TNN Bureau. Updated: 8/10/2018 12:06:27 PM Most Popular

The central government's move to drop the plan to create a single regulator for higher education, which was to be named Higher Education Evaluation and Regulation Authority (HEERA), in place of the UGC (University Grants Commission) and the AICTE (All-India Council for Technical Education) is not a sign of its commitment to improve the quality of higher education.

The plan to introduce a single body was based on the view that a multiplicity of regulatory bodies was not good for education. It was felt that different bodies pursued different policies and worked at cross purposes when there was, instead, a need to take a comprehensive view of higher education. Many of the ills of the sector were attributed to the tunnel vision of separate regulatory bodies.

The proposal was to form an independent body with jurisdiction over the entire sector, except agriculture and medical education. Even a blueprint of the reform was ready. This envisaged the proposed HEERA handling only academic and administrative matters and funding being looked after by another body. A draft bill on the matter was ready and was to be introduced in the next session of parliament. The government has been very inconsistent in the matter. The proposal to set up a single regulator had originated during the UPA period. The Modi government supported the move and announced last year that it was making preparations for it. But later, the Rajya Sabha was told that there was no such move.

It was revived later but again it seems to be going nowhere. The question that comes up through all this is not whether the plan is good for higher education or not. The inability to take a decision in the matter for many years and the frequent flip-flops in position show, more than anything else, the problems in the government's handling of the higher education sector. There is no doubt that the sector needs major reforms. The UGC has not been able to ensure quality education in universities. It has sometimes acted to promote or support the interests of the government of the day. Its funding powers have not been used fairly, and it has interfered with the autonomy of good institutions. The AICTE has also failed in its remit, with the standards of technical education remaining poor and showing signs of deterioration. Even the best institutes in the country figure nowhere in the top ranks of global performers in education, as the latest and past QS and Times rankings have shown. An ineffective regulatory framework and policy may be one reason for this. But inconsistency and uncertainty about policy is worse.

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