HECI Bill can uplift Indian higher education, but requires some correctives before enactment

By Arvind Panagariya & B Venkatesh Kumar

A Russian parable has it that a man once visited a natural history museum and returned all excited about some rare insects he saw there. When asked what he thought of the dinosaurs at the museum, he replied, what dinosaurs?

Something similar has happened to the commentary on the recently released Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) Bill, 2018. While focussing on certain legitimate but correctible shortcomings, this commentary has entirely missed numerous path breaking features of the Bill.

To put the matter in perspective, the Bill

  • Vests the power to create new universities in the HECI via a set of transparent criteria and, thus, eliminates the need for legislation for this purpose;
  • Empowers the HECI to confer degree giving power on both universities and colleges based on specified norms thereby paving the way for the emergence of high quality degree granting colleges;
  • Empowers the HECI to bestow affiliating power on both public and private universities provided they meet the specified norms;
  • Provides for a credit based system for the award of degrees thereby ending the current tyranny of forcing a student to repeat the entire year if she fails in even one subject;
  • Promotes enforcement via transparent self-disclosure by higher education institutions (HEIs) with falsification attracting punitive action;
  • Proposes to enforce minimum educational quality standards by empowering the HECI to close non-performing HEIs;
  • Empowers the HECI to specify minimum eligibility conditions for appointments to administrative and leadership positions in HEIs;
  • Denies HECI the function of allocating grants to HEIs, something that has allegedly led to rampant corruption in the UGC;
  • Gives direct voice to the representatives of the states through the Advisory Council.

These are truly major desirable departures from the existing regulatory framework of higher education, bringing us closer to global best practices. If the government can appoint truly outstanding individuals with unimpeachable integrity to HECI, the latter would be in a position to truly transform India’s higher education system for the better.

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