Reforming regulatory framework in higher education in India is the need of the hour
Multiplicity of regulatory bodies has indeed been a major issue in reforming the regulatory framework in higher education and the idea of a single regulator, once fructified, shall be a relief for the higher educational institutions, writes Furqan Qamar, Secretary General, Association of Indian Universities in DNA India.
Qamar writes that it was more than ten years ago that the National Knowledge Commission (NKC) recommended the setting up of an Independent Regulatory Authority in Higher Education (IRAHE), to replace all the existing regulatory bodies in higher education, including the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE).
The Yashpal Committee was constituted by the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development, ostensibly to counter or at least moderate this recommendation, too, reached the conclusion that the country needs a single regulator like the National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER), which should subsume UGC and AICTE. The idea was revived again with the Budget 2017 speech, announcing that the UGC shall be reformed and with PMO and NITI Aayog now pitching for a Higher Education and Empowerment Authority (HEERA), it seems that higher education shall soon see a new regulator replacing the existing ones, not all of them but at least those that are under the purview of MHRD i.e. UGC, AICTE, the National Council of Teacher Education (NCTE) and the Distance Education Council (DEC) presently operating as the Distance Education Bureau (DEB) under UGC, he writes.
According to the author, multiplicity of regulatory bodies has indeed been a major issue in reforming the regulatory framework in higher education and the idea of a single regulator, once fructified, shall be a relief for the higher educational institutions.
Nevertheless, the real challenge will be to give this new body a structure, organisation, system and procedure to make it more effective than the existing ones. This calls for a comprehensive understanding of the role that an effective regulator is expected to play and a thorough analysis of the causes of the perceived failure of the existing regulatory bodies. The presumption that the existing regulators suffer from design defect to cope with the contemporary and future challenges in higher education is only a part of the story; organisations may also fail due to the people they comprised and also because of the processes through which they operate, Qamar points out.
The author warns that unless designed thoughtfully and carefully, there is now every possibility that the new regulatory body may come to suffer from the same deficiencies, which mar the older ones and the history of higher education in the country is full of such examples. UGC, which was almost the sole regulator in higher education since its establishment in 1956, was found lacking in providing direction to the rapid changes in higher education, particularly in the areas of technical and professional higher education, open and distance mode of learning and teacher education. The discovery led to the setting up of new generation regulators like AICTE, NCTE and DEC. The experience, however, tells us that these newer bodies did not prove to be any better, if not worse, Qamar elaborates.
Stating that the effectiveness of the new regulatory body significantly depend on its ability to simplify regulations and do away with unnecessary conditions and impediments in the entry and operation of higher educational institutions, the author goes on to write that in view of the mounting evidence to the fact that the quality of higher education is invariably inversely proportional to the intensity of regulation, it must empower universities and higher educational institutions to take their own decisions — academic, administrative and financial, albeit with a sense of responsibility, transparency and accountability.
To recapitulate, Qamar writes, “In fact, the ultimate objective of the regulation should be to build institutional capacity and effectiveness to attain and maintain highest academic standards and quality.”