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Five key education reform Bills likely to get Parliamentary nod

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LiveMint
March 11, 2013

At least five key education-related Bills, including one that will allow foreign universities to open campuses in India and another to combat educational malpractices, will likely soon get passed by Parliament, signalling the first success for the human resource development (HRD) ministry’s efforts to reform higher education.
Stuck for more than two-and-a-half years, these Bills have finally found favour from a parliamentary committee comprising members of several political parties. The HRD ministry is hoping the consensus will enable it to push the reform Bills in the ongoing session of Parliament that continues until May after a month-long break that starts 22 March and in the following session.
“Parliament scrutiny of all these proposed legislations has been completed. The committee observes that enactment of all these legislations will bring about major transmission in the higher education sector and thus restructure and re-orient our higher education system… in a globalized world,” said the committee report.
Mint has reviewed a copy of the report. “The committee is of the firm view that passing of these legislative proposals need not be delayed any further,” the report said.
A member of the committee, who didn’t want to be named, said the report had unanimous support. Committee members believe that such legislation is important to reform higher education; the HRD ministry has told the members that it doesn’t want to push the reforms through in an arbitrary manner, as was the perception among critics earlier.
The foreign universities Bill proposes to allow foreign educational institutes to open campuses in India and award independent degrees. The malpractice Bill aims to prevent, prohibit and punish abuses in the educational system.
The other Bills envisage setting up a national accreditation regulatory authority for higher institutions; a tribunal to fast-track adjudication of disputes in the higher education system; forming a national academic depository to digitize educational credentials of students and curb forgery.
HRD ministry officials said the committee’s report will boost the chances of getting the Bills passed.
“A lot of labour has gone into these Bills and several rounds of interactions with concerned stakeholders have already been undertaken. And it’s high time we take it to its logical end. We are liberalizing higher education and unless we put in place enough mechanisms, quality push of sector is not possible,” said a senior HRD ministry official on condition of anonymity.
K.B. Powar, a former secretary general of the Association of Indian Universities, a government-recognized body, said he agreed with the objective of the government but foresaw problems in implementation.
“The question is—do you have the mechanism to implement the plan,” Powar said. “For example, around 15% of the universities and colleges in India are accredited by NAAC (National Assessment and Accreditation Council, a statutory body),” said Powar, chancellor of the Dr. D.Y. Patil Vidyapeeth, a Pune-based deemed university.
India has more than 600 universities and around 35,000 colleges.
Currently, it isn’t mandatory for colleges to get themselves accredited. The HRD ministry official said the Bill seeks to make accreditation mandatory.
The HRD ministry, through the University Grant Commission (UGC), is also devising an alternative. Last week, the UGC told colleges that all institutions will soon need accreditation if two batches of students have graduated from them.
The HRD ministry official also said that the foreign university Bill will be a “huge plus” for education, and enable students to stay in India rather than go abroad for higher education. The ministry is likely to seek cabinet approval for the Bill and reintroduce it.
Powar noted that the condition stipulating that foreign institutes cannot repatriate their revenue home was a potential disincentive. Foreign educational institutes also offer distance learning programmes and even online courses.
“I don’t think top institutions will open campuses here, they may be looking to expand through (existing) programmes,” Powar said. “So I believe the implementation will be a key concern.”

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