Needed reforms

The differences between the Centre and some states over some provisions in the National Council for Higher Education and Research Bill should be ironed out so that the bill can soon become law. The bill has been under discussion for long and it was surprising that the Centre brought forward the draft bill without addressing the concerns of the states. The government has done well to redraft the bill but if it had done so earlier much delay could have been avoided. Education is a concurrent subject and therefore the states’ views on it cannot be ignored. Kerala, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat have opposed the bill on the ground that it is against the federal spirit.

But a close reading shows that the fears are exaggerated. The bill seeks to create an overarching body — the National Council for Higher Education and Research — which will maintain and promote standards in higher education and research. As a single regulatory body, it will replace existing bodies like the UGC and the AICTE which have been known to be inefficient or even corrupt. It also proposes the appointment of vice-chancellors from a central list of shortlisted nominees. The main provisions of the bill were proposed by the National Knowledge Commission and the Yashpal Committee which studied the problems in higher education. They have also been supported by many educationists.

The UGC cannot function at the same time as a regulatory body and a grant-disbursing authority. The present system of affiliation and accreditation of universities has not worked well. The AICTE has been dogged by scandals. The functioning of other bodies also needs improvement. An independent body can help improve the working of higher educational institutions. It is wrong to think the proposed procedure for appointment of vice-chancellors takes away states’ powers. The selection is done only by the states from a panel of eligible names and the proposed procedure is more transparent. The existing system gives much scope for favouritism and politics. A task force, formed to propose changes to the draft bill after consultations, has in any case tried to accommodate the states’ views on the matter. The procedure for authorisation of universities should also become more efficient and transparent. The reworked bill should be presented to parliament at the earliest.

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