The ministry of human resources development has circulated a draft bill to central universities, proposing to bring greater uniformity in governance structures. The bill is reportedly based on the recommendations of the A.M. Pathan Committee that suggested, among other things, the abolition of the post of chancellor and creation of a Council of VCs headed by the HRD minister. The report has also recommended the creation of a Central Universities Recruitment Board that will make some centralised appointments and a common admission test. Many of these proposals may be problematic.
Higher education in India is subject to an exceptional degree of regulation. Not only can educational institutions not be profit-making, they have to follow UGC norms pertaining to infrastructure, teacher appointments and curriculum. This regulatory framework has been criticised by many as being too centralised. In developed countries, universities have become centres of excellence by innovating their own governance and accountability structures. Their strong alumni networks, for instance, are the outcome of a dynamic evolution process rather than a centrally planned system. The HRD ministry’s response to the existing low standards in higher education seems to be to propose even greater centralisation.
Many sectors in India have witnessed innovation, and subsequently, global competitiveness, once the state has withdrawn restrictions. A similar approach is required in education. India’s overly regulated framework of higher education has resulted in a situation where not even one university features in the top 200 in the world. The US alone has 51. The government’s response is to propose an Indian system of rankings keeping in mind the “Indian situation”. In a rapidly globalising world, this insular approach is bound to hurt learning outcomes even more. To become global centres of research and educational excellence, our universities need to adopt globally successful structures of governance and accountability. This requires less centralisation and space for greater financial and functional autonomy. The HRD ministry should move to a framework that promotes innovation and competition, and at the same time, protects students as consumers of higher education.
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