States oppose key provisions of NCHER bill

Major provisions of the draft law for creation of National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER) have been opposed by a number of states during a nation-wide consultation process. The provisions that a new university should get authorisation from NCHER before operation and vice chancellors should be appointed from a national registry have been opposed by the states.

"States have complained that this is against federal principles. They are saying this is centralisation of education," an academician associated with the nation-wide consultation exercise on the bill, told reporters. The HRD Ministry has prepared a draft law for NCHER as an overarching body in higher education, replacing the existing regulatory bodies like University Grants Commission, All India Council of Technical Education and National Council for Teachers' Education.

The draft bill says that the proposed body will specify norms and standards for grant of authorisation to a university or a higher educational institution to commence its academic operations. No university or institution empowered by or under law to award any degree or diploma established after the coming into force of this Act shall commence academic operations unless it is so recognised, it said.

The NCHER will maintain a national registry with names of eligible persons for the post of vice chancellors. In case of vacancy, the NCHER will suggest five names from the registry for the post. A task force, set up by the HRD Ministry, held nation wide consultations during which the representatives of various state government opposed these two provisions.

A member of task force said the bill is being redrafted now in view of objections raised by the states. However, the key provisions may not be dropped but there may be certain modifications to such provisions, he said. "This is being redrafted. Then it will go to the Law Ministry and PMO. The bill may be introduced in Parliament in the monsoon session," he said.

According to Planning Commission member Prof Narendra Jadhav, the contention of the states is not correct. "I asked them do you have any representation in UGC, AICTE or NCTE now? However, they are going to get representation in NCHER registry. Is it going against federalism," Jadhav asked.

The reform law will completely change education. There will be a complete metamorphic transformation in higher education, Jadhav, who himself attended a number of consultative  meetings, said. As per the present system, the state university vice chancellors are appointed as per the state acts. Typically the provision is that the search committee makes informal search and recommends after which the Chancellor takes a final decision.

There is no clear-cut policy on appointment of vice chancellors in the deemed universities, Jadhav said. "Now what we have said is that we are proposing a different system. All states and universities can nominate their own people. Individuals can nominate people. NCHER will scrutinise the names and then it will put the names of the suitable candidates on the website and in the national registry," he said.

"Nobody is making it compulsory for states to appoint anybody as a VC. When your search committee makes informal search, they can take five names from the national registry. If you find these five are not worthy, you can take another five names. But nobody can become a VC unless his or her name figures in the national registry," Jadhav said.

He said this is an open and transparent system. The second provision that every university before they start operation will have to get permission from NCHER is aimed at improving quality, Jadhav said. The NCHER will not give them permission unless they are accredited and assessed. Many universities in the states do not have adequate infrastructure at present, Jadhav said.

"The position of the task force is that we are not against states establishing universities. But the universities need to take permission before starting operation. This will eliminate or minimise the possibility of states creating institutions without infrastructure. But they will not be allowed to start operation till they have the required infrastructure," he said.

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