Monday, May 24, 2010

NCHER will be an independent body: Kapil Sibal

India's proposed "super regulator" for higher education, which will oversee universities as well as institutes of technical, legal and medical education, will not operate under the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), minister Kapil Sibal has said. The clarification is expected to ease the concerns of the health and family welfare ministry and the law ministry, which have been worried that the new regulator would transfer their control over institutes of legal and medical education to the MHRD.

Sibal told Mint on Friday that the MHRD, which is preparing the final draft to create the National Commission for Higher Education and Research, or NCHER, proposes to make it an independent regulator. "It does not belong to the Ministry of HRD. It will be a separate statutory authority", he said. "(The) MHRD will not be able to give direction to NCHER", he added, although it "may be the service ministry".

Universities currently operate under the University Grants Commission (UGC), while technical institutes are controlled by the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE). Teacher training institutions fall under the purview of the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE). The MHRD is in charge of all these bodies.

NCHER was conceptualized on the basis of the report submitted by the Yashpal committee last year, which suggested an overarching regulator that will give more freedom to universities and institutes of higher education to run their affairs. The National Knowledge Commission in 2005 had also recommended doing away with AICTE and UGC, and their replacement with a "super regulator".

MHRD officials expect NCHER to be set up in this fiscal year. The ministry’s proposal placed medical and legal education institutions as well under the purview of NCHER, raising the hackles of the ministries of law and health and family welfare. K. Sujatha Rao, Secretary in the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, is scheduled to meet Higher Education Secretary Vibha Puri Das this week. MHRD officials said, on condition of anonymity, that the meeting will focus on the regulation of medical education.

But Sibal played down talk of a tussle between the ministries. "(Since NCHER) is going to be an independent statutory authority...there is no question of tension with anybody. Controlling higher education is certainly not our intention. NCHER will provide greater freedom. NCHER will facilitate, not concentrate power in itself", he added. The minister said he was yet to receive the final draft for NCHER, which is being prepared by education experts, but was optimistic that more autonomy to institutes of higher education will improve the standard of education.

Sibal said he aims to improve the gross enrolment ratio (GER) in higher education to 30% from the current 12.4% by 2020. That means 30 out of every 100 students in the 18-24 age group will pursue higher education. Around 9.95 million students are currently pursuing higher education in more than 460 universities and 22,000 colleges, according to MHRD data.

To increase the GER to 30%, Sibal says India needs 700 more universities and 35,000 colleges by 2020. He is open to more private participation in higher education. "(The) government does not have that kind of resources. But resources are available to the private sector", he said. "The opportunity is enormous. There will be private participation; there will be private-public partnership", he said.

Article by Prashant K. Nanda in Mint, May 24, 2010

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