Academics deliberate upon the proposed bill that seeks to eliminate unfair methods followed by institutions with respect to admission, fee and infrastructure provisions.

In order to protect the interests of students and fill the void that existed in the legal framework in punishing higher, technical education institutions that indulged in certain malpractice, the Central government tabled the Prohibition of Unfair Practices in Technical Educational Institutions, Medical Educational Institutions and Universities Bill in Parliament last May.

Since then, the bill is being examined by a Parliament Standing Committee, which is now in the process of holding consultations with all the stakeholders in the higher education sector.

The bill, in its current form, has three primary objectives: To curb specific malpractice in technical education institutions, such as charging of capitation fee, and ensure “receipt” for every transaction made between the student and the institution. To ensure that the institutions furnish authentic details on the quality of education provided and the infrastructure available with them so that the students could make an informed choice. The bill, for effective implementation, seeks to impose severe penalties, including fine and imprisonment, on those institutions which fail to adhere to the provisions of the law.

Apart from the above objectives, the bill hopes to bring in transparency in the process of admission to these technical institutions by mandating pre-eminence of merit during candidate selection. The record of this process should also be posted on the institution's website. Since its formulation, the bill has attracted varied opinions from different stakeholders.

According to Dr. E. Balagurusamy, former vice-chancellor of Anna University, Chennai, though the idea of a central law to curb misconduct in higher education is a novel one, the most important aspect would be effective implementation of the provisions. “There is no need for a new law as stringent provisions are already available with the universities to curb such malpractice. The problem is effective implementation of these laws which is lacking due to pressure exerted by private institutions through various quarters,” he said.

The contention of several teachers who spoke to Education Plus was that the Act does not lay out, in exact terms, how it would implement the provisions. This, they said, was the same reason why so many of the State laws that were enacted to curb such malpractice failed in their mission.

“A backward step”

Private institutions on the other hand view the bill as a “backward step” in education reforms and term it a “needless regulation” at a time when all other sectors in the economy are witnessing liberal reforms.

G. Viswanathan, founder-chancellor of the Vellore Institute of Technology, said measures such as fine of Rs 50 lakh and three years of rigorous imprisonment for even minor mistakes in the prospectus were uncalled for.

“What the government should do is improve the competition in the higher education system which would automatically bring down cost of education,” he said.

However, students refuted the claim that competition could bring down the price of education. “We have over seven medical colleges for a small territory such as Puducherry where number of applications for medical seats is very less. Despite such a large number of colleges, the fee structure has only gone up leaps and bounds and the practice of charging capitation fee is rampant,” said S. Mukund, a second-year Medical student in Puducherry.

One other contentious issue is that the bill does not provide any means to “regulate” malpractice in the implementing agencies. Taking the case of the alleged scams unearthed in the Medical Council of India, private institutions argue that bringing such agencies under the purview of the law is of paramount importance to curb malpractice.

Experts though, disagree. M. Anandakrishnan, chairman, Board of Governors, IIT-Kanpur, said that implementing agencies are already governed by Acts and laws and are under the direct purview of the government. Once a scam is unearthed, there are enough provisions to ensure speedy and proper punishment. “But in the case of private institutions, there existed a major void at the moment which the bill seeks to fill,” he said.

Parents said that a law that does not attend to the exorbitant fee structure prevalent in many of these colleges could not help their cause.

“The bill should ensure that the spirit of the Supreme Court judgment that educational institutions should make only ‘reasonable surplus' and should not indulge in profiteering was followed without exception,” said Mr. Venkataramanan, whose son is studying in a private engineering college in Chennai.