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HECL Bill, 2018: A Step Towards The Government’s Agenda Of Privatising Education

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The Higher Education Commission of India (Repeal of University Grants Commission Act) Act 2018 is likely to be presented in the Parliament in the upcoming monsoon session. This draft bill prepared by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) will scrap the existing UGC Act and create a new commission. The new commission to be established through this Act will not have the grant-making authority and will focus more on the so-called quality outcome at universities and colleges.

While UGC, established under UGC Act 1956, served the purpose for nearly 62 years, the government’s plan to form a new commission rather than introducing corrective measures to improve the shortcomings of UGC is highly questionable. By desiccating the UGC’s grant-disbursal powers and locating them solely in the Central government hands, the proposed commission will become a means of ensuring political compliance from universities as the pre-condition for public funding. This produces the risk of a punitive disciplining of institutions through a deliberate withdrawal of funds by the government at will on the slightest pretext.

Moreover, by withdrawing financial powers from the regulator and handing them over to the central government, and by giving the HECI unilateral and absolute powers to authorize, monitor, shut down, and recommend disinvestment from Higher Educational Institutions (henceforth HEIs), the draft bill will expose higher education in the country to political manipulation, loss of much-needed diversity as well as academic standards, fee hikes, and profiteering. It will also contribute to a greater marginalization and disadvantage of millions of students, mainly from the socially oppressed and economically backward sections.

Successive governments have failed to provide accessible, standardised and equal educational opportunities to a large mass of economically and socially deprived students. Students from poor and deprived backgrounds have continuously demanded equality among higher education institutions, but the new bill has failed to address the concerns of the masses. Instead, the new bill focuses more on ‘quality outcome’ of educational institutions, while the aspirations of equality of institutions, more HEIs, equal educational opportunities have been completely disregarded.

The HECI bill also comes under serious scrutiny considering the policies introduced by the government in recent years. Union Government, compared to the earlier period, has reduced education budget to 3.8% in 2017-18 which was 4.57% of the total budget in 2013-14. Moreover, education ministry under the BJP regime has actively promoted autonomy to premier universities and colleges. Top universities like JNU, BHU, DU and colleges like LSR, SRCC, and St Stephens that are funded by the centre could get full operational autonomy, even in financial matters. These institutions then would have to raise funds, the easiest way for which would be through imposing high fees on students. Thus, the proposed Act mandates the HECI to promote autonomy in higher education institutions, fulfilling the government’s agenda of privatisation.

The UGC currently serves the dual function of standardising higher education and giving grants to public-funded institutions. UGC is responsible for promoting and coordinating university education, determining and maintaining standards of teaching, examination, and research in universities and framing regulations on minimum standards of education. The proposed HECI will not have the responsibility of giving grants, which will be disbursed by the HRD ministry. The HECI will serve only as the academic regulator. Thus, the scrapping of UGC will allow an increased and direct interference by the Government. It will hold the ultimate authority over the regulation of grants and funding powers, which will now be in the hands of HRD ministry.

The control will be maintained by executive orders of the ministry, under the sole discretion and intention of the government. All policy-correspondence, as well as issues of funding, will be incumbent on the pleasures of the government. This corrodes the very ground of legislative autonomy that justified the existence of the University Grants Commission. Hence, the principle of non-intervention that was enshrined in the letter of the UGC Act, as an acknowledgement of the need for autonomy in educational policy-making, is completely discarded by the proposed HECI Bill. Most significantly, not only does the HECI Bill violate the very idea of autonomy that the UGC was modeled on, but it also goes a long way in insisting that universities and other higher education institutions be reduced to organs of the government. The presence of a government-controlled advisory organ in the Commission, headed by the HRD Minister, puts all pretensions of legislative autonomy to rest and structurally subordinates higher education to the political intentions of the government of the day.

Hence, the HRD ministry should immediately stop the process of implementation/discussion on HECI (Repeal of UGC Act) Bill, 2018 and take concrete steps towards establishing inclusive policies focused on the accessibility of education and equality among various state and central education institutions. Also, rather than dismantling the University Grants Commission, the attempt must be to strengthen its consultative and enabling architecture, in such a way that promotes access, diversity, and quality. And the focus of attention should be on taking necessary corrective measures by consultation with the stakeholders to improve the health of the UGC.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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