Saturday, July 10, 2010

Sibal plans to reform higher education too

He ushered in radical reforms in school education within the first 100 days of his tenure as human resource development (HRD) minister.

Now, Kapil Sibal is set to change the face of higher education as well.

Sibal will initiate the second phase of reforms in the higher education sector with a number of laws, including one that will make taking capitation fee a criminal offence.

The ministry has proposed the Educational Malpractices Bill, under which medical and technical institutions as well as universities found guilty of demanding capitation fee can be penalised up to Rs 50 lakh.

Criminal courts and special educational tribunals will adjudicate such matters.

Sibal is expected to announce the reforms in the next few days.

He is also expected to announce legislations to set up a parallel redressal system of educational tribunals in the Centre and the states.

And Sibal clearly has the political backing for his reforms agenda, with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday publicly praising him as "one of the finest minds" in the government.

While launching the revamped literacy mission, Saakshar Bharat, Singh said, "Our government gives the highest importance to human resource development and that is why some of the finest minds have been chosen for this ministry."

"The Sibal and (minister of state for HRD) D. Purandeswari team is one which any country can be legitimately proud of as national leaders," the Prime Minister said. So, the HRD ministry is on a fast track with this new 'team' at the helm of affairs. It has already sent the Educational Malpractices Bill to the law ministry for final inspection. The Bill will enable people to lodge a complaint with a criminal court or an education tribunal against an institution that charges capitation fee or misleads students on the infrastructure, faculty, courses and facilities it provides.

The Bill will provide civil as well as criminal recourse, giving the HRD ministry teeth to take concrete action against offenders. An HRD ministry official said, "Till now, we had no way of taking action against wrongdoers, even when we received complaints of students being cheated by unscrupulous institutes. This Bill will empower us to do that."

The Rs 50-lakh penalty on guilty institutions should also act as a deterrent, he said. Also, the setting up of educational tribunals will bring about a landmark shift in the education sector, similar to what consumer courts did for consumer rights. It has been decided that a national educational tribunal at the Centre and tribunals at the state level will be headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court and a retired judge of the high court, respectively.

There will also be the option of appealing to the national tribunal if one is not satisfied with the state panel's verdict.

These panels will not only adjudicate over the Educational Malpractices Bill but will also deal with disputes between students and institutions, teachers and institutions and between institutions themselves.

They will also hear complaints against regulatory authorities like the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the All-India Council for Technical Education (AICTE).

Sibal is also expected to announce a compulsory accreditation system for all higher education institutions. Government agencies like the National Assessment and Accreditation Council and professional bodies like NASSCOM can enlist with the ministry for this.

The accreditation process will involve giving credit ratings for educational institutions based on pre- decided criteria to ensure uniformity of ratings.

All government and private institutions will need to get themselves rated through any of these multiple agencies.

"This will help students and parents to get a clear idea about the standing of the institution," said the official.

However, of the main policy changes that the ministry had targeted for the 100-day agenda, the 'Brain Gain policy' to attract talent to new institutions from across the world has not been able to make much headway.

As the proposal for giving autonomy to such institutions had met with mixed reactions, the ministry has gone in for extensive consultations and this is likely to take some time.

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