In a bid at comprehensive reform of higher education regulation, a Higher Education Commission (HEC) has been proposed by the HRD ministry. A draft Bill, Higher Education Commission of India (Repeal of University Grants Commission Act) Bill, 2018, which seeks to repeal the UGC Act and provides for setting up of HEC has been prepared by the Ministry of HRD and placed in the public domain for comments and suggestions.

The proposed Act is aimed at improving academic standards of institutions and separate the grant-giving function. The grant functions would be carried out by the HRD Ministry and the HEC would focus only on academic matters. “A separate arrangement will be made for grants. A separate notification will be done for this,” said the Secretary, Higher Education, R Subrahmanyam.

Unlike UGC, the HEC will have fewer regulatory powers. The proposed regulator will not interfere in the management issues of educational institutions. According to the HRD Ministry, HEC will end the inspector raj of UGC. However, non-compliance of directions of the HEC could result in fines or jail sentence. “The role of the HEC will be to train teachers and mentor institutions and encourage them to go for accreditation. HEC will also have powers to order closure of institutions that are bogus and sub-standard,” said Subrahmanyam.

Other tasks of HEC will include improving academic standards with specific focus on learning outcomes, evaluation of academic performance by institutions and promoting use of educational technology among others. HEC will develop norms for setting standards for opening and closure of institutions, provide for greater flexibility and autonomy to institutions, lay standards for appointments to critical leadership positions at the institutional level irrespective of university started under any law, including state law. Chairpersons of regulatory bodies like All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) and National Council of Technical Education( NCTE) will be co-opted in HEC.

“Further reforms of AICTE and NCTE on similar lines will be done,” said Subrahmanyam. The Bill also provides for penal provisions, which albeit graded in nature, will cover withdrawal of power to grant degrees and diplomas or direction to cease academic operations and in cases of willful non-compliance, may result in prosecution sanction as per the Code of Criminal Procedure Act with a punishment of imprisonment for a term which may extend up to three years.

There will be an Advisory Council to render advice to the Commission on matters concerning coordination and determination of standards in the country. This will be represented by chairpersons or vice-chairpersons of State Councils for Higher Education and chaired by the Union Minister for HRD.

The Commission will also specify norms and processes for fixing fees chargeable by higher education institutions and advice the Central Government or the State Governments, as the case may be, regarding steps to be taken for making education affordable to all.

The Commission will monitor, through a national data base, all matters covering the development of emerging fields of knowledge and balanced growth of higher education and specially in promotion of academic quality in higher education.