THE Union HRD ministry recently set up an overarching body, the Higher Education Apex Coordination Committee (HEACC), through an administrative order. According to MHRD this committee was formed to remove conflicts between the various higher education bodies in the country and increase coordination among them.
Role of HEACC
The MHRD circular says the committee will not impinge on the authority or functioning of statutory regulatory bodies or professional councils. It would work towards finding common ground and take measures to promote interdisciplinary research and learning in new and emerging field of knowledge. There could be several reasons that led to formation of this committee and one of the most important could be the ruling of the Supreme Court of India (SC).
In April 2013, the SC had ruled that AICTE’s role is only “advisory” and colleges affiliated to various universities are not required to take its approval for running MBA and MCA courses. The SC ruled that as per provisions of the AICTE Act, the council has no authority, which empowers it to issue or enforce any sanctions on colleges affiliated to the universities, as its role is to provide guidance and recommendations. Following the judgment a tug of war started between the UGC and the AICTE as the SC ruled that regulatory function was with the UGC or the university concerned. Immediately after the SC verdict the UGC wrote to all the universities with affiliated colleges not to approve new courses. Then the UGC formed a committee to frame rules to standardize technical and professional education, upsetting the AICTE.
Prof Yashpal“Things are much deeper and need to be looked into in detail. UGC and AICTE were formed with different sets of objectives.”
Dr SS Mantha, Chairman, AICTE
“It’s difficult to comment how the issues will be sorted out. We will know the terms of reference only after it meets.”
After formation of this committee by the UGC, rumours floated that the Council’s Chairman Prof. SS Mantha threatened to resign if the regulatory responsibility for technical education was handed over to the UGC. One also cannot ignore the fact that with most of the Bills related to reforms in the higher education sector pending in Parliament for past few years and general elections round the corner, MHRD has expedited the process of reforming the sector by bringing in an administrative order.
It is evident from the fact that government has started allocation of funds to universities under the Rs 99,000 crore, Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan. In another move, the MHRD which found that it was not possible to get Foreign Universities Bill passed in the Parliament asked the UGC to come up with new set of regulations to allow foreign universities in India. Dr Shashi Tharoor, Union Minister of State for HRD, speaking at the recently held FICCI higher education summit giving hint at bringing reforms in the higher education sector through administrative order said, “There are number of legislations pending in the Parliament, it is unlikely to get them through in the remaining life of this Parliament. But, a lot can be done without these legislations by simply tweaking the regulatory environment, as done in case of entry of foreign universities in India.”
A section of experts are of the view that the constitution of the committee was necessary as regulatory provisions of different statutory bodies vary from each other, resulting in lack of coordination among them. However, another section believes that just constituting a committee would not help as there is need to have a re-look at the whole regulatory framework of these bodies. The committee has been formed at a time when differences between two top higher education regulatory bodies were coming out in the open more than once. According to Professor R Natarajan, former chairman, AICTE and former director, IIT Madras, the committee should bring greater clarity in the functioning of the agencies concerned for improving the state of higher education in the country.
Uncertainty in technical sector
Prior to the SC judgment, AICTE was setting national standards but after the judgment there is confusion and uncertainty in the technical education sector in the country. Thus, AICTE becoming a defunct body is certainly not good news for the sector. A senior official of the MHRD who did not wish to be named said, “This (formation of committee) was inevitable in the aftermath of Supreme Court judgment as a vacuum was created. Till new set of rules and regulations are formed for the AICTE, UGC has been given the authority to regulate the higher education sector. This body (committee) will help in smooth functioning of both the AICTE and the UGC.”
Will it help the sector?
It is to be seen how this committee functions and to what extent it is able to improve coordination among the apex regulatory bodies as Prof Yashpal has rightly pointed that committees are formed but their recommendations are never implemented. It is also to be seen what changes this committee brings in the higher education sector in the life of this Parliament as with a new government coming next year the members of the committee might get changed.
The writer, Abhay Anand, is an independent journalist covering education issues.
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