Modi’s HEERA is the same rotten wine in a new bottle!

What is the real agenda behind the push to dismantle UGC-AICTE

by Vicdan Azabi

UGC

Modi government is aggressively going ahead with the plans to dismantle the existing regulatory bodies like University Grants Commission (UGC) and All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE); and replace it with an overarching body called Higher Education Empowerment Regulation Agency (HEERA). The decision regarding the same was taken in a meeting in March which was also attended by Prime Minister Modi. The background work to prepare the blueprint for HEERA is being done by senior officials of HRD ministry and the NITI AYOG.  It is being claimed that “The new regulatory legislation will be short and clean and would also outline minimum standards which would focus on outcomes. Further a single regulator will bring in greater synergy among institutions and would also help in framing better curricula. Moreover the separation of technical and non-technical education is out of sync.” (http://www.oneindia.com/india/modis-heera-to-replace-ugc-aicte-all-you-need-to-know/articlecontent-pf28144-2456653.html?utm_source=article&utm_medium=fb-button&utm_campaign=article-fbshare) We will try to trace the real agenda behind this aggressive push and also locate the real intent behind the maze of these tall claims of bringing ‘clean and efficient regulatory mechanism’ and putting an ‘end to the red tape and inspector raj’.

It needs to be underlined at the outset that BJP government’s plan to install a HEERA in place of all existing regulatory bodies is not a policy innovation. BJP is treading the path of neoliberal dogma which was pushed by the Congress for 10 years- only with even more aggression. It was during the reign of UPA-2 that the proposal to replace UGC by a National Higher Education Authority (NHEA) was first mooted. This proposal itself came in a zigzag path of neoliberal academic reforms in the country, which the ruling classes have been adamant at pushing at every cost.

The aggressive neoliberal push during the late 90s saw its genesis in the NEP-85/86 brought by the Rajeev Gandhi government. In fact, the ‘neoliberal outlook’ among our policy makers was quite apparent in 1985 itself when the name of the ministry of education was changed into that of human resource development. The series of policy changes and ‘recommendations by committees’ were mere incarnations along the ongoing process of structural adjustments since the 1990s, with an added aggressiveness after the nation’s surrender to General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) in 2005 requiring legislative reforms (apparently) to gain from trade in services (in effect to benefit developed countries). Accordingly several reform bills, generally known as neo-liberal initiatives for “improving” the country’s higher education sector, have been proposed and the Private University’s Act of 1995 was the first to get legislated among the lot. Foreign Education Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operations) Bill 2010, Prevention of Malpractices Bill and the Education Tribunal Bill 2010, National Accreditation Regulatory Authority Bill 2010 and Higher Education and Research Bill 2011 (HE&R) are examples. Shrouded in controversies even over their constitutional validity, all of them had been pending legislation. Being sure about the withdrawal of HE&R Bill 2011, the then government had constituted a UGC review committee on 30 July 2014 itself to re-examine the commission’s regulatory function. The proposal to form NHEA came through the recommendation of this committee. If we examine carefully then there are not much differences when it comes to the conclusions between that committee then and the NITI AYOG now.

It is true that the UGC has many limitations such as red tape, bureaucratic delay and distributive injustice, most of which are inherent in its secretarial structure. But it is a relatively democratic consortium of experts in diverse disciplines, which discharges its regulatory and distributive responsibilities over universities and colleges of general subjects in a remarkable way, of course notwithstanding the possibility of not being foolproof at times. How to make the UGC more democratic, open and predictably error free is not the concern for the “experts” who want to scrap the institution, for their criticisms hardly mean anything beyond a justificatory rhetoric. Most of their allegations are ironical and self-contradictory as exemplified by the one accusing the UGC for not regulating “private, not-for-profit entities in higher education and for not suggesting any measures to curb commercialization!” Truly what irritates the neo-liberal reformers in the committee is the UGC’s regulatory intervention in the privatization and commercialization of higher education. The UGC is an institution of nuisance for them and hence its de facto removal their main target. This is more so over since most of the leading ‘policy makers’ in the country today are linked to the nexus of ruling class’ politicians and the education mafia that overlaps with the various segments of bourgeoisie- both small and big.

The first proposal to form an ‘independent, overarching body’ was made by National Knowledge Commission recommending the establishment of an Independent Regulatory Authority for Higher Education (IRAHE) through an act of Parliament to ‘set standards and determine eligibility criteria for new institutions’. Soon it acquired concrete form in the National Commission for Higher Education and Research 2011 (NCHER) that was to subsume all regulatory bodies in higher education like the UGC, AICTE, National Council for Teacher Education and Distance Education Council. In spite of the fact that this bill was summarily withdrawn on 24 September 2014 after sustained opposition for over three years by the students’ and teachers’ movement, it was back again as the NHEA Bill 2015. The fact that it is back yet again in the form of HEERA, only shows the doggedness of the ruling class.

Indian bourgeoisie is hell-bent in getting its share of pie in the ‘knowledge economy’, which requires it to accelerate the process of commodification of education and bringing the entire apparatus of educational administration under its control. It is important not only from the perspective of maximizing the profits from ‘education as a commodity’; it is also important from the perspective of the fact that, what comes to be called as ‘knowledge capital’ has today become nearly equal to four-fifth of the total capital flows. Being a late starter, Indian bourgeoisie is still far behind its imperialist counterparts, none the less with a regime at centre which is aggressively pushing its interests the moment could not have been more suitable than this for  it to go full throttle. The attempt to push HEERA is part of this push. In a series of articles, we will try to analyze the various aspects of this push and the avenues of developing resistance against it.

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