Educationists in Tamil Nadu have slammed the Human Resource Ministry’s decision to repeal the University Grants Commission.
The Tamil Nadu Students-Parents Welfare Association and the State Platform for Common School System - Tamil Nadu (SPCSS-TN) have criticised the move to rejig the higher education authority that would essentially take away its funding powers.
In a 28-point letter to HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar, SPCSS-TN General Secretary Prince Gajendra Babu made it clear at the outset that the time to file a response was too short and that the draft bill, with far-reaching consequences, was only available in English and no other language.
Pointing out that the "Incorporation, regulation and winding up of a University is an exclusive domain of the State Government", the letter said that if the bill was passed into law, the move would obliterate all Acts establishing universities across the country.
The letter warns that the law, if enacted, will widen disparity and is against the interest of the socially and educationally backward class.
“Social disparity and economic inequality has not reduced to desired level. The recommendation made by Kothari Commission for establishing Common School System and developing all Indian languages is still a dream. Under these circumstances affirmative action, as guaranteed by Constitution of India for Educationally and Socially Backward classes can be best achieved only when the grant and inspection remain with an independent statutory body and that is the mandate for UGC. If a body that regulates Higher Education Institutions is relieved of both the functions of providing grant and inspecting the Higher Education Institutes, the the vision, as stated in the Preamble of the Constitution of India, cannot be realized,” the letter states in response to the government’s emphasis on “merit.”
Senior educationists in Tamil Nadu have also questioned whether the move is aimed at opening up the education sector to international business interests under the World Trade Organisation’s General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) treaty.
In 2014, India signed a series of agreements at the WTO that included the GATS treaty. The treaty enables countries to liberalize international trade in the services sector. This would include sectors like health and education. At the time, Indian educationists had cautioned against the commercialisation of education.
The letter states, “The Draft Act does not distinguish between a State University and Private University. This is precisely what the WTO-GATS mandates. WTO-GATS demands a level playing field and the Draft Act makes it possible. The Draft is not in accordance with the Constitution of India but in accordance with wishes of the WTO. The government of India must come out openly on the progress of negotiation in WTO, particularly in the field of education. If it is not to satisfy anybody, then, such haste is not required to dismantle the sixty year old statutory body that is mandated to ensure sufficient grant is provided to all Government and Government aided institutes, so as to ensure that education remains a social good.”
On June 27, the Ministry released a press note with a five-principle guideline based on which the regulatory reform would take place.
The government stated that the new regulations would mean "less government and more governance” i.e. no more interference in the management issues of the educational institutions.
Further, the organisations also stated that the repeal would spell the end of "inspection raj", elaborating that “regulation would be done through public disclosures, merit-based decision making on matter regarding standards and quality in higher education.”
The newly proposed body — the Higher Education Commission of India — would work with the mandate of improving academic standards, the government said. It would also have the power to disband sub-standard or bogus institutions.
Following criticism of the brief ten-day period up until July 7 given to provide feedback and suggestions from stakeholders across the country, the HRD Ministry extended the deadline to July 20. It is expected that the draft law will come up in the monsoon session of the parliament beginning July 18.
Calling for a wider consultation and public hearing in every state and union territory, educationists have also cautioned that the far-reaching social, cultural consequences of this move cannot and should not be ignored.