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Does A New Higher Education Body Have Any Hope Of Cleaning Up UGC’s Mess?

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The existing higher education regulatory bodies like the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) may soon be replaced by the Higher Education Empowerment Regulation Agency (HEERA). This decision was taken after a meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the officials of the human resource development (HRD) ministry and the Niti Aayog in March, 2017.

The main objective behind replacing the UGC and AICTE with a single body is to remove the obligations associated with these bodies and their lethal functioning. It also aims put an end to the bureaucratic dominance over the colleges and universities.

The Functions Of The UGC And The AICTE

The UGC Act , 1956, proposes to:

1. Promote and coordinate university education.

2. Determine and maintain standards of teaching, examination and research in universities.

3. Allocate and disburse grants to universities out of the commission’s fund (established under a Central Act), for their maintenance and development, or for any other general purpose.

Apart from these major functions, the UGC also looks after the regulation of fees and the prohibition of donations in certain cases. The UGC also published a list of fake universities in 2016.

On the other hand, the AICTE was formed in 1945 to ‘conduct survey on the facilities of technical education, and to promote development in the country in a coordinated and integrated manner’. According to the AICTE website, as per the National Policy of Education (1986), it is vested with statutory authority for:

1. Planning, formulation and maintenance of norms and standards.

2. Quality assurance through accreditation.

3. Funding in priority areas.

4. Monitoring and evaluation.

5. Maintaining parity of certification and awards.

6. Ensuring coordinated and integrated development and management of technical education in the country.

The Failures Of The UGC And The AICTE

Ever since their establishment, the UGC and AICTE have monitored higher education institutions without affecting their autonomy. However, their powers have always been questioned – whether it is their limitations over the autonomy of universities, or other factors. Moreover, the two bodies have failed to address the several issues that Indian varsities are suffering from – which have resulted in a severe lack in promoting research across the country. As a result, the institutions are failing to make graduates eligible for job opportunities.

Despite the Yash Pal Committee’s recommendation, the Manmohan Singh government had held back from giving its nod to the merging of the UGC and the AICTE. However, the Modi government had no other option, as a series of Supreme Court decisions had created confusion over the mandates of the two bodies.

Protest against UGC notification by DUTA and other Delhi University student organisations
Will such scenes still be seen even after a new body is installed in place of the UGC? (Photo by Saumya Khandelwal/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Challenges Faced By India’s Higher Education System

Ever since the Modi government came to power, academic institutions (particularly, the central universities) have turned into war zones, featuring ideological clashes and political debates. Fund allocation is another major issue due to which several academic institutions are unable to maintain certain minimum standards. Lack of planning, the careless attitude of the bureaucracy and governing agencies and the ignorance of the state governments have hampered the growth of newly-established central universities. A more serious challenge faced by these institutions is the recruitment of faculty members like professors and associate professors.

Many people are hoping that this move by the government will bring revolutionary changes in the development of the higher education system in our country. However, what remains to be seen is whether the Modi government, which has interfered with the autonomy of many institutions in the past three years and has faced student protests, will be able to bring significant educational reforms through this body. Or, will it just be another advertising strategy to promote the party agenda?

What Should HEERA Do?

Ideally, HEERA should be able to address the problems (like infrastructural development of newly established universities and the promotion of research by providing appropriate environment and fund allocation) that academic institutions are suffering from. It should also be able to create more transparency in the administrative functioning of colleges and universities, without hampering their autonomy.

This body should also seek to ensure that academic departments in universities keep revising their curriculum periodically, so as to keep pace with the changes. Such a course of action would also guarantee a greater chance of churning out employable graduates. However, what’s most important here is that HEERA fulfils its role in helping socially and economically backward students.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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