Clause puts state varsities at mercy of national cell

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  • Published 20.05.10

New Delhi, May 19: The human resource development ministry is sticking to a controversial provision that bars state universities from starting operations without a proposed higher education regulator’s sanction, though states have dubbed it an encroachment on their constitutional powers.

The National Commission for Higher Education and Research Bill, revised by an HRD ministry panel, retains the clause that requires institutions established by state legislatures to obtain NCHER sanction before starting classes.

The provision effectively means that a university created by the Bengal Assembly, for instance, will need NCHER approval before classes can commence.

The revised bill, accessed by The Telegraph, will be discussed by the ministry with a group of experts at a meeting on May 29. The bill will then be discussed with state governments at a scheduled June 18-19 meeting of the Central Advisory Board on Education, before it is taken to the Union cabinet for approval.

The controversial clause had triggered opposition from several states when the earlier draft of the bill was discussed during nation-wide consultations. The chief ministers of Bengal and Tamil Nadu had even written to the Centre, challenging the provision.

HRD ministry sources, however, said that while the provision could prove the single-most critical roadblock to convincing states on the proposed NCHER that will replace existing higher education regulators, they remained confident of turning them around on the necessity of the clause. The ministry plans to reply to the Bengal and Tamil Nadu chief ministers, articulating its decision to stick to the clause, the sources added.

Universities in India can be established under acts of Parliament or state legislatures as higher education is a concurrent subject under the Constitution.

At present, a university, once created through a legislation, can start offering courses and is expected to monitor its standards largely on its own. But critics have said this “unbridled autonomy” allows universities to start classes without adequate infrastructure — both physical and in terms of human resources — as has been noticed in several instances.

Some of the most visible examples of such varsities are, ironically, under the central government. The 12 new central universities started over the past two years are offering a bouquet of courses, though questions have been raised about the absence of any infrastructure to support these courses.

Under the NCHER bill, universities, once created through a legislation, will need the sanction of the commission before starting operations. State governments have argued that this encroaches on their constitutional powers to create and run state universities.

But HRD ministry officials say the controversial provision in no way prevents states from creating universities; it merely delinks the creation of varsities from their “readiness” to start operations.

Once a university is created by a legislature, the NCHER, they say, will merely approve whether the university has the infrastructure, teachers and administrative mechanisms in place to offer courses.

“It is similar to a completion certificate one needs for a house before living in it. You can build your house… no problem… but it is important to know when the house is completely ready to be lived in,” a source explained.