The government ushered in multiple reforms in the higher education sector.
While these are positives, a comprehensive overhaul of UGC and other regulatory structures is long overdue.
The political developments in the Education sector so far:-
PM Modi’s vision to create 20 institutions of eminence and Union HRD ministries push for reforms have set the stage for overhauling the landscape.
The HRD Ministry first saw the passage of the Indian Institutes of Management (IIM) Bill, 2017, which will extend greater autonomy to the IIMs.
This was followed by reforms in the rules for granting autonomy and changes to the University Grants Commission’s (UGC) mandate.
Also, “Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan” (RUSA) was continued in order to improve the quality of higher educational institutions in the state.
In this backdrop, it would now be appropriate to usher in major institutional reforms to overhaul the regulatory framework in the sector.
Such an Act will further reforms adopted until now, and pave the way for the emergence of high-quality higher educational institutions.
The structures which could possibly replace UGC:-
At present there are 3 regulatory agencies in the higher education sector under the Union HRD ministry – UGC, AICTE and CoA.
A new Act should hence consider establishing a ‘Higher Education Regulatory Commission’ (HERC) to subsume all the 3 regulators.
States do play an important role in higher education and an advisory council consisting of representatives of all states needs to be established by the union.
In addition, leading educationists from diverse fields should also be roped in as members to the advisory council that advices HERC on all matters.
UGC has regulations under which it divides universities into three categories (I, II and III), with varying levels of autonomy.
The proposed act could consider merging Category I and Category II universities into one group – with autonomy to write their own curriculum.
In addition, they could also be granted the authority to oversee the curriculums of their respective affiliated colleges (not part of Category I).
For some independent courses that those non-autonomous colleges wish to start, HERC could be empowered to vet them with an appropriate expert body.
Also, HERC should be empowered to formulate guidelines for establishing institutions, reviewing compliance and call for closures if needed.
If these suggestions are adopted, UGC will be relieved of the multiple regulatory responsibilities that will get divested to the HERC.
The two other major tasks of disbursement of funds and accreditation could then be vested with separate finance and accreditation boards respectively.
Both these boards should have full autonomy in discharging their functions once the broad policy is formulated at the level of the HERC.
HERC in cooperation with accreditation board should have the responsibility to draw up standards and a grading system for institutions.
Multiple accreditation boards need to be established under HERC guidelines and mapping institutions with the boards should be random.
Direct financial dealing of institutions with accreditation boards also needs to be eliminated to ensure robust inspections and certifications.
HERC in cooperation with the finance board should develop guidelines for funding institutions.
HERC should also formulate policies for tuition fees and teacher salaries and explicitly provisions to raise funds should also be framed.
The HERC should have a secretariat to support its activities and also maintain a separate grievance remedy office.
The proposed act should also provide for a clear path for the entry of foreign institutions into the Indian landscape.
As India has a large young population, foreign institutions will have an incentive to enter the country – which will in turn benefit our Ed-landscape.
There is a divide between teaching and research institutions and it is neither benefitting students nor benefitting researchers.
Hence, the act must also chart a path to integrate teaching and research to enable state-of-the-art labs to actively engage university scholars.
What is the current issue?
Recently, the Cabinet Secretary gave directions to the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) to transfer four schemes related to polytechnics to the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE) has more serious implications.
This must be seen in conjunction with the earlier decision to transfer architecture institutions from the MHRD to the Ministry of Urban Development (MUD).
These happenings could very well be the beginning of the process of dismantling of the higher education system.
Why is the current move cited as wrong?
A university stands for a universe of knowledge wherein all disciplines are seen as intrinsically linked.
Human experience shows that all path-breaking innovations take place on the fringes of disciplines.
By erecting walls around disciplines, we are going further away from the idea of a university as the world sees and respects it.
Even from the narrow point of view of world ranking of universities, this is a bad idea as all the major systems lay enormous stress on research and interdisciplinary studies.
This could not only seriously affect the learning-teaching process in our institutions of higher learning but also lower the stature of the country as a serious player in the knowledge economy.
How the UGC’s power has gone down?
The Constitution envisions that the coordination and maintenance of standards in institutions of higher education or research and scientific and technical institutions rests with the Government of India.
To achieve this vision, the University Grants Commission (UGC) was created in 1956.
In order to confer a degree, whether it is in medicine, engineering, management, it is mandatory to be part of the university system, which is regulated under the UGC Act.
However, over a period of time, several professional education regulators came into being, curiously through government legislation.
These have encroached upon the apex regulator’s space.
Today there are more than 13 de facto “regulators” in the area of higher education, often issuing contradictory instructions and causing confusion amongst the institutions and students alike.
Why do we need a single over-arching body?
Take the case of architecture. It is not a stand-alone discipline but leans on the knowledge of art, science, technology, social sciences and pedagogy and therefore is best anchored within the education system.
The Kothari Commission (1964-66) stressed that “all higher education should be regarded as an integrated whole, that professional education cannot be completely divorced from general education, and that it is essential to bring together all higher education”.
The same sentiment was repeated by the National Education Policy (1986) which states that “in the interest of greater co-ordination and developing inter-disciplinary research, a national body covering higher education in general will be set up”.
Later, the National Knowledge Commission and the Yashpal Committee (2008) also recommended the creation of a single over-arching body.
With the above vision in mind, the MHRD worked towards the creation of a National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER), which unfortunately could not fructify as there was stiff resistance from the professional-education regulators.
What is the way forward?
Till now, the better polytechnics had an opportunity to grow and evolve into engineering colleges for which there was a specific scheme in the MHRD.
The Government’s decision means that 3,500 polytechnics in the country have cut their umbilical cord with the higher education system.
Instead of boxing these institutions into narrower spaces we need to provide them with opportunities to grow.
Another trend that has adversely affected higher education and the idea of a university is the mushrooming of single subject universities.
Scores of private engineering and dental collages have become universities through the deemed university or state government route.
Both the UGC and AICTE require serious overhauling.
Poverty Line and Two Important Committees Report
G.S. Paper 2, Prelims
About poverty line
Poverty line in India and Method for constructing poverty line
Poverty elimination in India (Tendulkar committee report and C Rangarajan committee report)
What is Poverty Line?
It is a measure describing the minimum level of income that a person needs to live and separates the poor from the not-so-poor.
It is the level of income to meet the minimum living conditions.
Poverty line is the amount of money needed for a person to meet his basic needs.
It is defined as the money value of the goods and services needed to provide basic welfare to an individual.
Poverty line differs from one country to another, depending upon the idea of poverty
Poverty line changes from one country to another.
In developed countries, where there is advanced standard of living and welfare concepts, poverty line is high as basic standard to live include higher consumption requirements and accessibility to many goods and services.
On the other hand, in many less developed countries, the basic requirements will be low and contains mostly essential consumption items needed to sustain life.
This means that poverty line is set by the welfare standard in a particular society (economy).
Poverty is ‘relative’ and what poverty in the US or in an advanced West European country may not be poverty in Bangladesh.
What is the Poverty line in India?
India is having a well-designed poverty measurement mechanism under the erstwhile Planning Commission.
The Planning Commission was the nodal agency for estimation of poverty.
For setting poverty line and methodology of constructing it, the Planning Commission appointed Expert Groups from time to time.
For example, the Rangarajan Committee is the latest among those Expert groups.
Traditionally, the planning commission estimates the number of people below poverty line in states as well as the rural and urban areas based upon the prevailing poverty estimation methodology submitted by the expert groups.
What is the methodology for constructing the poverty line?
The poverty estimation methodology was revised many times with new expert group/task force appointed by the Planning Commission to look into the matter.
Each expert group/task force has devised certain methodology in determining the poverty line.
For measuring poverty, a poverty line is set.
The poverty line is the level of income needed to meet the minimum standard of living.
People who have an income less than this is considered as below poverty line.
The concept about minimum consumption standards and consumption levels were changed based upon recommendations of the various expert groups/task force.
These expert groups use the NSS (National Sample Survey) estimate the consumption pattern of households from time to time.
The NSS’s periodically makes extensive household surveys on expenditure.
Here, from the consumption basket of the people, the expert groups pick up the most essential commodities.
These commodities are placed under a poverty line basket (PLB).
Minimum standard of living is thus expressed as the basket of goods and services commonly used by the people.
Based on this consumption pattern, the Expert Groups estimate the minimum consumption levels (and the income needed to buy these) and the income needed to obtain these goods and services in both rural and urban areas.
This income level acts as the poverty line.
Poverty Estimation In India – C Rangarajan and Tendulkar Committee
Poverty in India is big issue for the government.
To measures exact numbers of poor people and per capita expenditure various methods had been adopted by Government of India.
The official measure of Indian government, before 2005, was based on food security and it was defined from per capita expenditure of a person to consume enough calories and be able to pay for associated essentials to survive.
Since 2005, Indian government adopted the Tendulkar methodology which moved away from calorie anchor to a basket of goods and used rural, urban and regional minimum expenditure per capita necessary to survive.
The Planning Commission has been estimating the number of people below the poverty line (BPL) at both the state and national level based on consumer expenditure information collected as part of the National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) since the Sixth Five Year Plan.
The latest available data from such surveys is from NSSO conducted in 2004-05.
The government Of India formed various committees for Poverty Estimation In India in the past:-
Alagh Committee (1977),
Lakdawala Committee (1989)
Tendulkar Committee (2005)
C . Rangarajan Committee ( 2012)
Tendulkar committee report on poverty
In 2005, another expert group to review methodology for poverty estimation, chaired by Suresh Tendulkar, was constituted by the Planning Commission to address the following three shortcomings of the previous methods:
Consumption patterns were linked to the 1973-74 poverty line baskets (PLBs) of goods and services, whereas there were significant changes in the consumption patterns of the poor since that time, which were not reflected in the poverty estimates;
There were issues with the adjustment of prices for inflation, both spatially (across regions) and temporally (across time); and
Earlier poverty lines assumed that health and education would be provided by the State and formulated poverty lines accordingly.
It also recommended four major changes:
A shift away from calorie consumption based poverty estimation;
A uniform poverty line basket (PLB) across rural and urban India;
A change in the price adjustment procedure to correct spatial and temporal issues with price adjustment; and
Incorporation of private expenditure on health and education while estimating poverty.
The Committee recommended using Mixed Reference Period (MRP) based estimates, as opposed to Uniform Reference Period (URP) based estimates that were used in earlier methods for estimating poverty.
It based its calculations on the consumption of the following items: cereal, pulses, milk, edible oil, non-vegetarian items, vegetables, fresh fruits, dry fruits, sugar, salt & spices, other food, intoxicants, fuel, clothing, footwear, education, medical (non-institutional and institutional), entertainment, personal & toilet goods, other goods, other services and durables.
The Committee computed new poverty lines for rural and urban areas of each state.
To do this, it used data on value and quantity consumed of the items mentioned above by the population that was classified as poor by the previous urban poverty line.
It concluded that the all India poverty line was Rs 446.68 per capita per month in rural areas and Rs 578.80 per capita per month in urban areas in 2004-05.
C Rangarajan Committee
This committee was set up by the erstwhile Planning commission In 2012 and it submitted its report In 2014.
The Planning commission had set up the five-member expert group under Rangarajan to review the methodology for measurement of poverty.
The committee was set up in the backdrop of national outrage over the Planning Commission’s suggested poverty line of Rs 22 a day for rural areas.
The Rangarajan committee estimation is based on an independent large survey of households by Center for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE).
It has also used different methodology wherein a household is considered poor if it is unable to save.
The methods also include on certain normative levels of adequate nourishment, clothing, house rent, conveyance, education and also behavioral determination of non-food expenses.
It also considered average requirements of calories, protein and fats based on ICMR norms differentiated by age and gender.
Based on this methodology, Rangarajan committee estimated the number of poor were 19 per cent higher in rural areas and 41 per cent more in urban areas than what was estimated using Tendulkar committee formula.
Tendulkar, an economist, had devised the formula to assess poverty line in 2005, which the Planning Commission had used to estimate poverty in 2009-10 and 2011-12.
ALL ABOUT LOKPAL ACT
GS Prelims, GS Mains paper II, IV
Polity and governance, Ethics, Lokpal, Lokayukta, Lokpal Act, Corruption
A Bench led by Justice Ranjan Gogoi urged the government to complete the Lokpal appointment process at the earliest.
The government informed the Supreme Court that the high-profile committee, led by the Prime Minister, met on April 10 to recommend an eminent jurist to help in the selection of Lokpal.
The idea of an anti-corruption body and an ombudsman to look into corruption allegations against administrators, including legislators, has been floating around for over five decades now.
It finally got shape with the passing of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2013, in Lok Sabha on December 18, 2013, but only after a nationwide protest led by India Against Corruption, a civil society movement.
Though a Bill to set-up an anti-corruption body was put forth as many as eight times between 1968 and 2011, the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2011, stands as the base for the Lokpal Act in the present form.
A Group of Ministers chaired by Pranab Mukherjee proposed this Bill, to which the Standing Committee made substantial modifications.
The modified Bill, called as Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2013, was passed by the Parliament with the support of all major political parties.
The timeline is as under:
1963: The idea of an ombudsman first came up in parliament during a discussion on budget allocation for the Law Ministry.
1966: The First Administrative Reforms Commission recommended the setting up of two independent authorities- at the central and state level, to look into complaints against public functionaries, including MPs.
1968: The Lokpal Bill was introduced in parliament but was not passed. Eight attempts were made till 2011 to pass the Bill, but in vain.
2002: The Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution headed by M.N. Venkatachiliah recommended the appointment of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas; also recommended that the PM be kept out of the ambit of the authority.
2005: The second Administrative Reforms Commission chaired by Veerappa Moily recommended that office of Lokpal be established without delay.
2011: The government formed a Group of Ministers, chaired by Pranab Mukherjee to suggest measures to tackle corruption and examine the proposal of a Lokpal Bill.
2013: Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2013, was passed in both Houses of Parliament.
2016: Lok Sabha agreed to amend the Lokpal Act and Bill was sent to Standing Committee for review.
Though passed in 2014, the Lokpal and Lokayukta Act of 2013 was not implemented all these years because there was no Leader of Opposition (LoP) in the 16th Lok Sabha.
However, on April 27 last year, the Supreme Court, in a judgment, clarified that the Lokpal appointment process need not be stalled merely due to the absence of the LoP.
The judgment dismissed the government’s reasoning that the Lokpal appointment process should wait till the 2013 Act was amended to replace the LoP with the single largest opposition party leader.
The Act allows setting up of anti-corruption ombudsman called Lokpal at the Centre and Lokayukta at the State-level.
The States will have to institute Lokayukta within one year of the commencement of the Act.
The Lokpal will consist of a chairperson and a maximum of eight members. The Lokpal will cover all categories of public servants, including the Prime Minister.
But the armed forces do not come under the ambit of Lokpal.
The Act also incorporates provisions for attachment and confiscation of property acquired by corrupt means, even while the prosecution is pending.
It has been made mandatory for public servants to declare their assets and liabilities along with that of their spouse and dependent children.
The Act also ensures that public servants who act as whistleblowers are protected.
A separate Whistle Blowers Protection Act was passed for this purpose.
Powers of Lokpal:
The Lokpal will have the power of superintendence and direction over any investigation agency including CBI for cases referred to them by the ombudsman.
The Lokpal can summon or question any public servant if there exists a prima facie case against the person, even before an investigation agency (such as vigilance or CBI) has begun the probe.
Any officer of the CBI investigating a case referred to it by the Lokpal, shall not be transferred without the approval of the Lokpal.
An investigation must be completed within six months. However, the Lokpal or Lokayukta may allow extensions of six months at a time provided the reasons for the need of such extensions are given in writing.
Special courts will be instituted to conduct trials on cases referred by Lokpal.
The Lokpal can award fine up to Rs. 2 lakh for “false, frivolous or vexatious” complaints.
Selection committee of Lokpal?
A five-member panel comprising the Prime Minister, the Lok Sabha Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition, the Chief Justice of India and an eminent jurist nominated by the President, selects the Lokpal.