A Poorly Managed Sector

By GovernanceToday
In Cover Story
May 7, 2015
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Numerically, Indian education system is big at the global level. To regulate the education system and to govern them, there are various regulatory bodies, empowered by legislation to oversee and control the education process and outputs relevant to it. But how do the multiplicity and complexity of the bodies impact the overall education scenario?

UGCHigher education in India is regulated by almost 13 regulatory bodies, include University Grants Commission (UGC) and All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE). These regulatory bodies are supposed to coordinate university education, decide and maintain education standards, monitor development and also direct the central and state government on how to improve university education.

UGC came into existence in 1956 and AICTE in 1987 via acts of Parliament. A university in India can be created in two ways; either the central or state government enacts legislation to create a university or the UGC deems an institution of higher education to be a university. The UGC, which is responsible to provide grants to universities, colleges and researchers has got broader directives. However, as the apex body for higher education, the UGC has often being involved in turf wars with technical education regulator AICTE, autonomous institutes like IITs and diploma awarding institutes like IIMs. AICTE regulates more than 11,000 technical institutions in the areas of engineering, management, pharmacy, architecture, hotel and catering management, applied arts, town planning and computer applications, etc.

Messy Regulatory Landscape Hurting Education

The regulatory role of UGC includes making rules, implementing and enforcing them and also imposing penalties on violations. Unfortunately, the UGC has failed in all these areas. The introduction of four year undergraduate program at the Delhi University is a typical case. In 2013, we witnessed the controversy on how the Commission forced the Delhi University to roll back its newly introduced four-year undergraduate programme (FYUP) and the public spat between the two. At the same time it was seen because of the failure of the Commmission to conduct the National Eligibility Test (NET) exams in a hassle free manner, the HRD ministry passed on this responsibility to the CBSE. It was also seen in the year 2013 that UGC shot off a notification to all the IITs asking them to make sure that the degrees they confer are in line with UGC specifications. IITs shot back saying they were autonomous institution and do not follow regulatory diktats. In another incidence, the UGC and AICTE got into an argument over the regulation of business schools when it issued guidelines to institutions like IIMs which provide post-graduate diplomas in management. The government intervened to resolve the issue by allowing the UGC to regulate B-school awarding degree and the AICTE to look after those awarding diplomas.

Likewise, AICTE has also received flak from all quarters for its inability to regulate technical institution in appropriate manner. Plethora of complains has been coming in from students, parents, teachers, recruiters, media, parliamentarians and society in general about its failure to ensure quality access and equity in technical institutions.

Messy regulatory structure preventing emergence of a seamless educational ecosystem

  • The policies and procedures not streamlined to handle the vast load
  • Varied admission policies adopted by various institutions
  • Lack of adequate infrastructure and facilities
  • Dilapidated research standards
  • The system restrains innovation
  • Absence of a world-class faculty

Role of Regulatory Bodies in Improving Quality Education

Regulatory bodies should play the role of facilitator and not regulators. It should be managed by professionals equipped with vast and latest knowledge about the education scenario of the country. Efforts should also be made by these regulatory bodies to establish relationships with the international accreditation bodies like Ivy League etc. There is a major requirement to make a change in the admission policies maintaining uniformity. Focus should be laid on operational, financial and academic autonomy, with suitable accountability.

The education system needs to equip students with the generic skills as well as train them to meet the specific requirement of the industry. Public private partnership and Institution industry interface should be encouraged and facilitated by regulators. Encouraging Involvement of industry in the curriculum development and also implementation of curriculum would improve the quality of education making students industry ready. Regulatory bodies should encourage industry to utilize the human resource and infrastructure available in the universities. Emphasis should be laid on the quality assurance system, but it must be independent of political and institutional interaction. In order to bring quality in the education system in our colleges and universities, autonomy should be given to the universities without any interference from the government.

Today, education needs to be viewed as a long term investment for the promotion of social, economic growth and cultural development. Drafting a relevant education policy and maintaining a unified system to manage high education are among the crucial requirements of a sound regulatory structure.

There is an urgent requirement to encourage the private universities and the legislation to create them. It is muddled right now with multiple governing bodies having overlapping and often conflicting mandates. Several states in India do not even have a State Private University (SPU) Act. Since universities and institutes are minutely controlled, there is very little scope for managing the state of affairs by universities. For example, innovation in the course curriculum is a huge area in which universities can differentiate themselves, but that is not permitted.

Checklist for a robust regulatory system
• Development of a clear, time relevant education policy
• Ensuring adequate fund availability to the universities
• Putting in place a single authority for higher education sector
• Creation of accreditation system according to the international standards
• Providing incentives for R&D programs
• Create avenues for introduction of technology in advancing higher learning

Because of the huge opportunities, many corporate are eager to enter the higher education sector through private university model. The regulatory bodies should come up with policies which can boost private investment in higher education, especially where advanced research is held for want of funds. The demand for education in India is everlasting and is likely to increase, all it needs is adequate governing bodies who can drive the education system of India to stature of quality and efficiency.

Knowledge is the primary resource which could catapult India’s emergence as a globally competitive country. Currently there are a hand full of institutions that provide high-quality education while the vast majority needs significant improvement in terms of quality, access and equity. Though some initiatives have been taken recently to reform the sector including setting up of institutions to foster scientific research, and various bills to reform the higher education regulation. A robust education system enhances access to knowledge and provides high quality of education through improved delivery on one hand and encourages and incentivizes research activity. It is the job of the government to put in place a regulatory framework to ensures such an educational system exists and is available to all students of the country without any form of structural discrimination.

According to a review committee set up by HRD Ministry came out with the recommendation that the UGC had not only failed to fulfill its mandate but also has not been able to deal with emerging diverse complexities of higher education. The committee, headed by the former UGC chairperson HariGautam, said that any reshaping or restructuring of UGC will be a futile exercise. It recommended constituting a national higher education authority to replace the UGC. According to the committee, the Commission “had side-stepped its function of being a sentinel of excellence in education and (instead) embraced the relatively easier function of funding education.” The committee made some scathing remarks about the functioning of the Commission as well. About the membership, it said that at times businessmen, hotel owners and even readers in colleges were made members when eminent educationists or men of eminence in any field should have been the natural choice. The government, however, has rejected the remand of the committee to scrap the UGC.