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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.