Comments and Observations on the Higher Education Commission of India (Repeal of University Grants Commission Act) Act1 2018
General Observation and Comments
- The proposed Act is a major departure and an act of taking away the autonomy of academic bodies through heteronomy2 of centralization and bureaucratisation of academic governing bodies
- Too much centralization under the proposed Act is onslaught on diversity ,pluralism and democratic decentralization freedom of speech
- It is major blow for marginalized children to continue their higher education since funding is based on performance and outcomes.
- The proposed Act reduces Epistemology3 ; a process of construction of knowledge into input-output activity
- Many provision in the proposed Act goes against the principle of affirmative action and social justice as embodied in the Constitution
- The proposed Act is a threat for federal structure based on decentralised administration with adequate financial resources to the state and subjugate the state to the mercy of central government and bureaucratic set-up
Para 3 of the preamble states that:
Whereas the existing regulatory structure as reflected by the mandate given to University Grants Commission required redefinition based on the changing priorities of higher education and allow its growth
People need to know the following:
What is redefinition? What are the contours of redefinition?
What is the basis for this? Any intensive review of policy or laws related to UGC to say it is not adequately responding to the changing priorities of Higher Education?
Does changing needs refer to Neo-liberal philosophy of expanding the market for profit by denying opportunities to marginalised and first generation learners ?
- Short title and Commencement
Why are we excluding the deemed universities?
Does it mean APU, PES, Manipal etc. are not under the purview of the proposed Act? Is it an attempt to corporatise and commoditise education as part of WTO?
1 Before placing the Bill on the floor of parliament , the Centre is in a hurry to provide the status Act to the bill
2 The condition of being under the domination of an outside authority, either human or divine.
3 Epistemology is the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope, and the distinction between justified belief and opinion.
“Higher Educational Institution” means a University or an institution or a college, affiliated to a university, including the institutions or colleges which have been granted power to award degrees/diplomas by the Commission;
What is the relevance of keeping education in the concurrent list? Entry 25 is the joint jurisdiction of the Centre and the state?
How do we achieve the balance between Centre and State?
- Establishment of the Commission
The proposed Act enables the Centre to exercise veto and complete authority on the appointment of Commission Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson and twelve other members –section 3(3)
The Search –Cum-Selection Committee is an indication of centralization and bureaucratization o0f decision making. It is not a pure academic body to select the Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson and members-3(6)
The Supremacy of the Cabinet Secretary as the chairperson and Secretary Higher Education as the member of the search-cum selection committee dominates the decision making process and all possibility of influenced by the ruling government -3(6)
Academicians toeing the party lines of a particular political party at the centre or a particular ideology may get into decision making position to propagate a particular school of thought against pluralism
Providing opportunity for a overseas citizen of India is a big threat for Indian Sovereignty bound by the Constitution -3(6)b.
The composition of the Commission is disproportionate to the federal polity and clear indication of union supremacy. Hardly 2-3 members may be from states given the eligibility framework –Section 3(8)
The doyen of industry as a member in the commission is an indication of pushing the market agenda –Section 3(8)
- Vacancies,etc., not invalidate the proceedings of the commission
This is a very misleading provision where the commission can take major decisions in the absence of members. if the members are the state representatives, there is chance that decision could be taken without hearing the state voice or opinion
- Officers and other staff of the commission
Appointment of an officer of the rank of Joint Secretary to GoI is a strong move and an indication of establishing the supremacy of Union through bureaucracy in all decisions and its authentication
- Functions of the Commission
What is the definition of quality and quality of academic instruction? Anything questioning the state or opposing any act of the state contrary to fundamental values enshrined in the Constitution may be perceived as deviation from quality instructions and academic standards -15(1)
The notion of „Learning Outcomes‟ questions the basic premises of epistemology4 and reduce education process to input-output process.
The construction of knowledge is purely based on learning outcomes instead of new innovation and building new knowledge
This idea of outcome based learning defeats the process of education as a social good and a powerful tool for social transformation
The contours of education , learning , research and the very process of engaging with the construction of knowledge get reduces to “ Learning Outcomes” -15(3)a
All provisions from 15(3)c to 15(3) j provides absolute powers to commission to make unilateral decisions based on the so called powers to evaluate performance, robust accreditation , order to closure , advise to Central and State government etc., to put checks and balances on the federal states using political affiliations or ideologies . Above all , the powers vested with the commission may lead to arbitrary closure of institutions
- Authorisation to University or Institution empowered to award degree or diploma to commence first academic operations
The provisions under section 16 provide absolute overriding powers to commission to command obedience; both political as well as authoritative from the higher education institution without much checks and balances. It may finally lead to political obedience from the institutions towards ruling government.
While the bill emphasising the autonomy for HEIs, takes away the autonomy through this provision.
- Advisory Council
Advisory council headed by HRD Minister may enable the centre to establish its control over the commission. Moreover, the recommendations of the AC is binding on the commission and shall take steps to implement
Followed by this Section 25 empowers centre to give direction to commission to discharge its functions. What is irony is that the commission shall be guided by such directions. The intent of the proposed Act is clearly stated in section 24 , 25 and 26
- Act to have Overriding effect
The intent of the proposed Act is clearly stated in section 24, 25 and 26. The
overriding effect, retrospective effect of rules and power to make regulations with prior approval of central government can indicate the direct onslaught of the centre on HEIs of the state and paving way for destroying the autonomy of democratic educations institutions built over in the last 6 decades by the UGC.
The only option left with the academicians, educationists, students and public spirited citizens is to put pressure on the central government to withdraw the Act and to demand a discussion paper for larger public discourse on the nature and scope of Higher Education in the context of building an egalitarian society based on the values embodied in the Constitution
4 Epistemology is the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope, and the distinction between justified belief and opinion.
Dr. Niranjanaradhya V.P.
(Advisory Board Member, Centre for Educational Research & Training)