Insights into Editorial: The HEERA conundrum
With an aim to simplify and consolidate the mass of regulations and compliances that currently operate in the sector, the Central Government has proposed to dissolve the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) and the University Grants Commission (UGC) and replace them with a single body, tentatively titled Higher Education Empowerment Regulation Agency (HEERA).
UGC and its Powers:
The University Grants Commission (UGC) of India is a statutory body set up in 1956, and is charged with coordination, determination and maintenance of standards of higher education.
- At present, the UGC has two primary responsibilities: (a) providing funds to educational institutions; and (b) coordinating, determining and maintaining standards in institutions of higher education.
- However, UGC has been unable over the years to effectively implement its regulations aimed at ensuring the quality of higher education in the country. UGC has failed in its responsibility to monitor standards of education in higher education institutions and it has not succeeded in ensuring this. Besides, the credibility of the UGC has been seriously dented by approvals given to a large number of sub-standard colleges and deemed universities.
Need for a single unified regulatory body:
The jurisdiction of AICTE and UGC often tends to overlap. Given that UGC governs universities and prescribes minimum standards for higher education, and AICTE performs similar functions for the stream of ‘technical education’, there are many cases where institutions fall under the domain of both UGC and AICTE, for example, a college affiliated to a university which is recognised by the UGC may also be called upon by AICTE to obtain its approval. This is where the problem of multiplicity arises leading to lack of clarity over which regulations to conform to.
- It appears that often the idea of conforming to two sets of norms set out by both regulatory bodies can be a huge barrier for setting up of nascent institutions. Even for existing institutions, overlapping and complex regulations make regulatory compliance burdensome.
- The multiple sets of rules and sub-regulations prescribed by UGC and AICTE, unfortunately, seem to have acted as a deterrent to the development of premier educational institutions.
What will be HEERA’s role and function?
Although the particulars of the functions the body will be assuming are still being worked out, it is expected to eliminate the overlaps in the jurisdiction and remove irrelevant regulatory provisions. It will bring the regulation of both technical and non-technical higher education institutions under one umbrella. Given how both UGC and AICTE have been roundly criticised for their poor handling of higher education so far, HEERA is likely to be structured in a manner that addresses their particular deficiencies.
Advantages of HEERA:
There is a need to smoothen existing procedures and ensure their efficient enforcement. It is in this light that the government has proposed to bring HEERA into existence.
- The introduction of a unified regulator would minimise administrative delays and remove jurisdictional ambiguity.
- Sponsoring bodies of institutes of higher education would no longer be required to approach multiple authorities for clearances, which is likely to promote ease of development of institutions of higher learning.
- HEERA is also expected to have sharper teeth than the extant AICTE and UGC: the HEERA Law is likely to empower HEERA to take strict penal action against defaulting institutions.
A rethink in regulation of higher education was needed because:
- The Yash Pal Committee, the National Knowledge Commission as well as the Hari Gautam committee had all highlighted the failures of the UGC and called for its scrapping.
- The TSR Subramanian committee, which had been tasked with coming up with a new education policy, too called for the scrapping of the UGC and AICTE.
- With government-run universities (both state and central) and certain deemed universities dependent largely on the grants from the UGC, an inspector raj has flourished.
- The UGC has also on many occasions impeded institutional autonomy at top notch universities and institutions—for instance, its handling of the Delhi University’s four-year undergraduate programmes (FYUP).
- Meanwhile, the performance of both AICTE and UGC with respect to upholding educational standards is reflected in the less than stellar ranks Indian institutes and varsities.
There are developed economy templates of regulation of higher education that the government could draw from while designing HEERA. In the US, for instance, regulation is based on a system of self-reporting by institutions and monitoring by regional accreditors. Accreditors evaluate institutions based on the latter’s assessment of themselves—this means a one-size-fits-all approach is shunned. Institutions failing to earn accreditation are not given support for research, infrastructure and other needs. India has enough examples to learn and adopt.
The multiple sets of rules and sub-regulations prescribed by UGC and AICTE, unfortunately, seem to have acted as a deterrent to the development of premier educational institutions. There has long been a need for change in the regime governing higher education in India. Industry players opine that there has been little room for business development in the area, while state authorities lament the difficulty they have faced in enforcing overlapping, often labyrinthine compliances. Further, the separation between the standards governing technical and non-technical education is seen as unnecessary and illusory. Therefore, the time is ripe for single unified authority for the regulation of higher education in the country.