On the table: Higher education body with powers to impose penalties of up to Rs 5 crore

THE PROPOSED HIGHER EDUCATION COMMISSION OF INDIA (HECI), which will subsume the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the Indian Council of Technical Education (AICTE), is likely to have broad criminal powers, and the government considers authorizing him to impose a fine. of up to Rs.5 crore and also proceed against the heads of institutions found to have committed violations.

Currently, the UGC, which is the apex regulatory body for higher (non-technical) education, can impose a maximum fine of Rs 1,000 for violations, including setting up bogus universities, under a law that elaborate in 1956, which generated demands. for stronger penalties from time to time.

The proposed heavy penalties are likely to be spelled out in the HECI Bill, which is being drafted by the Ministry of Education for introduction during the winter session of Parliament. It is also learned that the Center is likely to stipulate the presence of at least one vice-chancellor of a state university and two professors from state boards of higher education in the proposed 15-member body.

The other members, apart from the president and vice-president, are likely to include a vice-chancellor of a central university, a higher education secretary, a finance secretary, a legal expert and a renowned person from the industry.

The move to mandate state representation on the commission marks a departure from the government’s previous attempt to establish the commission in 2018, when it had faced resistance from some states and a section of academia who saw centralizing tendencies in the exercise.

The 2018 draft law did not provide for representation of states on the commission. A clause giving the Center powers to remove the chairman, vice-chairman or any other member of the commission, including on grounds of “moral turpitude”, was also criticized.

According to sources, the new bill has retained this clause, but with the caveat that removals can only be effected after an investigation by a sitting Supreme Court judge.

The bill, the sources added, will have a section dedicated to offences, penalties and adjudication, which will set fines depending on the nature of the offences. If the violations are minor, the commission can issue warnings and ask for clarification. However, if the issues are not addressed, violators can attract a penalty of a minimum of Rs 10 lakh.

For “intermediate offences”, there will be fines of at least Rs 30,000, while for “serious offences”, the penalties can extend up to Rs 5 crore, with a jail term of up to five years.


Checks and balances

THE PROPOSAL to arm the HECI proposal, which will be the general regulator of higher education, with pronounced penal provisions comes at a time when the UGC is grappling with the proliferation of “fake universities”. The tweaks, compared to the previous attempt to create HECI, appear aimed at alleviating states’ concerns.

Also, for the offenses committed by any institution of higher education, it is proposed to make the “chief executive” of the institute responsible, unless he manages to prove the contrary.

The provisions of the Bill are being aligned with the National Education Policy 2020 which had recommended that medical and legal education be kept out of the purview of the proposed HECI under which the general, technical, teaching, professional and other professional education.

The commission will have four independent verticals: the National Higher Education Regulatory Council, the National Accreditation Council, the Higher Education Scholarship Council and the General Education Council, which will each be headed by a president.

Overall, the HECI will be tasked with developing an integrated roadmap for the future of higher education in India and transforming existing higher education institutions into large multidisciplinary units and research universities.

The National Regulatory Council for Higher Education will, among other tasks, handle actions against institutions that do not meet accreditation standards and violate other rules, monitor financial and administrative irregularities, and address stakeholder complaints.

The National Accreditation Council will develop the accreditation process. The Higher Education Grants Council will develop transparent criteria for the financing of higher education institutions, will be in charge of grants, scholarships, etc.

The draft bill had been controversial by suggesting that the grants would be managed by an “advisory board” under the Ministry of Education (then known as the Ministry of Human Resource Development). The new draft is likely to recommend that financial assistance through grants be disbursed through a “transparent merit-based and technology-driven system,” an official said on condition of anonymity.

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