Reform in education in the country seems to be the next on the agenda of the Modi government, which now plans to replace the University Grants Commission (UGC) and All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) with one higher education regulator. In an attempt to bring in a single authority in higher education regulation, this body has been named HEERA – Higher Education Empowerment Regulation Agency, tentatively. The literal meaning of the word is Diamond in the Hindi dictionary.
The Proposal– The proposal to inject the radical changes in the higher education sector was taken after a meeting chaired by the prime minister in early March. This is not the first-of-its-kind decision taken by the government.
Objective– The main motive behind scrapping of UGC and AICTE by a single regulator is to eliminate all overlaps in the jurisdiction and do away with regulatory provisions that may no longer be relevant. It aims to take strong action when needed and end the UGC’s “inspector raj and harassment”. The new body will also be empowered to take strong penal action when necessary. The new regulations will be “short and clean” and will focus on outcomes by defining the minimum standards.
The Inception of the Idea: During many occasions in the past, the pan to frame and implement a single regulator for higher education sector of the country has been the main topic of the discussions in the meeting. Various committees were formed that advised that a single body should be set for regulating the institutes. Experts on the subject and several committees including the Yashpal Committee and the National Knowledge Commission of the UPA era and the Hari Gautam Committee set up by this government have been advocating such a regulator for long. But the end results were, IT NEVER HAPPENED.
However, the proposal which had been put on the back-burner so far, finally saw the light of the day following a meeting on education in March chaired by the Prime Minister.
Greater Synergy– The separation of technical and nontechnical education is outmoded and out of sync with global practices, and that a single regulator will bring in greater synergy among institutions and in framing curricula.
New Law soon– The Human Resource Development ministry and NITI Aayog are already working out the legislation for the new institution, HEERA. A committee of members comprising NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant, and higher education secretary KK Sharma, among others, is working on the detailed blueprint. The HRD ministry is working with Niti Aayog on the plan of bringing technical as well as non-technical institutions under the same umbrella.
Since it might take a while before existing Acts on AICTE and UGC are repealed and legislation for the new regulator are finalised, amendments to existing laws may be considered as an interim measure.