The move to unify specialised bodies dealing with higher education in India under a National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER) drew criticism from various quarters when it was tabled in 2011. The opposition to a single body undertaking the functions of specialized bodies like UGC, AICTE and NCTE was a major factor against the Bill apart from the possibility of micromanagement of state universities by a central body. However, the objective of the Bill is quite contrary, assures NR Madhava Menon, honorary professor and IBA Chair on Continuing Legal Education, National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Bangalore. The member of the committee for Rejuvenation of Higher Education of the Government of India and architect of NCHER Bill highlights its advantages. “The opposition of state institutions stems from the fact that they have not completely understood the scope of the Bill. The NCHER Bill does not make any inroads in state jurisdiction. Instead it supports the complete autonomy for state and central varsities without interference. They will be free to choose their courses and curriculum as far as it satisfies the guidelines,” says Menon. “The Bill does not impose on universities but merely provides a roadmap. Of course, matters related to finance and other aspects will be under reasonable checks.”
The Bill aims to do away with multiple regulatory authorities. Nearly 13 councils will come under the purview of NCHER. “The institutes can choose which body they would like to be accredited by giving state universities a greater say. Our primary function is to facilitate accreditation. Also, state varsities will be eligible for as much financial grants as given to central universities without distinction,” observes the founder of NLSIU.
A separate board for research will oversee allocations. “Research for national interest will be given priority. Universities will be open to funding from private sector as well as industries apart from the government. Clusters of universities will collaborate on research and sharing highly specialised equipment,” he adds.
Though some of the bodies offer PhD through open and distance learning (ODL) modes, many universities do not recognise the degree on par with a regular degree. “In theory, there should be no difficulty in issuing PhD and post-doctorate through ODL in the present mode of advanced ICT and increased access to learning resources. However, we would like to regulate it on the basis of quality and infrastructure of the institutes. Many private players commercialise this practice in the absence of proper infrastructure. We do not mean no-profit as a result of ‘not-for-profit’ and instead encourage institutes to pump it back into the system for better results,” he says.
The fear of entry and operation of foreign universities in India are well-founded, observes the academician. “If foreign universities encourage faculty from their universities to come and teach in India, it will be commendable. Otherwise the few good academics we have in top institutions will be recruited by these universities leading to a fall in the standard of education imparted in Indian institutes,” says Menon, who suggests that regulation of operations is necessary to ensure world-class education in the country.