June 30, 2018 @ 2:00 am

30 JUNE 2018

Reform 101

More thought is needed on the proposed regulatory body for higher education

The provisions of the new Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) Bill drafted by the Centre have far-reaching implications for the expansion and quality of human resource development, at a time when access to skill-building and educational opportunity are vitally important. There were 864 recognised universities and 40,026 colleges in the country in 2016-17, while the gross enrolment ratio of students was only about 26%. To put this in perspective, there were only 20 universities and 500 colleges at the time of IndependencePrevious attempts at system reform involving expert committees and even legislation to create a new body for higher education and research had advocated changes, with anemphasis on promoting autonomy, access, inclusion and opportunity for all. That challenging goal will fall to the HECI, the proposed successor body to the University Grants Commission. For this very reason, the Centre should give sufficient time to academia, the teaching community and society at large to submit considered opinions on the draft proposals. Among the key questions that need resolution is the future role of multiple regulatory bodies that currently exist for engineering, medicine and law; the Yash Pal Committee had recommended that they should be brought under the ambit of a single commission. There is a case to include other professional education streams as well, including architecture and nursing. The aim should be to set academic benchmarks for each stream, with sufficient autonomy to innovate on courses and encourage studies across disciplines.

Among the more contentious issues arising out of the draft Bill is the Centre’s decision to shift grant-giving powers for higher education institutions to the Ministry of Human Resource Development or a separate body. The UGC has been doing this so far, covering a variety of functions, and whatever the flaws, it ensured a separation of funding decisions from political considerations. Maintaining a balance on allocation of funds and ensuring transparency will now depend on the proposed advisory council to the HECI. It is welcome that the States are represented on the advisory council, giving it a federal character, although it is the Centre that will have the final say in all matters, not even the apex HECI.At a broader level, higher education is challenged today by fast-paced technological changes affecting the economy and the need to create a workforce that has the requisite skills. Reform should, therefore, lead to the creation of an agency that has the intellectual corpus to help universities and colleges adapt, and the vision to plan for public funding in the emerging spheres of activity. There is a positive attempt in the draft legislation to weed out degree mills and dubious training institutions, with a provision for prosecution and imprisonment of management officials who defy the HECI. Yet, this will take political will, given that over the past three decades laissez faire expansion of higher education has been pursued purely for commercial motives.

Then there were 16

As the knockout stage begins in the World Cup, it’s anybody’s guess

When the 2018 FIFA World Cup kicked off on June 14 in Moscow, there was no single favourite. A clutch of high-quality and well-matched sides such as France, Germany, Spain and Brazil added to the allure. So much so that even educated guesses on who would get past the league stage were off the mark. Two weeks later, the fans are no closer to an answer on who may lift the trophy, but this hasn’t come at the cost of some riveting action. The fact that it took 37 games for the first 0-0 draw is a testament to the excellence at this World Cup. Much of the credit should go to the so-called minnows, the likes of Iran, Morocco, Peru and South Korea, who punched well above their weight by stifling their opponents and on occasion putting them to the sword. Germany, the defending champion, bore the full brunt, crashing out in the group stage for the first time since 1938. It was also the first time in eight major events — five World Cups and three European Championships — that it had not made the semifinal. Brazil, until it scored two late goals against Costa Rica in its second match, was just two steps from exit. France, in spite of a prodigiously talented squad, still wears a disjointed look, while Spain is yet to showcase the best of its pass-and-move football.

Quietly, almost under the radar, England, Belgium, Croatia and Uruguay have all staked claim with impressive performances, the highlight being Croatia’s demolition of Lionel Messi-led Argentina. England and Belgium in particular are perennial under-achievers and the time may be ripe for them to do justice to each of their golden generations. It has also been a tournament to remember for Asia. Only Japan has progressed into the round of 16, but for the first time four of the five Asian squads have won a game. For Africa though, it has been a dampener, with no team reaching the knock-out stage for the first time since 1982. Before the competition started, the two best players on the planet, Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, were only given an outside chance. In the past fortnight, their respective teams have not done much to dispel that notion. Argentina escaped the humiliation of a first-round exit by the skin of its teeth, and a meeting against France next will not bring much cheer. Portugal’s dependence on Ronaldo has continued unabated and it remains to be seen how far the talisman can carry his nation, more so in a loaded top-half alongside France, Brazil, Belgium and Argentina. Host Russia is not expected to go past Spain, but it would have no complaints, for it has already hit the right notes both on and off the field.

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