Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Bill to allow foreign varsities faces opposition from Congress; No opposition to bill, says Kapil Sibal

The Centre's hopes for a smooth passage for the foreign educational institution bill may be dashed, with a section of Congress expressing views similar to BJP and Left. Though questions on the desirability of allowing foreign education providers to set up base in India was raised by some ministers, the Cabinet gave its approval to the Foreign Educational Institution (Regulation of Entry and Operation ) Bill recently. The Left had opposed the bill when UPA-I had tried to introduce it in Parliament. This time around, BJP has flagged off the complete autonomy that the bill gives to foreign institutions in matters of admission policy and the amount of fees that can be charged. Within Congress too these issues have been raised. Quite clearly when it comes to entry of foreign universities into India, a section of Congress considers objections raised both by Left and BJP as constructive.

Education is not a simple matter, decisions made today impact generations to come. If questions are being asked whether by Opposition or others, these should be welcome, a senior Congress leader said. Within the party questions are being asked about why the government is allowing foreign educational institutions to set up campus in the country when Indian institutions would not be permitted to set up base by these countries. Concerns have also been flagged off about the nature of courses that would be taught in these foreign universities. There are some who feel that these might not be in keeping with national interests or priorities.

The main causes of opposition to the bill within Congress is the lack of any regulation on the admission process and the level of fees that can be charged. Additionally, there is objection to the fact that these institutions will not be required to make provisions for reservations. While the charge is being led by Kapil Sibal baiters, the concerns raised will find traction among others in Congress as well. Mr. Sibal,who has described the approval given by the Cabinet to the bill as a milestone, has also come in for criticism from his party colleagues for indulging in piecemeal efforts. If reforms in education have to be undertaken, then they should be done with all seriousness. It should be the outcome of a process of consultation with all sections and stakeholders,not piecemeal efforts made after consulting a few, a Congress leader said. This is not the first time that Mr Sibal has been the subject of intense criticism in the party. Mr Sibal's announcement of abolishing Class X board examination too came for intense criticism from the party for the hastiness the minister had showed.

No opposition in party to foreign varsities bill: Sibal
HRD minister Kapil Sibal scorched all talk of opposition within Congress on allowing foreign universities to set up campuses in the country. Mr Sibal said that the idea of a legislative framework to allow foreign education institutions in India was part of the Presidents address to Parliament. "There is no opposition to the bill. This is something in national interest. The Foreign Education Bill is part of the President's address in Parliament," the minister said.
Though the Cabinet gave its approval to the Foreign Educational Institution (Regulation of Entry and Operation) Bill, 2010, last week, there has been some cause of concern about the bills provision which allows foreign education institutions to have their own admission process and fix fees. Mr Sibal argued that the law of the land applicable to private institutions would be applicable to foreign universities aspiring to set up campuses in India. At present, the fee for private engineering and medical colleges is fixed by a state level committee headed by a private judge. There is no mechanism to finalise the fee structure in private universities.

Mr Sibal said that foreign education providers will neither be discriminated against nor will be shown any favour. Confident that the government will be able to convince the opposition parties, the minister said, we are trying to go to a regulated regime from a deregulated regime on foreign universities. The foreign institutions will come through registration. As for the Left, which had prevented UPA-I from introducing the bill in Parliament, Mr Sibal said, the Left is already left out.

The government plans to introduce this bill in the current session of Parliament after it convenes following the recess. It will be introduced along with three other bills that were approved by Cabinet on Friday. Among these bills is the Prohibition of Unfair Practices in Technical, Medical Educational Institutions and Universities Bill, 2010. This legislation lists out 25 unfair practices, including charging capitation fees, which will attract both civil and criminal action. Capitation fee charged by any institute will be a cognisable offence. People will be prosecuted without fear and favour, Mr Sibal said. The two other legislation are the National Education Tribunals Bill and the National Authority for Regulation in Accreditation of Higher Educational Institutions Bill.

The National Education Tribunal Bill proposes to set up a two-tier grievance redressal system. Disputes pertaining to accreditation, affiliation and inter-institution matters will be adjudicated by the tribunals. The tribunal at the national level will comprise nine members. The tribunals will act as forums for fast-track and speedy resolution of issues in institutions. The state tribunals will adjudicate matters concerning teachers, employees and students of institutions in the respective states. The national tribunal would deal with all matters concerning regulatory bodies in higher education and also matters involving institutes located in two or more states. It would act as an appellate body against the orders of the state educational tribunals.

Source: The Economic Times, March 19 & 20, 2010

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