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Kapil Sibal tables NCHER bill in RS
From Our Correspondent
On December 28 Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal tabled the
Higher Education and Research Bill, 2011 to establish the National Commission on Higher Education and Research (NCHER) as an overarching regulatory body for higher education education.

The Bill, seeks to establish the Commission that would subsume University Grants Commission, All India Council for Technical Education and National Council for Teacher’s Education (NCTE). It was conceptualized on the basis of the report submitted by the Yash Pal committee in 2009.

The NCHER will frame guidelines for funding universities, deemed universities and undergraduate colleges. The proposed legislation will repeal the UGC Act 1956, AICTE Act 1987 and the NCTE Act of 1993.

The Commission would comprise a Chairperson and six other members, to be appointed by the President. The Chairperson has to be an eminent person of international standing in the field of academics and research. Its general council will consist of 70 persons with representation from all states.

The bill was moved two-and-a-half years after the President’s June 4, 2009, address to Parliament declared the government’s intent to establish an overarching body in higher education to reform the current regulatory structure.

The bill includes a provision that makes it essential for any new institution — Central or state — to seek approval from the NCHER for enrolling the first batch of students. The condition will also apply to private institutions.

The approval would be given only after the institute gets accreditation from the proposed National Accreditation Regulatory Authority.

The government has introduced a separate bill for creating this authority, which will give accreditation on the basis of infrastructure facilities and faculty available at the institute.

By linking approval to accreditation, the government, sources said, wanted to make it clear that new institutions could enrol students only after they fulfilled basic infrastructure and faculty requirements.

So far, there has hardly been any such condition for state governments to open new institutions. As education is on the concurrent list of the Constitution, states have been enjoying full freedom to start new universities without seeking approval from the Centre or any Central regulatory body.

A statement issued by the HRD ministry said: “These provisions have been made on account of the experience of the government that some institutions open and enrol students without having the basic minimum infrastructure and facilities, and later when stringent action is taken by the regulatory agencies to close down the institution, students are made to suffer for the actions of the managements.”

While there is no provision for protecting the chairperson or members of the UGC once the Bill is enacted, the services of officers and employees of the existing regulators would be saved.

The bill  was approved by the Union cabinet on December 20, three years after the idea was mooted by the Ministry of Human Resource Development.


 Law studies : Lawyers protest against NCHER bill

From Our Correspondent
Lawyers in Delhi and some state capitals struck work on January 20 on a Bar Council of India's call for strike in protest against the National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER) bill which, they claim, will take away the powers of the council to hear complaints against lawyers.

They were protesting against Higher Education and Research Bill, 2011, and Legal Practitioners Bill 2010. They say, these bills will take over the authority
of the BCI. The strike paralysed proceedings at all six district court complexes in Delhi. A group of lawyers even went inside special CBI court holding trial in the 2G scam and requested prosecution and defence counsel to stop the proceedings.

“Government wants to make the BCI redundant as it has been opposing several anti-people measures of the government, including allowing entry of
foreign lawyers,“ said Rajiv Khosla, spokesperson of the coordination committee of All District Court Bar Associations of Delhi.

M K Mishra, convenor of the steering committee of Bar Council said, a joint meeting of the chairmen of all state bar councils of the country, leaders of all bar associations of Delhi and Bar Council of India will be held on January 23. “By introducing the bill, HRD minister Kapil Sibal wants to undermine the
authority of elected bodies of advocates and he wants to impose his supremacy,“ Mishra said.

Sibal, too, has called a meeting of BCI members on January 23.

In Chennai the Tamil Nadu Advocates Association led by S. Prabarakan took out a procession on the High Court premises and held a demonstration against the proposed legislation. Mr. Prabakaran said that the Bill proposed to take away the duties and functions entrusted to the BCI and the State Bar Councils.

Reports from Dehra Dun said that “Around 1,000 lawyers and advocates joined the agitation in Dehradun.”

Prithviraj Chauhan, chairman, Bar Council of Uttarakhand, said that a delegation headed by Anil Gandhi, general secretary, Bar Association of Dehradun, met City Magistrate Manmohan Bisht and submitted a memorandum requesting the Central Government not to allow foreign law firms in India.

TAshok K Parijahe BCI call for strike was given on January 9 by BCI chairperson Ashok K. Parija who urged lawyers throughout the country to stay out of courts on January 20 to protest against the new education super-regulator proposed by the MHRD in the Higher Education and Research Bill, 2011 tabled in Rajya Sabha on December 28.

The Higher Education and Research Bill, 2011 tabled in Rajya Sabha, seeks to set up an overarching national body to regulate all streams of higher, vocational, technical and professional education, except medicine and agriculture.

However, the proposed National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER) will frame guidelines on research in medicine.

The Law Ministry sees the legislation as an attempt by the MHRD to impose the regulator on it. Under the existing system, the BCI deals with Law education and professional standards under the Advocates Act, 1961.

Lawyers fear the proposed super-regulator would erode the independence of the bar and eventually of the judicial system. “We will not accept this bill in any form,” Parija said.

Parija said the BCI, which recognises legal professionals throughout the country, had time and again conveyed to the Law Ministry its objections to the proposals but its concerns were not heeded. He said the council would submit a memorandum to law minister Salman Khurshid. The minister, he added, has assured them of a sympathetic hearing.

Parija claimed the bar council recognises a law college only after the state university concerned had granted it affiliation, and said the BCI’s legal
education committee was more broad-based than the one proposed in the education bill.

The BCI chairperson said the proposed committee would include bureaucrats and academics, according to the bill’s provisions, whereas the bar council
committee had senior advocates as well as distinguished judges. “Which one is better?” he asked.

Sibal's men make NCHER Bill palatable for CABE

By Rajiv Shukla
With just a fortnight left to go for the important CABE meeting, minister Kapil Sibal has coaxed the Human Resource Development Ministry to work overtime and help redraft the National Commission for Higher Education and Research Bill so as to make it acceptable to all states.

The redrafted draft of the Bill was discussed and debated on May 29 at a special meeting of about 50 select people called by Mr Kapil Sibal -- including the task force members -- and at the end of the day the basic issues still remained unresolved leaving an embarrassed minister to say that the final “decision will be of the government at the highest level.”

Speaking to reporters at the end of a day-long discussion on the NCHER Bill Sibal said the bill was the property of the task force. The government could change its title and take the final call.

The Bill, now renamed Higher Education and Research Bill 2010, got wide support for the inclusion of medical education within the purview of the proposed National Commission for Higher Education and Research.

Speaking at the meeting the Task Force member N R Madhava Menon, strongly pleaded the inclusion of medical education in the NCHER. Menon,  the NCHER crusader, said that even Law education and agriculture education should be brought under it. Menon said that since there was a constitutional impediment in bringing agriculture under NCHER, “the government should bring an amendment” for the purpose.

The other Task Force members also cited several reports on higher education —- Radhakrishnan Committee, Kothari Commission, Yashpal Committee and National Knowledge Commission -— which favoured bringing all forms of higher education under one body.

Sibal, who chaired and coordinated the meeting however, made it clear that his ministry was not yet associated with the recommendations of the task force. The ministry, he said, would come into the picture only after consultations in the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) were over and the bill was finalised.

The meeting discussed the draft of the Bill and keeping in view the federal structure of the constitution smoothened some of the irritants to which the states were particularly hostile. To make its appearance more acceptable, the word "national" has been dropped from its name, making it simple -- Higher Education and Research Bill.

Secondly the provision on vice-chancellor's appointment has been diluted. Now the states will be free to pick a vice-chancellor from outside the directory maintained of the MHRD but it would be mandatory for the Central universities to "pick up names from the directory,” said Prof Goverdhan Mehta, a Task Force member.

The provision had drawn maximum criticism from the states, particularly, Tamil Nadu, Bengal, Kerala, Karnataka, Gujarat et al who felt the Centre was all out to monopolise the appointment of vice-chancellors in the states.

Another crucial deviation is the creation of an all-new General Council within the ambit of the Bill. With representatives from every state/UT, this council will have the power to veto Commission’s decisions by a two-third majority. “This is a welcome addition to the old draft which was too centralised. We would, however, want the council to perform the main role and the NCHER to be an executor,” Dr K N Panikkar, vice-chairman, Kerala State Higher Education Council told Academics-India. Panikkar, a bitter critic of the old draft, described the reworked version as “substantially improved.”

Another relaxation the Task Force has granted to states pertains to functional authorisation, which any new university awarding degrees would need to obtain from the NCHER. Under the old draft, the NCHER could refuse authorisation even after the university received a positive assessment report from an accreditation agency. “Now the commission will have to grant the
declaration if the assessment report is fine,” said a ministry source.

The new draft further seeks control of education as a whole including medical, legal and agricultural despite the Health Ministry’s resistance to the move. The Task Force has recommended a constitutional amendment to include agricultural education under the NCHER, agriculture being a state subject at present.

The task force decided to set up an ‘informal' committee of four eminent persons that would study the drafts of the NCHER and National Council for Human Resource in Health (NCHRH) bills to ensure that there was no overlap. The committee will be comprised of Srinath Reddy and Ranjit Roy Choudhary (both members of the NCHER task force) and M.K. Bhan and Syeda Hamid,
both members of the NCHRH task force.

Mr. Sibal said that the inputs received at the consultation would be taken into account while finalising the draft NCHER bill before it was placed before the CABE. After the CABE approved it, the draft Bill would be sent to the government.

Task force doesn't want NCHER to repeat UGC flaws

By Rajiv Shukla
: The task force set up to suggest improvements in the Bill on National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER) wants a separate body for higher education funding, sparing NCHER to focus on policy making, excellence and quality control.

"Let us not repeat the UGC flaws", said a senior member of the task force who preferred to remain anonymous.

This fact was also confirmed by a senior Ministry official who said that most of the task force members were in favour of having a separate body for higher education funding leaving NCHER to focus on regulating the institutions and framing policies for them. It should not be involved in providing funds to institutions as specified in the earlier draft bill,
official source said.

The task force which has been holding meetings in all important cities finally met here on May 11 to complete the draft of the NCHER bill which is likely to be placed before Parliament in the monsoon session. Most of its members felt that the service delivery should be separated from policy making.

The task force comprises people like former IIT Madras director M Anandkrishnan, Planning Commission member Sayeeda Hamid, social scientist Mrinal Miri and senior chemistry professor Govardhan Mehta.

Introducing changes to the earlier draft, the task force said that the NCHER, to enjoy the powers of a civil court, should focus only on framing policies and ensuring quality in the colleges and universities across the country. It should not be involved in providing funds to institutions as specified in the earlier draft, official sources said.

The draft bill had initially entrusted these responsibilities with the NCHER, which would replace existing regulatory bodies like UGC, All India Council of Technical Education and National Council for Teachers’ Education.

The task force also took note of the concerns raised by some states including Kerala, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu and Karnataka on a few key clauses in the bill.

The bill provisions opposed by states included the need for a new university to get an NCHER authorisation to start functioning and the appointment of vice-chancellors from a national registry. The registry would be maintained by NCHER, based on recommendations of ‘eligible persons’ collegium, to aid the Commission for coordination and promotion of higher education. The universities could choose their pick from the five names in the registry that the NCHER suggested for any vacancies of vice-chancellors.

The task force members referred to the Supreme Court judgement in the case of Yashpal & Others verses State of Chhattisgarh & Others in which the court said that the Central law or regulation of an agency created under a Central law will be final and binding on education matters.

But after the objections raised by some states, the task force said that the condition of appointment from the registry would be mandatory only for Central universities. The State universities would be free to appoint vice-chancellors as per their regulations. But the NCHER collegium will scrutinise the appointment.

The government would further discuss the bill with the Central Advisory Board of Education, the highest advisory body on education matters, on June 18 and 19, the official source said.

Foreign Educational Institution Bill, 2010

From Our Correspondent
On March 15 the Union cabinet approved the bill that would open up country’s education sector to foreign educators and investment.

The Bill, called Foreign Educational Institution (Regulation of Entry and Operation) Bill, 2010, seeks to allow foreign education providers to set up campuses and offer degrees. HRD Ministry sources say the bill would be introduced in the Lok Sabha when the House meets after recess on April 12.

“This is a milestone which will enhance choices, increase competition and benchmark quality. A revolution larger than the one in the telecom sector awaits the education sector," HRD Minister Kapil Sibal said after the Bill got Cabinet's assent.

Like private universities in the country, the foreign ones too -- whether private or state-owned -- won't have to implement scheduled caste and OBC quotas. There will also be no state-imposed restriction on the fees they charge.

The Foreign Universities Bill, 2010, has been pending for the last four years owing to opposition from various quarters, including the Left parties, over certain provisions. Last year, it was referred to a Committee of Secretaries which modified certain provisions.

The Bill was approved by the Cabinet on Monday, presided over by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, without any change. It prescribes an eight-month, time-bound schedule for granting approval to foreign educational institutions. They will go through different levels of registration process during this period. Finally, they will be registered with the proposed National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER) which will screen the proposals as per India's priorities and advise the government whether to allow it to operate in India.

Though 100 per cent Foreign Direct Investment through automatic route is permitted in the education sector since 2002, India does not allow granting of degrees by foreign institutions. The new law is expected to facilitate foreign institutes to participate in higher education sector.

A foreign university aspiring to set up a campus in India will have to deposit Rs 50 crore as corpus fund. Provisions of Section 25 of the Companies Act will be applicable and these institutes will not be allowed to take the profit back and will have to spend the amount for further expansion of the institutions here.

Foreign education providers will be allowed to take part in other activities like consultancy projects.

The cabinet has rejected a key recommendation of the Committee of Secretaries. The bill allowed the regulatory authority — the proposed NCHER — to exempt select foreign universities from most provisions. The committee had opposed this clause and had recommended that it be dropped as it could lead to institutions alleging bias towards varsities granted the exemption. However the cabinet decided to retain this clause, which means that the NCHER will have the power to exempt Harvard, for instance, from most clauses of the bill.

Three other reforms bills, which were slated to be taken up in the Cabinet, were deferred to the next meeting.

These are :

  • The Foreign Education Providers Bill

  • The Educational Tribunal Bill

  • The Accreditation Bill

  • The Prohibition of Prohibition of Unfair Practices in Technical, Medical Educational Institutions and Universities Bill

  • Amendments to Architects Act

Though the Educational Malpractices Bill was not on the Cabinet agenda, sources said the ministry is working to ensure that it finds place in next Cabinet's supplementary agenda. Of the four new Bills, three related to accreditation, malpractices and tribunal were earlier referred by the Cabinet to an eight-member Group of Ministers which has cleared all of them.

The Malpractices Bill has a list of 25 educational malpractices and any institute found indulging in them can attract a hefty fine and sentence of up to three years. The malpractices include demanding capitation fee, giving wrong information about faculty and facilities, overcharging students through information brochure, non-transparent admission procedure and other such related activities.

The amendment in the Architects Act seeks to take away academic functions from the Council of Architecture and limits it only to controlling the profession.


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