The government on Wednesday tabled the Higher Education and Research Bill, 2011 in the Rajya Sabha that seeks to establish the National Commission on Higher Education and Research (NCHER), an overarching regulatory body for university education including vocational, technical, professional and medical education.

The existing regulatory bodies including the University Grants Commission and the All India Council for Technical Education would subsequently be scrapped. While there is no provision for protecting the chairperson or members of the UGC once the Bill is enacted, the services of officers and employees of the existing regulators would be saved. The Ministry of Human Resource Development has already started the process of selection of UGC chairperson but now there appears to be uncertainty over it now as there would not be many takers for the post.

The Bill seeks to promote autonomy of higher education and innovation and to provide for comprehensive and integrated growth of higher education and research keeping in view the global standards of educational and research practices, for which it will establish the National Commission for Higher Education and Research.

The NCHER will facilitate determination, coordination, maintenance and continued enhancement of standards of higher education and research other than agricultural education and matters pertaining to minimum standard of medical education as are the subject of proposed National Commission on Human Resources in Health (NCHRH).

The NCHRH Bill, 2011 piloted by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare was tabled in the Rajya Sabha last week. The Commission will consist of a chairperson and six members, one of whom will be the chairperson of the National Commission for Human Resources for Health, who will be appointed by the President on the recommendations of a search-cum-selection committee headed by the Prime Minister with the Lok Sabha Speaker, the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha and the Ministers in charge of medical education and higher education.

The Commission will have powers to take all measures necessary to spearhead the transformative changes in higher education. It will frame regulations and promote autonomy for institutional accountability, promote joint and cross-disciplinary programmes between and among institutions of higher education, to promote development of a curriculum framework with specific reference to new or emerging or inter-disciplinary fields of knowledge and to promote synergy of research in universities and higher educational institutions and with other research agencies.

The legislative proposal provides for the establishment of a General Council, which is proposed to be a representative body with advisory and recommendatory functions, in addition to the powers to approve the regulations framed by the Commission. The Council will have, in addition to chairperson and members of the Commission, the heads of professional bodies, research councils and experts in all sectoral areas of higher education.

Participation of States is being ensured through representation in the General Council. The existing regulators had no representation from the States and the NCHER draft was revised to accommodate States in the General Council. States have also been exempted from seeking prior approval of the NCHER before establishing new universities.

The Board for Research promotion and Innovation will formulate research and innovation policy for sustained global competitiveness, promote transformative and multi-disciplinary research in higher educational institutions, and facilitate the modernisation of research infrastructure in higher educational institutions. The powers and functions of the Board have been synergised with functions of the proposed NCHRH by including two members nominated by the NCHRH in the Board.

The proposed law also has provisions for the establishment of a Higher Education Financial Services Corporation that will disburse grants to universities and higher educational institutions.

Keywords: UGCAICTEHRD Ministry

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