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Withdraw Proposed HECI

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(An open letter to Prakash Javadekar, Union Minister of the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India)

This is in response to your public appeal soliciting feedback on the draft Higher Education Commission of India (Repeal of University Grants Commission Act) Act, 2018, which is to be placed in Parliament during the forthcoming monsoon session. I have gone through the draft legislation and it has left me alarmed at the prospect of the proposed Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) replacing the extant University Grants Commission (UGC). 

Rather than reforming the UGC to better serve the country’s higher education system—which is already plagued with severe underfunding, reckless commercialisation, administrative high-handedness, inequity in access, rampant discrimination based on class, caste, gender, language, religion, etc, and undue political interference—you are out to abolish the UGC altogether. The proposed changes will further institutionalise the maladies and lead to downright degeneration. 

The Ministry of Human Resource Deve­lopment’s (MHRD) usurpation of the powers of financial allocations to the universities will deal a mortal blow to whatever auto­nomy has been retained by the academic institutions so far. This goes against the very objective with which the UGC was set up by an act of Parliament in 1956. 

The composition and nature of appointments to the proposed HECI will only enhance the role of bureaucrats and politicians in running, monitoring and evaluating higher education institutions, at the cost of academics. It is shocking that your ministry believes this to be a solution to what is widely considered the single biggest problem faced by academic institutions today. 

The higher education system in India is populated by institutions of diverse character, composition, ownership and objectives. A one-size-fits-all approach in the name of laying down “uniform standards” and redefining the mandate of universities based on the “changing priorities of higher education” (which the proposed legislation contains) not only betrays an insensitivity towards this vast diversity of the universities, but is also an autocratic attempt to forcefully homogenise them.   

Over the past four years, your ministry has been in the thick of several controversies involving unsavoury incidents and arbitrary decisions related to various academic institutions, which have evoked protests from students, research scholars and teachers across the country. The common and recurrent theme of those protests relates to the erosion of institutional auto­nomy and unwarranted ideological–political intrusions. Against this backdrop, the proposed legislation appears to be an act of extreme vindictiveness. 

What higher education in India needs today are determined measures to expand academic autonomy, enhance public funding, ensure social justice and improve the quality of teaching, learning and knowledge creation, within its institutions. The legislation under consideration seeks to achieve the exact opposite. Therefore, this is to urge the MHRD to rescind the move, and withdraw the proposed HECI (Repeal of UGC Act) Act, 2018 altogether. 

Prasenjit Bose

Kolkata

 

Updated On : 6th Jul, 2018

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