Higher Education Commission of India: Scaling up Higher Education in India : Daily Current Affairs

Relevance: GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

Key phrases: HECI, UGC, Regulation, National Education Policy 2020, HECI Bill 2018,

Why in News?

  • The National Education Policy 2020 envisages the Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) as the regulator for higher education, with four verticals for regulation, accreditation, funding, and academic standard setting. A Bill to provide for HCEI is under draft.

What is Higher Education Commission of India?

  • The HECI is supposed to replace the University Grants Commission (a statutory body) which has been responsible for the maintenance of the standard of higher education in India.
  • HECI shall function as a body that lays down uniform standards for the development of education in India.
  • The commission will be a statutory body governed by the Higher Education Commission of India (Repeal of University Grants Commission Act) Bill 2018.

Status of Higher education in India:

  • Higher education in India remained highly inward oriented despite several post-independence reforms in education sector. In terms of number of educational institutions,
  • India has the world’s largest higher education system with about 1,000 universities and 40,000 colleges whereas it ranks third in terms of size and diversity, but its presence in the international education system has been abysmally below its true potential that remains unexplored.
  • Interestingly, India is also home to world’s second largest English-speaking people after the USA, surprisingly more than the United Kingdom.
  • Despite being the world’s second most populated country with 1.39 billion people accounting for 17% of the world population, India’s share in the foreign students arriving for higher education remains miserably low at 0.85%. This explicitly reveals the fundamental faults in the country’s higher education policy post-Independence.


  • Less Government and more Governance: Downsizing the scope of the Regulator. No more interference in the management issues of the educational institutions.
  • Separation of grant functions: The grant functions would be carried out by the HRD Ministry, and the HECI would focus only on academic matters.
  • End of Inspection Raj: Regulation is done through transparent public disclosures, merit-based decision making on matters regarding standards and quality in higher education.
  • Focus on academic quality: HECI is tasked with the mandate of improving academic standards with specific focus on learning outcomes, evaluation of academic performance by institutions, mentoring of institutions, training of teachers, promote use of educational technology etc. It will develop norms for setting standards for opening and closure of institutions, provide for greater flexibility and autonomy to institutions, lay standards for appointments to critical leadership positions at the institutional level irrespective of University started under any Law (including State Law).
  • Powers to enforce: The Regulator will have powers to enforce compliance to the academic quality standards and will have the power to order closure of sub-standard and bogus institutions.

Measures to enhance the role of HCEI:

  • Objectives: It is a misnomer that a regulator only regulates. What would it regulate if there is no market (for education and related services)? Therefore, the long title of the legislation should provide for establishment of HECI with the objectives to protect the interests of users, promote the development of and to regulate higher education in India.
  • Scope: The legislation should demarcate the jurisdiction of HECI to avoid any regulatory overlaps and gaps. It should specifically list out the elements — persons and entities, products and services, and markets — in its ambit. It should enable HECI to regulate elements, whether they exist today or emerge tomorrow, without requiring an amendment.
  • Responsibility centres: The legislation should view HECI, as a body corporate, independent of its Governing Commission (GC), with clear roles and responsibilities attached to each of them. In the interest of accountability, the legislation should enable the government to prescribe the manner of discharging their responsibilities, such as making regulations.
  • Governance: In the interest of democratic legitimacy, the legislation should enable interface of the HECI with the larger society. Its GC should have representation of the society as PTMs, representing stakeholders and public. A regulator exercises three sets of powers — quasi-legislative, executive, and quasi-judicial. To address the concerns emanating from integration of these powers, the legislation should provide for three separate wings within HCEI to exercise a set of powers and they should operate at an arm’s length from one another to serve as internal checks and balances.
  • Independence: HECI should be independent for it to be accountable. It should have independent sources of resources commensurate with its responsibilities. The legislation should enable it to levy fees and charges from the regulated entities for its sustenance. It should enable HCEI to have capable human resources to withstand the pressures of the market as well as fear and favour.
  • Accountability: The legislation should provide mechanisms to hold HECI accountable for its performance vis-à-vis its mandate and resources. After it has exercised the power, the outcome (subordinate legislation or quasi-judicial order) may be undone by the legislature or judiciary, by following the due procedure.
  • Regulations: The legislation should require HECI to use only one instrument, namely, regulations, to prescribe norms for the market. The GC should make regulations in consultation with the public, after presenting a summary of the problem being addressed and the cost-benefit analysis of the proposed regulation. The regulations should carry legislative notes to explain the rationale for the same. HECI should review every regulation once in three years to ensure that it is still relevant and to weed out redundant regulations.
  • Executive functions: The legislation should provide for the process of monitoring compliance, including inspections and investigations and empower HECI suitably for the purpose.
  • Adjudication: The legislation should spell out the contraventions and associated penalties. It should provide the process of dispensing penalties and an appellate mechanism. HECI should have a dedicated administrative law department under the oversight of an Administrative Law Member. An adjudication proceeding should commence with the issue of a show-cause notice, based on findings of a fact-finding process, that enables the notice to defend itself adequately.

Way forward:

  • Like the DNA of humans, a regulator has a DNA in the form of its design, structure and processes that are typically embedded in the creating legislation. It is important for the government and Parliament to get this legislative DNA of HECI right.

The University Grants Commission of India (UGC India) is a statutory body set up by the Department of Higher Education, Ministry of Education, Government of India in accordance to the UGC Act 1956 and is charged with coordination, determination and maintenance of standards of higher education.

Source: The Hindu BL

Mains Question:

Q. While the NEP advocates a decentralised regulatory model with four autonomous bodies, the proposed Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) runs counter to the idea by seeking a single, centralised regulator. Critically examine.