Condemning the Repeal of UGC Act, 2018 (HECI Draft)

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To,
The Minister of Education,
Ministry of Human Resource Development,
Government of India.
Sir,
In connection to the (Repeal of University Grants Commission (UGC) Act) Act 2018, we state that the draft has been placed in front of the academic community as desperate attempt to endorse the agenda of ‘Higher Education Empowerment Regulation Agency (HEERA)’ the either way round, since previous steps taken to generate a single regulatory authority in the education sector failed. The Act comes at a time when the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has declared its bankruptcy and the Union Budget for the financial year 2018-19 is about 10% higher than 2017-18 though the allocations for education have decreased from 3.69% to 3.48% of the total budget. According to the draft Act, the proposed Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) will only focus on academic matters and has also been given the right to close-down the noncompliers (sub-clause (3)(g) of clause 15) while monetary grants will remain under the purview of the ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD). This is a direct blow to its autonomous character, since it is always rational for the regulatory body to release funds because funding depends upon academic exercise. Such an attempt will only foster over-centralization through two routes. Firstly, funding allocation directly by the ministry will scrap the involvement of the intelligentsia and empower political motives. Secondly, the right to direct closure will foster forceful orientation of institutions in line with the political motives. Thus, with the previous instances of the UGC endorsing astrology, the HECI can be no progressive alternative. On the other hand, the proposed twelve membered Commission (sub-clause (3) of clause 3) has no assurance for representation from the SC/ST/OBC/Physically Handicapped/Women/Transgenders. According to the draft Act, the Commission has been attributed an increased focus on accreditation and yearly evaluation of  higher educational institutions (sub-clause (3)(a)&(e) of clause 15), which will ultimately end up in over-regulation and promote bogus short-term courses to meet the prescribed demands. At this point, it can be questioned as to what good can accreditation prove since there are voluminous instances of colleges with poor NAAC grades performing well in university examinations. Recently, the Union Government has declared 20 educational institutions as 'Institute of Eminence’ of which 10 are private institutions. At the same time, most of the central institutes of scientific research have been forced to accelerate their tuition fees such that they now match the schemes of private institutes! In addition, the sub-clause (2) of clause 15 of the draft Act proves that it is a continuation of the Union Government's attempt to secede from providing monetary support in the name of 'Autonomy' of institutions. Contrary to the notion of 'Autonomy' promoting maximum economic support by the government with maximum academic freedom, the prescribed autonomy prescribes self-financing courses, public-private partnership and provision of incentives for the professors to accelerate the privatization of education; this will lead to an obvious fee hike with no government intervention, side-lining a wide population of students who owing to their lack of affordability will be denied their right to pursue higher studies.
With the revenue generated as Higher Education cess amounting to approximately 84 crore rupees with only 7% of the Research Development cess spent in public welfare, the slogan of 'Less Government, More Governance' has revealed its real intention of 'Invest early, invest smartly, and invest for all'.
Though their intention to consolidate, centralize and monopolize power in academic matters while ensuring a free run for private capital is crystal clear, we demand that the Union Government focus on increasing the Budget allocation for Education and refrain from promulgating such legislations.



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