AS students, teachers and college administrations gear up for the new academic year, the minister of Human Resource and Development (MHRD) mooted a proposal to replace University Grants Commission (UGC) with Higher Education Commission of India, a new body of governance for Higher Education Institutes in the country.
The MHRD released a draft of Act, called “Higher Education Commission of India Act, 2018 (Repeal of University Grants Commission Act, 1956) according to the subsection 1 of the Section 1 of draft.
The proposal is yet another move to accelerate the commodification the higher education. While on one hand, it is designed to serve the interests of the private players in higher education, on the other hand, it seeks to bring institutions completely under centralized command. In essence, it is a design of command at the service of finance capital and Hindutva.
COMPOSITION OF HECI
According to subsection 3 of section 3 of the draft Act, the Commission shall consist of a Chairperson, Vice Chairperson and twelve other members to be appointed by the Central Government. The Secretary of the Commission will act as the Member-Secretary. Selection of Chairperson and vice chairperson will be done by Government from the panel submitted by the Search-Cum-Selection Committee (ScSC), consisting of Cabinet Secretary (Chairperson), Secretary Higher Education, and three other eminent academicians to be co-opted as members. Out of twelve members three will represent Central Government namely: Secretary of Higher Education, Secretary of Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship and Secretary Department of Science and Technology, two Chairpersons of other Regulatory Bodies of Education, namely Chairperson of All India Council for Technical Education and Chairperson of National Council for Teacher Education; two Chairpersons of the Executive Council/Governing Body of accreditation bodies; two serving vice chancellors of universities, two serving professors of universities and one will be from Industry.
It is evident from the composition of the commission that a control-command structure is inbuilt in the very structure and the Centre and ruling party will have absolute control on its composition.
DEPARTURE TO THE UNIVERSITY GOVERNANCE
While it is a the fact that UGC isn’t completely immune to the ruling class’ machinations, its structure and its subservience to the parliament of India and provided a far greater space to the forces committed to challenging the ruling class’ offensives. The proposed commission, however has in itself inbuilt to diminish all such possibilities. It diminishes the role of students, teachers and karmachari movement to act as a pressure group.
In fact, this is the dream of finance capital- of dumping every compulsion of bourgeois democracy that acts as hindrance in the path of profit maximization. This has been a constant part of the neoliberal agenda in the last two decades, starting from Birla-Ambani report to Yashpal committee report to the Knowledge commission.
While the Congress made half-hearted efforts in this direction in the past, the RSS-BJP government now is going full steam in order to gain the support of big bourgeoisie, the central motive of the move. This can be seen as a desperate effort of the BJP to deregulate higher education in India in view of 2019 election.
The government has also failed to explain the basis on which it has concluded to replace UGC with HCI. It has only given 10 days for teachers, academicians and students to give feedback on this draft, hardly sufficient to get concrete response.
HECI is being proposed with a purpose that it will ensure the minimum standards to be followed by the education institutions, while UGC has only been a funding agency. However, this is far from the truth. The UGC has been executing the responsibilities of promoting and coordinating university education, determining and maintaining standards of teaching, examinations and research in universities and framing regulations on minimum standards of education. It also publishes the list of institutions which are not fulfilling these standards.
The move to scrape UGC is has been made by the UPA government earlier and BJP is only following the same path with more aggression. During the UPA rule, a proposal for National Council for Higher Education and Research (NCHER) was turned down due to popular resistance from education fraternity. The BJP government also proposed Higher Education Empowerment Regulation Agency (HEERA) earlier which was aimed to replace UGC and AICTE. This effort of government met with all cornered criticism due to lack of proper justification for the move and now the government is back with another proposal.
This draft Act reflects BJP government’s lack of proper vision about the higher education of India because the Act will not be applicable to the Institutions of National Importance. Sub-section 2 of section 1 reads, “This Act is applicable for all higher educational institutions established, under any Act of the Parliament excluding Institutions of National Importance so notified by the Government, Act of State Legislature and to all Institutions Deemed to be Universities so notified by the Government.” The institution of national importance includes some of India’s best-known institution which has immense contribution. Why these institutions are left out of the ambient of the regulatory body for higher education is a question to which the current regime has no answer.
The proposed HECI will not be distributing grants to the educational institution but this role will be taken over by the MHRD which will be deciding the amount of grant to a university and also the timing of its release. Presently, the government’s funding for public higher education is distributed through the UGC which owing to its academic background, allocates funds according to the need of education institutions. However, it is to be noted that the MHRD has not such mandatory academic qualification and is evidently in contrast to the aim of the proposed commission of decreasing government interference in education institutions.
Any institution which refuses to follow the ministry could be targeted and starved for funds, if HECI replaces UGC. This is more likely case for the institutions which are known for their fearless analysis of government policies. At the present juncture too, it can be noticed that the universities in opposition-ruled states and minority institutions are alleging discrimination by the BJP-led government at the Centre.
The approach of HECI is focused on the accreditation and yearly evaluation of higher educational institutions that will create a system of over-regulation. Most of these functions are already done by through various schemes of the UGC or State Governments. The National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) is an autonomous body of UGC, which provides the assessment and accreditation of the HEIs in India. The UGC also has a Faculty Development Programme (FDP), which works on improving the teaching in higher educational institutions. This is an approach to facilitate further commercialization of education through a corporate approach to education sector, which focus on homogeneous, one-size-fits-all administrative models.
The proposed HECI doesn’t also take into account the geographical and social location of institutions. Section 15, sub-section 4, clause ‘e’ of the draft Act defines one of the function of HECI as “Lay down norms and standards for performance based incentivization to the faculty and the Higher Educational Institutions and the Universities”. This means more money to the institutions which are showing good performance and less to the others, which is against the concept of real need of the institution and puts institutes from lower socio-economic places in the country at a huge disadvantage. This was the cardinal and well propagated approach of Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA).
The draft Act also made provision for graded autonomy to Universities and Higher Educational Institutions, a highly debated concept. MHRD’s decision of giving graded autonomy to 62 institution is already adversely affecting students and is resulting massive fee hike.
The proposed law also empowers central government to remove any or all members including chairperson and vice chairperson on specified reasons and can be used for motivated reasons.
There are additional check points on functioning of HECI through advisory council which will be headed by the HRD minister. Section 24 of the act states “There shall be an Advisory Council chaired by the Union Minister for Human Resources Development, and with the Chairperson/Vice-Chairperson, members of the Commission, and Chairperson/Vice-Chairpersons of all State Councils for Higher Education as members.” There is no such council under the existing UGC Act. This means ministry directly will be giving directions to the HECI chairman appointed by him. Presently there is no provision for such council under the existing UGC Act.
There are limitations of the UGC and its working, which should be improved and it should be made more democratic and transparent instead of just replacing with a body which will become a remote control in the hands of central Government. It can be given more powers to act against the defaulters and institutions which do not fulfill the minimum prescribed standards and parameters. UGC was set up on the recommendation of the University Education Commission in 1948 under the chairmanship of Dr S. Radhakrishnan to convert University Grant Committee into University Grant Commission. The very aim of the formation of the UGC and UGC Act was to develop and evolve a structure of quality education institutions without political intervention and worry of funding. The proposed Higher Education Commission of India Act, 2018 (Repeal of University Grants Commission Act, 1956) will not simple replace the UGC but reverse the process. This will bring more control of Government over higher education and will pave a way for further commercialization of higher education. If we really want to improve the quality and autonomy of higher education there is a need to strengthen the UGC with more budget at its dispose, more manpower and autonomy.
It is in the background, a need arises to intervene, build a unified movement, and force the government to annul this disastrous move.