Saturday, January 04, 2014

Government to restore old powers of AICTE

The Union government is planning to introduce legislation that would reverse a Supreme Court order and restore the powers of the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) to oversee technical institutes including engineering and business schools—a move that would cheer thousands of professional colleges left in a regulatory vacuum by the ruling. “We are for restoring the powers of AICTE,” said Ashok Thakur, Secretary, Higher Education, Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD). “We have taken the opinion of the law ministry on it. Instead of an ordinance route, we will go through legislative route.”

On 25 April, the Supreme Court ruled that AICTE does not have the authority to control or regulate professional colleges that are affiliated to universities, rendering the once-powerful technical education regulator ineffective and leaving some 11,000 professional colleges without an overseer. Nearly a million students graduate from these colleges every year.

In December, the University Grants Commission (UGC) unveiled draft guidelines to regulate the institutes, which have been at a loss regarding how to operate in the absence of a regulatory mechanism, for instance, getting approval for plans to raise or lower their student intake. Thakur indicated that UGC will serve as a stop-gap regulator of these institutes until the AICTE’s powers are restored. He said that a joint coordination committee of UGC, AICTE and officials of the MHRD had met earlier this week and are again meeting on 10 January to chalk out their strategy.

As an interim measure, AICTE will continue to set the standards for professional colleges to follow; the National Board of Accreditation (NBA), another government body, will conduct the assessments; and UGC, through the universities under it, will offer affiliation and approvals to these technical schools.

The MHRD plans to introduce the draft law in the next session of Parliament and table it most probably in the Rajya Sabha. Bills moved in the upper house of the Parliament will not lapse even if the Lok Sabha is dissolved in the run-up to the general election due by May. 

To be sure, the window open for the Bill to be passed is narrow. “We will push for it in the coming (budget) session and if it cannot get passed, then it will carry over for early resolution in the next government,” Thakur said. If that scenario pans out, the stop-gap regulatory arrangement would be in place for one academic session.

Legislation restoring AICTE’s powers would mean that professional colleges would be able to stay clear of UGC’s control and command structure while ensuring that they emerge from the regulatory limbo they found themselves in after the Supreme Court order. It will also help the government avoid legal hassles. 

Several associations of private colleges, including the Education Promotion Society of India, have been planning to move the Supreme Court against the new guidelines of UGC. They argue that coming under UGC’s fold will take away their autonomy—their curriculum, for instance, will have to be prescribed by the university to which they are affiliated. The curriculum is often outdated and out of step with industry requirements.

“The autonomy of the top colleges should not be violated. A regulator is important but UGC regulation via universities is not desirable,” said Harivansh Chaturvedi, director of the Birla Institute of Management Technology in Greater Noida on the outskirts of New Delhi.

Source: Mint, January 4, 2014

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