Education reforms on anvil, if politics permits

Education reforms on anvil, if politics permits

Education reforms on anvil, if politics permits

The landmark Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (Amendment) Bill, 2009, which was passed in the last session, will have to resurface during this session to accommodate a special section on the differently-abled children. The move comes after intervention by the prime minister’s office following protests from disabled rights groups.

Though the PMO was keen on having the bill for setting up an overarching education authority ready for this session, the HRD ministry has something else on their plate -- the Educational Tribunals Bill, the National Authority for Regulation of Accreditation in Higher Educational Institutions Bill and a Bill for Prohibition of Unfair Practices in Education.

Since the draft document on setting up a National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER), which would subsume existing regulators like the University Grants Commission, the Medical Council and the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE),  has been under circulation and opinions are still pouring in, Sibal and his team decided to push through the above-mentioned bills in parliament.

The HRD ministry is seeking Cabinet approval to table proposed laws to punish educational ‘malpractice’ including collection of capitation fees, set up tribunals to settle education disputes and establish a new higher education accreditation regime, which would have the prestigious institutions like the IITs and the IIMs under its ambit.

Since bills can be placed before parliament only after they are cleared by the Cabinet, the ministry is racing against time to get approval for at least two bills -- the Prohibition of Unfair Practices Bill and the Education Tribunals Bill.

The third one, namely the Bill on Accreditation in Higher Educational Institutions would be placed before Cabinet approval once the prime minister is back from his foreign trip.

Acting on the recommendations of the Supreme Court and the Law Commission, the Educational Tribunal Bill envisages a three-tier structure to deal with disputes between students and institutions, teachers and institutions as well as disputes related to affiliation, unfair means adopted by students in examination and by the institutions.

After the law comes into force, the Centre would set up a national educational tribunal (NET) as the apex body dealing with all kinds of educational disputes redressal. At state level, there would be state educational tribunals followed by district level bodies to adjudicate on disputes also relating to affiliation.

Both the central and the state-level bodies would have appellate powers and civil courts and high courts would not entertain matters that are dealt with by the educational tribunals. The main task before the national authority for regulation in accreditation of higher educational institutions, to be brought into existence by a bill, would be to accredit and rate all higher educational institutions in India, including distance education systems.

Fake institutions

In order to protect students from being exploited by fake institutions or fly-by-night operators of educational institutions, especially those offering professional education, the bill would make it mandatory for every higher educational institute and every programme of study to be accredited. Central and state universities, deemed universities, colleges and even polytechnics will be covered by the rating agencies.

To be headed by an eminent academician with minimum 20 years’ of experience, the authority would put down the minimum conditions in terms of infrastructure, teacher-pupil ratio, learning and research, curriculum, assessment procedures, faculty strength and teaching outcomes, which every institute should satisfy.

In accordance with the draft legislation, the national authority along with multiple rating agencies would develop and regulate the process of accreditation. These multiple agencies would be registered with the national authority and the apex body, in its turn, would accredit and keep a check on the rating agencies.

The bill prohibiting educational malpractices would also be a landmark legislation as for the first time the government would be able to initiate criminal proceedings against officials at private institutions who cheat students or make false promises to them.

The law, if comes into effect, would make charging of capitation fees for admission in private professional colleges punishable with a minimum Rs 5 lakh and a maximum of Rs 50 lakh penalty. The offender might also be subjected to a jail sentence of up to three years. The cases on such offences would be decided by the educational tribunals.

While a ‘fake university’ running without proper recognition might be penalised under the UGC Act, a recognised institution making false claims regarding its infrastructure, faculty and laboratories cannot be punished under the present system.

The erring institutions can also be derecognised by the University Grants Commission and the HRD ministry can stop grants to recognised institutions that fail to fulfil their obligations.

As the winter session has begun on an ominous note, first being rocked by the controversy over sugar policy and then the Liberhan commission report, how much time parliament will find for serious business remains to be seen.