It should not be taken for granted that the foreign providers are the panacea in a country where quality is at a premium. A large number of universities chronically suffer from mediocrity. It will be really difficult for these institutions to compete with universities in the most developed countries. It is feared that the entry of foreign universities in India would lead to commercialisation without raising competitiveness in the system
A raft of bills on higher education envisage a dramatic revamp. Regretfully, these bills are gathering dust for nearly four years. It is a matter of concern that nothing has changed in the field of higher education for a long time. It is time for the Centre to act.
Let us examine the draft bills, notably the National Accreditation Regulatory Authority for Higher Educational Institutions Bill, 2010; and Prohibition of Unfair Practices in Technical Educational Institutions and Universities Bill, 2010. Both bills provide for jail terms and stiff fines to ensure that colleges and universities obtain accreditation before and not after starting their courses. They should also refrain from making exaggerated claims to attract students. Private institutions can be fined Rs 1 crore and their promoters sent to prison for publishing misleading brochures or charging capitation fees. Promoters may be imprisoned for an oversight, such as an inaccurate description of the campus area or over a salary dispute. It will not be feasible for general colleges to pay a hefty amount as fine simply because they are not rolling in money. Considering the global situation, nowhere in the world is prior accreditation mandatory. Nor for the matter is non-accreditation deemed a criminal offence.
Accreditation is handled by two agencies ~ NAAC, an autonomous entity under the UGC, and the National Board of Education, which is part of the All India Council for Technical Education. The bill might lead to multiple agencies for granting accreditation. Therefore, it may be some time before the law is effective and the credibility of accreditation may get diluted in the process.
The bill on unfair practices attempts to check unscrupulous and fly-by-night operators and renders capitation fees illegal. But it does not mention how to ensure that capitation fees will not be charged at all. The illegal fees are not accepted openly and parents would hardly come forward to complain.
The third bill ~ Educational Tribunals Bill, 2010 ~ mandates that state level and national tribunals, rather than the courts, should rule on disputes in the sector and impose tough penalties on anyone flouting the orders of the tribunals. In fact, the tribunals were recommended as far back as 1986 in the National Policy on Education. The bill provides for national and state level tribunals to decide on various categories of disputes relating to service matters, affiliation and unfair practices. But it is feared that it may not be feasible to set up so many tribunals.
The draft Higher Education and Research Bill promises to promote greater autonomy in higher educational institutions. But it does not seem to be an improvement over an earlier version called the National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER), which had been widely criticised for over-centralisation and bureaucratisation of the education system. It had also sought to curb the role of state governments. Since no institution can confer a degree without a declaration from the NCHER, states do not have the freedom to set up universities. The bill, far from decentralising the system, will centralise it further, and might eventually dilute the autonomy of institutions of higher learning.
The objective of the Universities for Research and Innovation Bill is to give a fillip to research and development by setting up specialised universities for the purpose. The objectives are admittedly noble, but there is no mention as to how compliance by these universities would be measured or rated. A process of quality control needs unequivocally to be defined. Moreover, it empowers the Union government to encourage universities to go in for collaboration with foreign universities.
The Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operation) Bill will stipulate rules to allow foreign universities to operate in India. Academics are sceptical about two of its provisions ~ (a) they should set up a corpus of Rs 50 crore; and (b) that they should not repatriate profits. The bill does not mention whether foreign universities will have to abide by caps on fees charged or regulations on teachers’ salaries.
Some of the provisions in the Bill, such as the requirement of setting up a corpus fund of Rs 50 crore and denial of permission to repatriate any part of the surplus revenue may seem to be too restrictive to foreign providers, and could make them opt for foreign direct investment through the conventional route. There would be no difficulty as such to offer training or vocational programmes leading to certificates of proficiency. At a time when there is a demand to delink jobs from degrees, the foreign providers are likely to exploit the situation.
It should not be taken for granted that the foreign providers are the panacea in a country where quality is at a premium. A large number of universities chronically suffer from mediocrity. It will be really difficult for these institutions to compete with universities in the most developed countries. It is feared that the entry of foreign universities in India would lead to commercialisation without raising competitiveness in the system.
In India, we have been in the process of encouraging FDI not only in the development sectors, but in the retail segment as well. The idea is to tap foreign funds with incidental advantages of technology transfer, job opportunities and benefits to domestic firms and consumers. But since education should not be made a tradable commodity, the implications of FDI in the higher educational sector call for reflection and careful handling.