HRD minister Javadekar has just announced the most far reaching reforms in higher education

By Arvind Panagariya and B Venkatesh Kumar

With approximately one year left before voting for the next Lok Sabha elections begins, you would expect the government to be seized by populism. Not the Modi government. On the heels of a pragmatic Budget, the human resource development (HRD) minister Prakash Javadekar has now announced the most far-reaching reforms in higher education. One of us (Panagariya) had lamented for long that the reforms in this important area had been cursed, with HRD minister after HRD minister failing to bring about fundamental change. Magically, Javadekar has broken that curse.

By way of background, during past several years, multiple commissions and committees have recommended reforms but failed to bring about any substantive change in the core regulations under the University Grants Commission (UGC) Act. Undeterred, in June 2017, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) appointed a committee at the Niti Aayog to recommend how progress could be made in this important area. One of us chaired that committee while the other joined it as an invited expert member.

It is nothing short of a miracle that Niti committee was successful in forging a consensus around the reforms among its members, which included the top officials of Niti Aayog, HRD ministry, UGC and All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE). The committee submitted its report to the PMO at the end of August 2017.

The announcement by the HRD minister has translated the recommendations by Niti committee into action in the areas of autonomy to universities and colleges. The far-reaching changes are contained in two separate Gazette notifications: Graded Autonomy Regulations (GARs) 2018; and Autonomous Colleges Regulations (ACRs) 2018. Recommendations by Niti committee in a third area, accreditation, have received approval by UGC but await a nod from the HRD ministry.

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