On the table: Higher education body empowered to impose penalties of up to Rs 5 crore


THE PROPOSED Higher Education Commission of India (HECI), which will encompass the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the Indian Council for Technical Education (AICTE), is likely to have sweeping criminal powers as the government plans to expand it. to impose a fine of up to Rs 5 crore and also prosecute heads of institutions found guilty of committing violations.

Currently, the UGC, which is the supreme regulator of higher (non-technical) education, can impose a fine of up to Rs 1,000 for violations, including the establishment of bogus universities, under a law written in 1956, prompting demands for heavier penalties from time to time.

The proposed stiff penalties will likely be spelled out in the HECI Bill, which is being drafted by the Department of Education for tabling in the winter session of parliament. It is also learned that the Center is likely to stipulate the presence of at least one vice-chancellor from the state university and two professors from the state higher education councils in the proposed 15-member body. .

Other members, besides the president and vice president, are likely to include a vice-chancellor of a central university, a secretary of higher education, a secretary of finance, a legal expert and a reputable person of the ‘industry.

The move to mandate state representation on the commission marks a break with the government’s previous attempt to create the commission in 2018, when it faced resistance from some states and part of academia. who saw centralizing tendencies in the exercise.

The 2018 bill did not provide for any state representation on the commission. He was also criticized for a clause that gave the Center the power to remove the chairman, vice-chairman or any other member of the commission even on grounds of “moral turpitude”.

According to sources, the new bill retained this clause, but with the rider that removals can only be made after investigation by a sitting Supreme Court justice.

The bill, the sources added, will have a section dedicated to offences, penalties and arbitration, which will determine fines depending on the nature of the violations. If the violations are minor, the commission can issue opinions and request clarifications. However, if the issues are left unresolved, offenders can be fined at least Rs 10 lakh.

For “intermediate contraventions” there will be fines of at least Rs 30 lakh, while for “serious contraventions” penalties can extend up to Rs 5 crore, with a prison sentence of up to at five years old.


Checks and balances

THE PROPOSAL to arm the proposed HECI, which will be the overall regulator of higher education, with harsh criminal provisions comes at a time when the UGC is grappling with the proliferation of “fake universities”. The adjustments, compared to the previous attempt to create HECI, appear to be aimed at allaying states’ concerns.

Also, for offenses committed by any institution of higher education, it is proposed to make the “executive director” of the institute liable unless he can prove the contrary.

The provisions of the bill are aligned with the 2020 National Education Policy, which recommended that medical and legal education be kept out of the scope of the proposed HECI, in which general education will fall. technical, pedagogical, professional and other.

The commission will have four independent vertical sectors – the National Higher Education Regulatory Council, the National Accreditation Council, the Higher Education Grants Council and the General Board of Education, each of which will be headed by a President.

Overall, HECI will be tasked with developing an integrated roadmap for the future of higher education in India and transforming existing tertiary institutions into large multidisciplinary units and research universities.

The National Council for Higher Education Regulation must, among other tasks, manage actions against institutions that do not meet accreditation standards and violate other standards, monitor financial and administrative irregularities and handle complaints from parties. stakeholders.

The National Accreditation Council will design the accreditation process. The Higher Education Grants Council will develop transparent criteria for funding higher education institutions, support grants, scholarships, etc.

The previous bill had run into controversy by suggesting that the grants would be managed by an “advisory board” under the Department of Education (then known as the Department of Human Resource Development). The new project will likely recommend that financial aid through grants be disbursed through a “transparent, merit-based, technology-driven system,” an official said on condition of anonymity.


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