Daily Editorial Analysis for 2nd January 2021

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Look before you reform


Mains: G.S. II Governance and Social Justice

Why in News?

The National Education Policy (NEP 2020) announced a few months ago, too, has endorsed the idea by providing for a common single regulator for the entire higher education system, with the exception of medical and law education.


  • There were uncertain and unclear effects of the multiple regulatory bodies in higher education and nearly all advisory bodies appointed since 2005 have been pitched for a single regulator.


  • Regulatory bodies came up essentially in response to the rapid growth of private participation since the 1980s. Procedures of regulation became increasingly complex even as practices they were meant to control got marked by rude boldness.
  • Finding higher education “over-regulated and under-governed”, the National Knowledge Commission (NKC) concluded in 2007 that the plethora of agencies attempting to control entry, operation, intake, price, size, output and exit had rendered the regulation of higher education ineffectual.
  • The NKC recommended the setting up of an overarching Independent Regulatory Authority in Higher Education (IRAHE).
  • The Yash Pal Committee in its 2009 report also felt that the existence of multiple regulatory bodies had become an impediment to the pursuit of excellence. The committee’s key concern was compartmentalisation of academia, with little scope for dialogue across disciplines. To promote such a dialogue, the Yash Pal committee recommended the creation of an apex body called the National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER). It was meant to serve as a platform for academic exchange and dialogue across disciplines and professions rather than as a controlling machine.
  • In 2016, a committee chaired by TSR Subramanian proposed a National Higher Education Promotion and Management Act for setting up an Indian Regulatory Authority for Higher Education (IRAHE) to subsume all existing regulatory bodies in higher education.
  • Media reports in 2017 hinted at the possibility of a new regulatory body, tentatively titled Higher Education Empowerment Regulation Agency (HEERA), to dissolve all existing regulatory bodies in higher education.

National Education Policy 2020

  • The draft national policy presented by the Kasturirangan Committee in 2019 commended “a common regulatory regime for the entire higher education sector to eliminate isolation and disjunction” and proposed a National Higher Education Regulatory Authority (NHERA) as a sole regulator for all higher education. 
  • With so many independent institutions responsible for regulating various facets of higher education, the draft NEP 2020 proposed a Rashtriya Shiksha Aayog (RSA) to coordinate, direct and address inter-institutional overlaps and conflict.
  • Condemning the regulatory regimes for being “too heavy-handed”, NEP 2020 has now posited for a “light but tight” system under a single regulator for all higher education barring medical and law education. It envisages an overarching Higher Education Commission of India (HECI), with four independent verticals comprising the National Higher Education Regulatory Council (NHERC), the National Accreditation Council (NAC), the Higher Education Grants Council (HEGC) and the General Education Council (GEC).
  • Under the new scheme of things, the University Grants Commission (UGC) is to become HEGC while the other regulatory bodies will become professional standard setters.

Cause of concern

  • It may well be argued that it is almost impossible to design a single regulatory framework to take care of the domain-specific needs of disparate disciplines and professions even within healthcare education. But if accepted as a principle, it has the potential to delay, if not derail.
  • The idea of a single regulator to cater to the diverse disciplines of general, professional and technical higher education. And should that actually happen, the idea of reining in the regulators might mean drowning higher education under permanent heavy rain.
  • The story of regulation is nicely captured by the saying, “marz barhata gaya jyon jyon dava ki (the disease got worse with the medication)”. The regulatory architecture proposed in the NEP is far too monolithic for a system of higher education serving a geographically, culturally and politically diverse country like ours.
  • Even in the matter of privatisation, one notices enormous diversity of players and practices. Historically too, private participation in the running of colleges has not followed a single pattern. 

Way Forward

  • To imagine that a uniform structure called Board of Governors can serve all different kinds of institutions across the country is to entertain a fantasy in place of a serious vision of reform. Such a vision calls for better appreciation of what exists, no matter how worrisome a condition it is in.

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