I do not think that University Grants Commission (UGC) has to stay as it is. That would not help the higher education sector. But be assured that the proposed Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) would only make matters worse if it is implemented in the present form.
The draft is not based on any studies. It is not backed by any education experts but a bunch of officers. It was a shame to let a few bureaucrats change a document prepared by S Radhakrishnan, Zakir Husain and Kothari into an administration-centric one.
In fact, these bureaucrats are responsible for the poor standards of higher education in the country. They were the ones to relegate education into just another head of expense. They were incapable of viewing education as investment.
About 46 per cent teaching posts are vacant in the higher education institutions across the country. Citing such figures to reject the commission’s draft is even more dangerous. That calls for reforms.
The proposed commission’s biggest fault is that it is neither an expert committee nor a high-power committee. Even though it has a vast advisory committee, it is headed by a minister.
The UGC’s strong points are its autonomy, constitutional backing and the leadership of experts. It is a funding agency in which experts take collective decisions.
The new commission, however, is a bureaucrats-dominated body in which experts have little say. It does not have much authority anymore. The committee is nothing more than a yes men’s club completely under the control of the government.
The UGC’s main default is the delay in taking decisions. The commission is expected to take faster decisions because everything will be decided by the human resources ministry. The government will decide how the higher education institutions work, how much fund they will receive or how long they will exist.
The funding is expected to be more narrow-minded than the present situation since the launch of the Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA). We have to bear in mind that the UGC’s present plight is the result of the ministry’s abuse of power.
The declared aim of the commission is to fast-track decisions and cut costs. The next aim is to bring everything under the direct control of the ministry. The ultimate objective is to centralise the higher education administration and to invalidate the states' constitutional powers over education affairs. The states will be left with no option but to spend their allocation as per the directions of the central ministry. This will lead to the neglect of local priorities in education.
Kerala government's projects to ensure social welfare will be hit, including the programmes for social justice, equal admission opportunity, financial support for all institutions and the continuation of various scholarships and the special cover for ordinary students.
The central government will go for a competitive system in which funding will be allotted only for the institutions which prove their excellence on the basis of NAAC grades.
This is in stark contrast to the Kerala experience in which higher education institutions are given similar and comprehensive opportunity to develop. The Union government has already called the proposed policy as a “challenge model”. Going by these guidelines, no institution in Kerala will be eligible for financial support or autonomy or conducting distance education. This policy change will hamper Kerala where a large section of ordinary students opt to pursue higher education.
India cannot expect to create a global university by granting funds to a few based on the NAAC grades. Influential private universities stand a better chance of obtaining higher grades by concealing facts and hyping up strong points. Fattening a few institutions with tax money is a ploy to attract top talents to them and to eventually supply them to corporate entities. This will destroy many of the universities in the country.
The government policy ignores the centres of higher education where the common man relies upon. It should have created a commission that was autonomous and democratic like the UGC. The present move is nothing but foolish because it is designed to serve the interests of the corporates.
(The writer is the vice chairman of the Kerala Higher Education Council.)