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Minister says HECI
to be independent

NEW DELHI : On July 23 the Union Government clarified in Lok Sabaha that the proposed Higher Education Commission would be an "independent" body and that rights of states would not be impugned, amid concerns expressed by members over replacing the UGC.

"We are not converting it into a bureaucratic organisation... it will remain independent," Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javadekar told Lok Sabha during the Question Hour.

He told the House that the Higher Education Commission of India Bill, 2018 which seeks to repeal the University Grants Commission (UGC) Act, 1956 and establish the Commission to effectively attain standards and enhance the quality of higher education. He said that the new body would not be a government ministry but an independent body.

When the UGC was set up in 1956, there were 20 universities, 500 colleges and around 2 lakh students. Now, there are over 900 universities, 40,000 colleges and more than 3.5 crore students, the minister said. Raising concerns, some members wanted to know why the UGC is going to be replaced. The minister said there would be two commissions -- one for providing grants and the other for carrying out regulatory functions. "That is the whole idea," he said.

According to the minister, the grant disbursal function to universities and colleges is now proposed to be located in an entity which works in a transparent, merit-based approach through an ICT (Information and Communication Technology) enabled platform. Making it clear that rights of states would not be impugned with the creation of the new body, the minister also said there would not be any change at all in existing reservations for OBC, SC and others.

"The proposed Higher Education Commission of India will focus largely on promoting the quality of academic instruction, maintenance of academic standards and grant of autonomy of higher educational institutions," Javadekar said.

Responding to concerns raised by members, Javadekar said the draft bill has been amended and that would go to the Cabinet for approval. Around 10,000 suggestions were received on the draft.

Some members raised the issue of the yet-to-be-established Jio Institute being selected as an institution of eminence
Javadekar said it was selected from 11 private proposals under the greenfield institutions category. To a query on why no state-run university found a place in the institution of eminence list, he expressed hope that public universities would be there in the next list.

The intention is to have 20 world class institutions in the next 10 years, he added.

HRD bid to restore AICTE credibility
By Our Correspondent
NEW DELHI : The Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) is planning to restore the credibility and authority of the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) that was eroded by the Supreme Court order dated April 25, 2013 saying that the AICTE has no authority over colleges affiliated to a university.

The apex court had, in its judgement dated April 25 said that it is not mandatory for affiliated colleges of a university to take prior approval from the AICTE to run MBA and MCA courses.

The idea is to let AICTE play a significant role in approval of new technical institutions and courses even as the final authority will remain with the University Grants Commission (UGC).

The ministry wants that all the applications seeking approval of new technical institutions or programmes should first be examined by the AICTE and then the UGC take a decision on them on the basis of the Council’s recommendations.

“The ministry has sought opinion of the Law Ministry” official sources said on December 16.

“The role of AICTE vis-à-vis universities is only advisory, recommendatory and one of providing guidance and has no authority to issue or enforce any sanction by itself,” the apex court held in its April 25 order. The MHRD move to give the AICTE powers to screen the applications for approval of new institutes and courses indicates that a debate over a proposal to restore the regulatory powers of the AICTE is over. The council may now be back to its advisory role with bigger mandate, so far as regulation of technical institutions is concerned.

The UGC has already come up with draft regulations to take over charge of the AICTE to regulate technical colleges affiliated to varsities across the country, even as an Ordinance seeking to restore the powers of the AICTE, however, continues to remain pending with the Union Cabinet.

As the ministry is gradually moving towards vesting the regulatory powers on the UGC, many private technical institutions have begun opposing the move, saying the higher education regulator had no prior experience in dealing with technical education and vesting of regulatory power into it would turn out be detrimental.


 JEE, NEET in Sept. Students and parents get relief

By Sanjiv Dube
On July 3 the Human Resource Development Ministry (MHRD) officially announced the postponement of the coveted Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) and the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) for admission to undergraduate engineering and medical courses respectively.

They will now be held in September, the government said, allaying fear of lakhs of students and parents.

"Keeping in mind the safety of students and to ensure quality education we have decided to postpone #JEE & #NEET examinations," Human Resource Development Minister Ramesh Nishank Pokhriyal tweeted on Friday evening, a PIB press release reported.

According to the new schedule, the JEE-Main will now be held from September 1 to 6; JEE Advanced on Sept 27 and the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) will be held on Sept 13, the press note said quoting the minister.

The two exams were first postponed on May 5. The NEET was earlier scheduled for July 26, while the JEE-Mains was to be held from July 18-23. The JEE-Advanced, conducted for admission to Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), was earlier scheduled for August 23.

The wide spread of pandemic Covid-19 had rendered the JEE and NEET  schedule redundant, leaving lakhs of students and parents' to pass sleepless nights. On July 1 the parents of about 4,000 NRI students based in West Asia had filed a plea in the Supreme Court demanding that NEET centres be set up in those countries or the examination be postponed.

Around nine lakh aspirants have registered for the JEE (Main), while 16 lakhs have registered for the NEET.

The Minister had on Thursday set up a panel to review the situation. “Looking at the prevailing circumstances and requests received from students and parents appearing for JEE and NEET examinations, a committee consisting of (National Testing Agency Director General Vineet Joshi) and other experts has been advised to review the situation & submit its recommendations to HRD Ministry latest by tomorrow," the press note said.

Both examinations are conducted by the NTA constituted by the MHRD.

MHRD lowers PM Fellowship bar to widen GATE

NEW DELHI : To boost research the Union Human Resource Development Ministry (MHRD) has amended rules of the Prime Minister’s Research Fellowship (PMRF) Scheme so as to include more institutes/ universities in the scheme.

According to a PIB press note released on May 7, the new relaxation will not apply to IISc/ IITs/ NITs/ IISERs/ IIEST/ Centrally Funded IIITs.

The requirement of Graduate Aptitute Test for Engineering (GATE) Score, according to Union Human Resource Development Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal, is being relaxed to 650 from 750 apart from minimum CGPA of 8 or equivalent. Several academics felt that the move would dilute the quality of the fellows.

Final-year students or holders of bachelor's or master's degrees in science or technology can apply for the fellowship if they have a cumulative grade point average (CGPA) of 8 or above and a GATE score of 650 or above. "Students with GATE scores of 650 now fail to secure admission to M.Tech courses in computer science or electrical engineering in the older IITs. Making them eligible for the fellowship will compromise standards," said an IIT Kanpur professor who did not wish to be quoted.

Now there will be two channels of entries, one direct entry and the other lateral entry. In the lateral entry, the students pursuing Ph.D in PMRF granting institutions (completed 12 months or 24 months as per certain requirements) can also apply to become fellow under the scheme. The NITs can also become PMRF Granting institution. The modifications will enable more students to avail of the benefit under the Prime Minister’s Research Fellowship Scheme.

According to the minister a dedicated Division is being created in the MHRD with the name of "Research and Innovation Division" which will be headed by a director who will coordinate research work of various institutions coming under MHRD.

The Prime Minister’s Research Fellowship Scheme was announced in the Budget 2018-19. The institutes which can offer PMRF include the IITs, the IISERs, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru and some of the top Central Universities/NITs that offer science and/or technology degrees.

The minister said that the candidates will be selected through a rigorous selection process and their performance will be reviewed suitably through a national convention. Starting Academic Year 2020-21, candidates can apply for PMRF through either direct entry channel or lateral entry channel.

To apply for PMRF through Direct Entry Channel the candidate must satisfy the following criteria:

In the preceding three years, the candidate should have either: (i) completed or be pursuing the final year of Bachelors or Masters degree in Science and Technology streams from any of the Institute/ University recognized in India with CGPA of 8.0 or above and GATE score of 650 or above in the relevant subject (the GATE criteria is waived if the qualifying degree is from one of the Centrally funded technical institutes), or, (ii) qualified GATE and completed or be pursuing M.Tech/ MS by research at one of the PMRF Granting Institutes having a minimum CGPA of 8.0 or above at the end of the first semester with a minimum of four courses.

To apply for PMRF through the Lateral Entry channel, the candidate must satisfy all of the following criteria:

The candidate should be pursuing Ph.D. in one of the PMRF granting institutions. Further, he/ she should have completed at most 12 months in the Ph.D programme if he/ she joined the programme with a Master’s degree; and should have completed at most 24 months in the Ph.D programme if he/ she joined the Ph.D programme with a Bachelor’s degree. He/ she should have completed at least four courses in the Ph.D programme with CGPA / CPI of 8.5 or above.

The PMRF Granting Institute, in which the student is enrolled, makes a strong recommendation for the candidate and uploads the relevant information on the PMRF web-portal, in view of his/ her merit clearly demonstrated during the first 12-24 months (as relevant) of the program;

The metrix on which the candidates will be judged include (but not restricted to) a strong research proposal, publications record and grades. Due weightage should be given to publication in reputed journals/conferences.

The five-year scheme provides for a fellowship of Rs 70,000 a month for the first two years, Rs 75,000 a month for the third year, and Rs 80,000 a month for the last two years. Besides, each researcher gets a research grant of Rs 2 lakh a year. In comparison, the Junior Research Fellowship provides for Rs 31,000 a month for the first two years and Rs 35,000 a month for the next three years.

Javadekar U-turn, says Jio not given Eminence tag

By Rajiv Shukla
On July 26 HRD minister Prakash Javadekar played backfoot to duck blunt supplementary questions on the proposed Jio Institute issue and categorically said that that "Jio Institute has not been declared an 'Institution of Eminence'."

He said that Jio has only been given "a letter of intent on the recommendation of Empowered Expert Committee (EEC)" and added that it has been given subject to certain conditions.

The reply was given by the minister while replying to a starred question in Rajya Sabha during Question Hour. Several members sought clarity on the criteria on the basis of which the prestigious title was conferred on select institutions.

The institutes which were chosen were Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, and Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay.

He said the Birla Institute of Technological Sciences, Pilani, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal, and Jio Institute were recommended for issuance of letter of intent. He clarified that Rs. 1000 cr. grant will be given only to public institutions and no funds will be given to private institutions under Institute of Eminence tag.

Explaining the policy he said that the University Grants Commission (UGC) notified the UGC (Declaration of Government Educational Institutions as Institutions of Eminence) Guidelines, 2017 for public institutions and UGC (Institutions of Eminence Deemed to be Universities) Regulations, 2017 for private institutions for setting up / upgrading of 20 institutions (10 from public sector & 10 from private sector) as world class teaching and research institutions called ‘Institutions of Eminence’ (IoEs). The Regulations inter-alia provide for Greenfield category as well.

Accordingly, applications were invited through UGC’s notification dated 13th September, 2017 from existing Government Institutions and existing Private Institution along with from Sponsoring Organizations who want to set up new Institutions of Eminence Deemed to be University. He said 114 applications – 74 from public sector and 40 from private sector, including 11 applications in the Greenfield projects were received.

These applications were entrusted to an Empowered Expert Committee (EEC) constituted for this purpose. The EEC, after thorough examination of applications and presentations made by the institutions, made its recommendations to UGC.

The Institutions were recommended and approved by the EEC and the UGC based on their detailed fifteen year strategic vision plan and a five year rolling implementation plan viz. Academic Plan, Faculty Recruitment Plan, Students Admission plan, Research Plan, Networking Plan, Infrastructure development Plan, Finance Plan, Administrative Plan, Governance Plan, etc. with clear annual milestones and action plans on how the Institutions of Eminence Deemed to be Universities are to be set up, with identifiable outputs and outcomes and their plan to meet the criteria for attaining the status of an Institution of Eminence, as mentioned in their application and presentations made before the EEC.

PhD entry rule

Javadekar pleaded ignorance about a contentious PhD/MPhil admission rule that was notified in 2016 with the ministry's approval.

He pleaded ignorance when Rashtriya Janata Dal member Manoj Jha questioned a UGC regulation that says all general and quota candidates must score at least 50 per cent marks in the written entrance test to qualify for the oral interview.

Virtually all other major entrance tests - even those governing admissions to the IITs and IIMs - relax the qualifying marks for Dalit, tribal and OBC students.

"The issue the member has raised - if he shares details, I will enquire and do justice," Javadekar said.

The UGC website says the regulation was "published on 13-7-2016", which is eight days after Javadekar took over charge of the ministry from Smriti Irani.

Another controversial clause in the regulation, not raised by Jha is that it makes the viva voce the sole determinant for admission, which critics say puts candidates from the villages and weaker sections at a disadvantage.

MHRD raises 'replace UGC' bogey again

By Sanjiv Dube
On June 27, Human Resource Development (HRD) Ministry once again raised the "replace UGC" bogey -- almost at the fag-end of the BJP government's term in office.

As if to show that it really means business, the ministry hoasted a draft of the proposed Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) Act, 2018 (Repeal of University Grants Commission Act, 1956) inviting suggestions from state-holders at reformofugc@gmail.com by 5 pm on July 7, 2018.

The monsoon session of Parliament starts on July 18 and the government has a backlog of 68 bills pending in Lok Sabha and 40 in the Rajya Sabha. In fact Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Vijay Goel met former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently to seek support for the legislative agenda. The 18-sitting session will conclude on August 10.

Experts on legislative matters told this correspondent that with important bills like the Muslim Marriage (Protection of Marriage Rights) Bill, 2017; Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2017; Constitution (123rd Amendment) Bill, 2017, and Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, 2013 lined up for passage MHRD has little chance to squeeze in its agenda.

Besides, the monsoon session also needs to replace six ordinances with Acts: Fugitive Economic Offenders Ordinance; Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance; Commercial Courts, Commercial Division and Commercial Appellate Division of HCs (Amendment) Ordinance; Homoeopathy Central Council (Amendment) Ordinance; National Sports University Ordinance; Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Amendment) Ordinance.

The move to reform, or to replace, the higher education regulator has been going on since Kapil Sibal days in the Congress regime, that is for over five years. Both the UPA and the NDA regimes have come up with their own drafts to 'replace' UGC but the chemistry of the Parliament gave them little leeway. Moreover Sibal's successors -- M.M. Pallam Raju, Smriti Irani and Prakash Javadekar -- have been political pygmies -- with little capacity to move the Parliament. 

The latest move came to light on June 27 when the ministry announced a draft Act to replace the UGC according to which the proposed Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) will focus solely on academic matters while monetary grants would be decided and disbursed by the Ministry. It will be called the Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) Act, 2018 (Repeal of University Grants Commission Act).

The proposed Act would be given teeth to enforce academic standards, order the closure of sub-standard and bogus institutions, even levy fines.

The government was earlier planning a single regulator to replace the regulators for technical education, teacher training and the UGC. However, it has since decided to strengthen the higher education regulator.

“The current commission remains preoccupied with disbursing funds to institutes and is unable to concentrate on other key areas such as mentoring institutes, focusing on research to be undertaken and other quality measures required in the sector,” said Higher Education Secretary B. Subramanyam. The new commission will be tasked with specifying learning outcomes for higher education courses, and prescribe standards of teaching, assessment, and research, according to the draft.

The UGC has been criticised in the past, especially for what has been seen as its restrictive regime. The Professor Yash Pal committee, in 2009, recommended an education regulator to rid the higher education sector of red tape.

The HECI will be a 14-member body having a chairman, a vice-chairman, three central government secretaries, the AICTE and teacher education council chairpersons, two members from accreditation bodies, two serving vice-chancellors, two professors and one doyen of industry.

For the first time there will be an advisory council to be chaired by the Union HRD minister. A senior official of the MHRD said that UGC staff would be retrained to adapt to the HECI regime, which will be fully digital and would do away with file work.

Varsities to have dept-wise vacancy roster

NEW DELHI : The government has reportedly asked the University Grants Commission (UGC) to make a department-wise roster of teacher vacancies reserved for scheduled caste and scheduled tribe candidates, instead of the current norm of having an institution-wise table, officials familiar with the matter said.

Giving details about the order by the Human Resource Development Ministry (MHRD), officials who refused to be named, said on March 1 that the move is based on a Allahabad High Court judgment in Vivekanand Tiwari and anr. Vs Union Of India and 5 Ors delivered on April 7, 2017.

In its order the Allahabad high court had struck down a UGC circular prescribing institution-wise reservation to fill vacant faculty positions and asked the UGC to "examine all aspects referred to in judgments of the Apex Court and submit its recommendations to the Ministry of Human Resource Development for its consideration and appropriate decision."

Petitioners Vivekanand Tiwari and others of Benaras Hindu University (BHU) had applied for the post of Assistant Professor in the Central university in their respective disciplines. The petitioners noticed that the reservation applied by the University was by way of treating the University as a 'Unit' and the posts of the Professor, Associate Professor, Reader and Assistant Professor as single cadre at each level in the University.

According to the petitioners the reservation for the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes ought to have been applied by treating the posts of different levels in each subject/department as a 'Unit' and not the whole University as a 'Unit'. The High Court upheld their contention and struck down a UGC circular prescribing institution-wise reservation to fill vacant faculty positions.

The judgement was subsequently challenged in the Supreme Court before the Vacation Bench comprising Justices R.K.Agrawal and Sanjay Kishan Kaul, on June 16, 2017 which issued notice returnable in four weeks.

The apex court bench upheld the high court order later, prompting the UGC to send a proposal to the HRD ministry stating that the number of reserved posts in SC/ST and other backward class categories should be done department-wise. The ministry asked the UGC to go ahead with its proposal.

A university is treated as a single unit for calculating the number of faculty from reserved categories. For instance, during listing of all teaching posts of the same grade and across departments are clubbed together to decide the quota. But with the new rule, each department in a varsity would be treated as a unit.

Experts, however, called the move a retrograde step. A former secretary in the central government, said if there is a single vacancy, it will preclude the possibility of quota.

“It is because of this problem the government had come with a formula of bunching together similar posts with similar pay scales, qualifications, and so reservation became possible. Usually in a department there would be a single vacancy and reservation would not be possible on a single position,” he said.

He pointed out that the move will reduce the number of posts for SC/ST and socially and educationally backward classes significantly. “They are poorly represented everywhere already … So in an educational system their presence is the lowest at the university level,” he said.

Government data shows there are 16,600 sanctioned posts for teachers in central universities in India. Of these, 5,928 posts are vacant.

NET need relaxed to fill up vacant lecturers' posts

From Our Correspondent
The government has relaxed the mandatory National Eligibility Test (NET) in order to fill up faculty vacancies in degree colleges and universities. Now those who completed a Ph.D or registered for one before 2009 would be eligible for lectureship without clearing the NET.

The HRD minister Smriti Irani announced on April 12 2016 that the move will help create a larger talent pool for teaching jobs. Women researchers will get more time to complete their research — an additional year for MPhil and two more for PhD — along with maternity leave benefits, she said.

At present, a student who has a postgraduate degree or an MPhil and has cleared the NET/ SET (state-level eligibility test) is eligible for lectureship in a college or university. If the student fails to clear the eligibility test but has an M.Phil degree, he or she can teach in a college, but not a university.

If a student does a Ph.D in accordance with University Grants Commission regulations, such as publication of research papers and presentations in seminars/conferences, he or she is eligible for the post of assistant professor in any college or university.

In 2009, the UGC made NET and a PhD the minimum eligibility criteria for the post of assistant professor in colleges and universities.

On April 12, the ministry gave the go-ahead to the commission to exempt such students from NET/SET for teaching jobs in universities and other educational institutions.

However, students will have to fulfil a number of conditions, including that the PhD is offered in regular mode and researchers have published papers as part of their work.

The ministry and the UGC did not have a specific figure on the number of beneficiaries but officials said the decision would benefit hundreds of thousands of aspiring teachers who were so far ineligible as they could not clear the NET or SET.

“There has been a long-standing challenge faced by researchers/aspiring teachers. The UGC today in conjunction with the government has taken this decision,” Irani said.

UGC chairman Ved Prakash said the move would create a greater pool of eligible candidates for recruitment as assistant professors. It would also address the shortage of faculty in educational institutions, he said.

Irani said female students would be given maternity leave of 240 days that would be excluded from the duration of their research. They would also be given eight years compared to the existing six for completing their Ph.D and three years to complete their M.Phil instead of two. The same benefits will be provided to people with disability.

Also, in case of relocation of a female MPhil/PhD scholar due to marriage or other reasons, research data will be allowed to be transferred to the university to which the scholar intends to relocate provided other conditions are met.

Granting more freedom to autonomous institutions and to incentivise quality education, the UGC and the ministry have done away with mandatory inspection of such institutes, nor will they require a no-objection certificate from the state. An autonomous college has academic autonomy to design its curriculum, prescribe syllabi and evolve its own pedagogy.

“They will only have to provide an NOC from the affiliated university and if they are accredited with the highest grade for two consecutive cycles, they would be granted autonomous status,” Irani said.

Cap on college affiliation, govt says 200 is enough

By Sanjiv Dube
: The Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has, in its effort to provide quality higher education, asked the states to put a cap on the number of affiliated colleges, a ministry official said on August 17, 2014.

The ministry has sent a number of suggestions to the states to improve academic and administrative excellence in the university system, including fixing an upper limit on the number of colleges that state university ought to affiliate. The MHRD feels 200 is more than enough and has directed the state higher education departments to ensure that the state universities do not affiliate more than 200 colleges falling within their jurisdiction.

According to the All India Survey on Higher Education 2010-11 conducted by the MHRD the national average for college affiliation per university stands at  300. Individually, Osmania University has the maximum number of affiliated colleges -- 901 -- while 811 colleges are affiliated to the University of Pune. Rashtrusant Tukadoji Maharaj University, Nagpur has 800 colleges with it and Rajasthan University, Jaipur has 735 colleges while Mumbai University has 711 colleges attached to them. While capping affiliations, States will be asked to create more universities instead.

For Central funding, the States will now have to develop a comprehensive higher education plan that utilises an inter-connected strategy to address issues of expansion, equity and excellence together. The plan needs to include projected analytical growth -- number of degrees to be awarded in the next decade, staff recruitment and research enhancement, among others.

The Ministry will unveil an ambitious Rs 1 lakh crore Central funding scheme to link academic, administrative and financial reforms of higher education within States and UTs as part of the Centre’s Rashtriya Uchattar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA).

RUSA is a flagship scheme aimed at providing strategic funding to States’ higher and technical institutions. When implemented, it will lead to setting up and upgrade of colleges and universities, facilitating higher education for more students. Other institutions like IITs and NITs are also granted permission to autonomously award degrees.

Tamil Nadu has the maximum number of 55 public universities and 29 deemed universities. Andhra Pradesh has the most State universities (32) and Rajasthan, the maximum number of private ones, at 25.

Delhi and Uttar Pradesh have four Central universities each, the most among all States and Union Territories. While the oldest established university is that of Mumbai (1857), the first institute to be granted deemed university status was the Indian Institute of Science (IIS) in May 1958.


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