section 24the HECI is doing away with any trace of autonomy by the presence of a government-controlled advisory organ in the Commission, headed by the HRD Minister, and puts all pretensions of legislative autonomy to the higher education sector to rest and structurally subordinates higher education to the political intentions of the government of the day. And this should never be permitted.
Ref: Section 15(3) (a): The existing reservation system for the SC/ST/OBC and the linking of quality aspect to the higher educational institution suffer from structural defects. The system would not be geared to take into account the deprivation factor that the community has been confronted with. The HECI Bill does not provide a “weighted formulae” to uniformly assess the issue of quality across social classes. It is an injustice to the marginalized and the poor sections of the society.
In Conclusion as the old saying goes: If you have a head ache, you will not get the head cut off.