National Education Policy 2020 has identified many problems with the current status of higher education in India. One of the problems specified is an ineffective regulatory system. Although NEP says it is one of the problems, it should be viewed as the most crucial problem because the entire functioning of the system depends on its regulation. Effective regulation can overcome the majority of the shortcomings in a system. One cannot expect a system to become effective if the regulatory mechanism is ineffective.

In this three-part article, we shall examine the proposal of NEP on the regulatory system for higher education and give suggestions.

NEP has used a beautiful term for its proposed regulatory system – “Light but tight” regulation by a single regulator for higher education.

The main objective of the NEP proposal is to dispense with the system, which has multiple regulators, because that creates confusion and often results in a conflict of interest. Such a situation brings many inefficiencies into the system.

Currently, there is a regulator for every stream of higher education at the national level. In addition, there are regulators at the state level. There is hardly any coordination among these regulators, and it is needless to say that one can often witness a tussle and blame game between them.

The regulatory structure suggested by NEP will have an umbrella institution, the Higher Education Commission of India (HECI). There will be four independent verticals working under HECI.

  1. The first vertical of HECI will be the National Higher Education Regulatory Council (NHERC). It will function as the common, single-point regulator for the higher education sector, including teacher education but excluding medical and legal education.
  2. The second vertical of the HECI will be the #National Accreditation Council (NAC). The NAC will function as the meta-accrediting body and authorize a specific number of institutions to work as the authorized or recognized accreditors to give accreditation to the HEIs. NAC will supervise the functioning of these recognized accreditors.
  3. The third vertical of HECI will be the Higher Education Grants Council (HEGC), which will have the task of funding/financing HEIs.
  4. The fourth vertical will be the #General Education Council (GEC), which will frame expected learning outcomes, called ‘graduate attributes,’ for higher education programs. The GEC will formulate a National Higher Education Qualification Framework (NHEQF). 

In addition to these verticals, NEP has proposed that various councils presently looking after professional education in different streams will be given the status of Professional Standards Setting Bodies (PSSBs). The primary role of PSSBs will be to draw the curricula, set the academic standards, and coordinate between teaching, research, and extension of their discipline. They will have no regulatory role and work as members of GEC.

NEP has many points which explain how this new regulatory structure will prove effective.

However, it is difficult to accept that this will be a “light but tight” system with one main regulator, four independent verticals, PSSBs, and a few other points on the regulatory structure mentioned in the policy document. The new structure will not be light or simple and may be unable to rid the system of the present complexities for various reasons.

NEP recognized the problem of multiple bodies at the national level but not at the state level. In 1976 the #parliament under Article 42 of the Constitution made an amendment and brought education under the #Concurrent List. The purpose of this change was to enable the central government to make policies and rules to regulate the education system. Before this amendment, state governments were doing that job. This amendment was brought with a positive intention to develop a partnership between the central and the state governments.

However, after this amendment, the regulatory system made the life of private HEIs, especially those affiliated with state universities, difficult. These HEIs, are regulated by one central regulator, the affiliating state universities, and 2-3 state-level regulators. For accreditation, they need to go to the #National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) and the #National Board of Accreditation (NBA). In addition, they have to respond to the queries of other government agencies, like the #All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE) and National Academic Depository (NAD). Thus, every HEI is regulated by the central and many state regulators.

This multiplicity is a source of immense frustration for the HEIs. NEP has suggested a single regulator at the national level but has not given any specific recommendation for the state-level regulation. If the states are given the freedom to follow their system, the nightmare of the HEIs will continue. And if the states are forced to make their legislations conform to the central system, some may disagree. That will create another battlefield for the ruling and the opposition parties to fight for regulating higher education.

In the second part of this article, we shall explore an alternative system for regulating HEIs.

This article can also be viewed on the blog of the author


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