Standing Committee Report on ‘The Universities Research and Innovation Bill, 2012′ – II


Apprehension about easy entry of foreign Universities in India

The Committee was of the view that in view of the Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operations) Bill, 2010 envisaging regulation of entry and operations of foreign universities in the country, it is improper to provide an alternative and comparatively easier route to foreign universities through the proposed legislation without any proper checks and balances.

According to the Committee, “it does not seem to be a wise move to give entry to foreign universities without specified criteria for a corpus fund and giving full autonomy in all respects to the institutions with no proper regulatory and monitoring mechanism for their functioning. Taking the easy way out, most of the foreign universities would attempt to gain entry through the proposed legislation, thereby defeating the very objective of the earlier Bill.” (paragraph 3.16)

The Committee was of the view that the idea of giving entry to foreign universities through the Bill shall be deliberated upon taking care of all conceivable aspects. Significantly, the Committee noted that “Since the area of research and innovation is intrinsic to the development of the highereducation system and also to the national interest, the setting up of these Universities for Research and Innovation as envisaged in the Bill may be initiated by the State funded Universities only before permitting the private and foreign universities. The Committee, taking a clue from the other countries like US and China, feels that the research and innovation should be done wholly and solely by the Government so that the benefits accruing from research and innovations are directly utilised by the State for the development of the country.”(paragraph 3.18)

Absence of mechanism for monitoring/regulation

The proposed Bill envisaging URIs gives complete autonomy to these universities in matters of academics, faculty, personnel, finances and administration. Unlike public funded universities, private universities will not be under the purview of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG).

The Committee was of the view that mere evaluation and review of every URI after fifteen years of its establishment by a Committee of Experts cannot substitute for an inbuilt effective monitoring mechanism for these universities. The Committee recommended for a mechanism for regulation and monitoring so as to ensure the quality of research and innovation. The need for such a mechanism is all the more felt considering the autonomy enjoyed by institutions.  The Committee recommended for review and evaluation of URIs after a period of 10 years and not 15 years as proposed in the Bill. The Committee recommended for appointment of Government nominated member in the review Committee or appointment of NAAC like body for assessment of the URIs so as to ensure an impartial assessment. It was, however, noted that this provision alone will not be enough. An effective monitoring mechanism ensuring an element of accountability will also have to be incorporated into the Bill. In the absence of regulation, the Committee also noted that there will not be any mechanism for grievance redressal for students and faculties.

Penalty provision

The Committee criticized the absence of penal provisions in the Bill. The Committee, therefore, recommended for a specific provision on penalties. According to the Committee, “such a provision is required to be there, keeping in view the kind of autonomy and freedom from bureaucratic control envisaged for the proposed universities.”(paragraph 3.25)

Application of other laws

The definition of the term ‘University’ as given in the earlier legislations relating to higher education in recent times and the one entailed in the present Bill vary. In case of the former, the universities are to be created by an Act of Parliament or State Legislature. In case of the latter, they will be created by Memorandum Of Agreements entered with the Central Government. Therefore, the URIs will fall outside the ambit of the existing laws and the recent Bills (once enacted). In other words, there will not be any mechanism for regulating the functioning of the proposed URIs. The Committee observed that the issue of non-compatibility between the two different categories of universities can be easily resolved by following the same mode for setting up the URIs as made applicable for the traditional universities.

Establishment of universities

The Committee was critical of the envisaged procedure for establishment of the proposed URIs. Establishment of universities, which falls under the domain of Parliament and State legislatures, stood the test of time. Therefore, there is no need for a different approach. The Committee noted as follows: “It may not be out of place to mention that Parliament scrutiny involves a very intensive examination of the proposed legislation by the concerned Department-related Parliamentary Standing Committee. The Committee system has evolved into a well-established mechanism for scrutiny of legislations to be passed by Parliament. It is a well-known fact that these Committees conduct a very detailed study of draft legislation by interacting with all the stakeholders and analyzing all the conceivable aspects connected with the same. Recommendations made by the Committees have compelled the Central Government to bring out necessary modifications in draft legislations. However, this kind of scrutiny would not be available in the case of Universities for Research and Innovation. MoA will be drawn between the promoter and the Central Government. In the name of Parliamentary scrutiny, it will have to be laid in draft form for thirty days on the Table of both Houses of Parliament. Nobody can deny the fact that this would be a mere formality and cannot be compared with the well-established system applicable in respect of other categories of universities/higher educational institutions.” (paragraph 5.5)

Criterion for establishing Universities

According the Bill, an organization being a company or a society or a trust recognized as an organization of repute with proven innovation in research and financial capability may set up a university. The Bill further lays down that a university established or incorporated in India functioning for 25 years and a university established or incorporated outside India functioning for 50 years may also establish such universities. As for the time-frame criteria for establishing URIs, the Committee was of the view that the performance of the university rather than the time-frame shall be the yardstick. Further, other factors such as academic quality, accreditation rating, infrastructure, intellectual resource and availability of research facilities shall also be taken into account.

The Committee was categorical in its view that “….there is no need for providing entry of foreign universities to establish universities for research and innovation in India. When the proposed legislation lacks provision for regulatory mechanism even in the case of private funded universities, how the foreign universities would be subject to regulatory mechanism, is beyond comprehension. The Committee is of the view that if foreign universities are to be allowed in India, it should be through the Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operations) Bill, 2010 and not under the proposed legislation.” (paragraph 9.6)

The Committee noted that the URIs are envisaged to be at a higher level in all respects when compared with the traditional universities. Considering inter alia the experiences of China, USA and Australia, the Committee was of the view that these universities should remain in the domain of government sector at least in the initial stages. Simultaneously, Government shall take the initiative to identify premier research institutions and well-established industry houses to be URIs.

The Committee was skeptical whether well-established Indian universities (with 25 years of experience) are in a position to set up another university considering the limited funds, infrastructure, lack of qualified and experienced faculty. According to the Committee, “To expect from them, to set up another university having higher standards and envisaged to do high quality research work is indeed a tall order.” (paragraph 9.8)

Grants by Central Government for supporting Higher Research

In the absence of provision for a proper audit mechanism, the Committee observed that the grants given by the Central Government to any university whether public or private needs to be properly accounted. There shall be some audit mechanism apart from the Research and Academic Audit Peer Groups for accountability of private universities not funded by Government grants.
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