To The Members of the Task Force
The All India Federation of University and College Teachers’ Organisations stands for equity and excellence in Higher education. It is the considered view of the AIFUCTO that any policy on Higher education in the country should pass the litmus test of whether it would facilitate equity and excellence in Higher education.
The proposed Bill for the creation of NCHER has created a serious apprehension among the stakeholders of Higher Education that it would result in further liberalisation, deregulation, privatisation and commercialisation of Higher Education.
India is a country known for its plurality and diversity. Serious doubts have been raised if too much of centralisation would bring rigidity and further accentuate the lop-sided development of Higher education.
India is a country with a federal structure and education is in the concurrent list. We are apprehensive that the proposed Bill would erode the federal character of the Higher education system in the country.
Any reform in higher education should promote the national objectives of expansion, inclusiveness, equity and excellence. The Bill needs to be considered against the above background.
AIFUCTO is of the view that a small body consisting of 7 persons, whatever be their stature, academic expertise and administrative acumen may not be able to perform the enormous functions assigned to it – to innovate and develop policies, to determine norms and standards, to advise the Govt.s and the universities, to encourage universities and enable them to be self-regulatory, to coordinate with other institutions and to be responsible for comprehensive and holistic growth of higher education and research. We are afraid the Commission would collapse under its own weight. Further, the fact that half of its members would be whole-time and the other half would be serving the commission only on a part-time basis might create power centres and vested interests.
The Bill proposes that the NCHER would be free from any political or bureaucratic interference. The fact that the selection committee for recommending the members of the NCHER is heavily loaded in favour of the ruling party and the Central Govt. (in the ratio 4:1 between the representatives of the Govt. and the Opposition) suggests that these are also going to be only political appointments. So a more equitable system is necessary for the selection of the members of such forums.
The Bill provides for the creation of a Collegium to suggest a panel for the selection of the Chairperson and members of the NCHER, to advise the NCHER, to recommend persons for inclusion in the National Registry for appointment as VCs and to make observations and suggestions about the performance of the NCHER.
The Collegium consists of Core Fellows and Co-opted Fellows. It is not known how many core Fellows would be there and how would be they nominated. But it is said that the office of the Core Fellows would be a life-time affair. But, at the same time, it is not said how vacancies caused on account of death, resignation or otherwise would be filled up. What is the rationale behind the life-time nomination of people? Will it not create power centres and vested interests as the Core Fellows would be entitled to elect Co-opted Fellows? Is there any guarantee that National Research Professors or recipients of Nobel Prizes or Jnanpith awards would be unbiased and free from any vested interest so as to enable them to be life-time members?
Each state will have to recommend a panel of names for election of the Co-opted Fellows. What are the criteria for the States recommending the panel?
Education is in the concurrent list and both the Parliament and the legislatures have the authority and the responsibility to establish Universities depending on specific needs. But the Bill stipulates that even the Universities created by State Legislatures will become operational only after they are authorised by the NCHER. This will erode the constitutional authority of the State legislatures.
This clause together with Section 25 of the Bill specifying the role of the Commission to guide and advise a body or institution for the establishment of a university suggests that the Commission will byepass the Parliament and the State Legislatures to establish Private Universities.
AIFUCTO is of the considered view that Regulatory authority of a University should not be accorded to any private agency. The Deemed University issue should be an eye opener. The new private universities may not be any different from the deemed universities. The idea of inclusiveness in Education with the aid of private agencies will only be a mirage. Market forces will always work against inclusiveness.
The creation of a National Registry of people eligible to be appointed as VCs is also a contentious clause. It is true that the appointment of VCs has been vitiated and has met with serious criticism. There are cases where the posts have been auctioned and there are cases where they have been made on communal and political considerations. So this is a serious issue which demands our attention. Eligibility norms have to be fixed and unbiased selection procedures have to be evolved. But centralisation of the Registry may not work.
Finally education cannot be elitist. Elitism is antithetical to inclusiveness. So leaving policy formulation for the entire country to an elite few is not a welcome thing. Moreover education cannot be a forte of the academics alone. It is a social issue. Any structure involved in policy framing should have the representative character of the society, of course with more representation from the academia. So the education policy should be decided by a body of experts and representatives of the Central and State Governments and Universities and also other stakeholders like the industry, teachers and students organisations. This could preserve the democratic and federal character of the state.
Autonomy implies decentralisation of powers and responsibilities and there could be no autonomy without accountability. So such a body should ensure these and should also have specific provisions to prevent both commercialisation and communalisation of education.
The possibility of reforming the UGC, NCTE, AICTE etc and creating a coordination mechanism among these may be explored in place of dismantling these agencies and creating NCHER which would perhaps only become dysfunctional than any of these agencies.
We request the Task Force to give AIFUCTO a special hearing during which a clause by clause discussion would be possible.
Higher Education, in the present context, needs a very serious study and drastic reforms. Piecemeal reforms may not work. A holistic study analysing our strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and needs, performances and expectations, funding and governance, curriculum and quality bench marks is necessary. Since Dr. Kothari Commission no such study has been made. AIFUCTO urges that such an effort is the need of the hour. So a new Higher Education Commission has to be constituted to go into all these issues, hold discussions with all those involved in Higher Education and arrive at suitable policies which could take the country on a sound path of development based on inclusiveness, equity and excellence.
We hope the Task Force will listen to the voice of lakhs of teachers with an open mind.
James William Asok Barman
Presedent General Secretary