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Reforms off, focus on Sonia varsity & Besu

New Delhi, Feb. 8: UPA II has shelved its education reforms agenda in its last Parliament session, focusing instead on honouring a promise by Sonia Gandhi to her constituency and a purported nudge by Pranab Mukherjee to upgrade a Bengal university.

Education authorities are pushing two bills, one to set up a women’s university named after Indira Gandhi in Rae Bareli and the other to declare Bengal Engineering and Science University (Besu) an “institution of national importance”.

Sources said the Union human resource development ministry had allowed these two bills to jump the queue over six reform bills pending for two to four years, whose fate will now be decided by the next government.

The Centre already faces the challenge of passing key bills on Telangana and corruption in this disruption-threatened session. It probably lacks the time and energy for another round of battles on the stalled education reforms.

Ministry sources said that unless the Rae Bareli bill was passed now, it might never be if the elections brought a change of government. Sonia had announced the all-women university a year and a half ago during a visit to her constituency, from where she will contest again this summer.

The Indira Gandhi National University for Women Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha last August and today received clearance from a House standing committee. Ministry sources said it might be taken up for discussion in the Lok Sabha next week.

The National Institute of Technology, Science Education and Research (Amendment) Bill to upgrade Besu was introduced last March and the standing committee gave its report in December. The government ignored the recommendations, reintroduced it in the Lok Sabha and got it passed.

It was today put on the Rajya Sabha’s list of legislative business. Sources said it would be pushed for passage next week.

Multiple government sources had told The Telegraph that the bill had been fast-tracked following a prod from President Mukherjee, but Rashtrapati Bhavan sources had denied it.

The reforms bills were introduced between 2010 and 2012 by then human resource development minister Kapil Sibal. The list of business for every session of Parliament since then has included at least one or two of them.

They deal with crucial issues such as mandatory accreditation of higher education institutes, speedy settlement of disputes in the field of education, curbs on university malpractice, the entry of foreign universities, an overarching education regulator and an online repository of certificates that prospective employers can check.