What is the policy of education, the commission would believe in? The draft bill says the main functions of the proposed HECI is to promote “the autonomy of higher educational institutions for the free pursuit of knowledge, innovation, incubation and entrepreneurship”. It will also facilitate access, inclusion and opportunities to all and growth of research in a competitive global environment.
But the means through which the draft bill aims to achieve the goals undermines these ideals. Firstly, autonomy for the institutions that the bill talks about would be almost non-existent.
The bill says that the proposed commission will be the sole body that decides what is taught in the universities and colleges and how it is evaluated. The bill says the commission will specify the learning outcomes for all courses, lay down standards of teaching, assessment, research and “any aspect that has bearing on outcomes of learning in higher educational institutions including curriculum development, training of teachers and skill development”.
The commission will evaluate the “yearly academic performance” of higher education institutes. Institutions that fail to meet standards will be closed down by the commission. So, there is little else left for colleges and universities to decide for themselves in academic matters.
Then, what really is the autonomy the draft bill offers to institutes? The answer can be found in an omission of a key section from the UGC Act. Under Section 12A of the UGC Act, it is explicitly stated that “no candidate secures admission to such course of study by reason of economic power”.
The UGC Act also speaks extensively about powers to fix the scale of fees that may be charged by the universities and this may explain why the cost of education is still very less in public universities.
In contrast, the proposed bill just makes a single reference, on the advice the proposed commission can make, to governments on “making education affordable to all”.
Since the draft bills says that, both issuing authorisation and shutting down institutes would be taken over by the higher education commission, there is little left for the universities to do. They may end up merely as centres that conduct exams for colleges and publish results.
The role of State governments would be even more diminished. Except for a representation in the advisory council, there is little the State government can do.