Monday, February 22, 2010


The draft legislation for creating NCHER, the National Commission for Higher Education and Research, is here (pdf). When it is created with the Parliament's nod, it'll replace almost all the major higher ed regulators -- UGC, AICTE, etc.

The legislation describes the organizational structure -- NCHER will be headed by a Chairman, and it'll have a Collegium that's so large as to include a representative from each state! The legislation also provides a huge list of things the Commission will do -- leaving the details of how those things will be accomplished to the Commission itself.

So far, so good.

There's one jarring note, however. It's about creating a 'national registry' of academics -- university vice chancellors are expected to be picked from this registry.

This provision is really, really strange. Why can't the government allow NCHER to evolve the norms for selecting university VCs? Why should it tie NCHER's hands on this issue, when the Commission has been given the mandate to do so many other things?

The composition of the Collegium and the concept of national registry have come under sharp attack from the governments of Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

[In a separate development, the employees of UGC have opposed the formation of NCHER.]

In the op-ed pages of The Hindu, Thomas Joseph, Member-Secretary of the Higher Education Council of Kerala, started a debate over NCHER. This is what he says about the national registry:

The Bill provides for the preparation of a national registry of people eligible to be selected as Vice-Chancellors and mandates that Vice-Chancellors of State universities be appointed from a panel of names selected by the commission from the registry. The question is not whether the commission would always act fairly, but whether such an arrangement would be consistent with the principles of autonomy of higher educational institutions, which is touted as the basic objective of the commission. The idea of a registry may not be an objectionable one if States have the option to choose any name from the registry and if the right to appoint a person as Vice-Chancellor from outside the list is not entirely ruled out.

Prof. Madhava Menon, a member of the Task Force that drafted the legislation, has a point-by-point rebuttal. Here's the section dealing with the national registry:

An innovative measure to secure academic autonomy that is proposed in the Bill relates to the selection of Vice-Chancellors. Many ills of higher education, at present, can be traced to corruption and manipulation involved in the appointment of Vice-Chancellors. The Bill empowers the Collegium to prepare a registry of suitable persons with expertise and experience after a worldwide search and to keep it updated from time to time. It is not necessary that only persons who figure in the registry be appointed. Whenever the Central or State governments want to appoint Vice-Chancellors they can ask, if they so like, for a panel of names from the Commission as per their requirements, and the Commission may provide it. This is to facilitate the search and to present available candidates of distinction within and outside the country. There is no infringement of autonomy in the process; rather, it enhances autonomy by removing potential risks to such autonomy. The States' choice of the person and the right to choose one from outside the registry is in no way compromised by the provisions in the Bill.

The Task Force has been holding public hearings on the Draft Bill; it has already had one each in Bengaluru, Thiruvananthapuram and Chennai.


  1. Anonymous said...

    Pratap Bhanu Mehta has an op-ed in Indian express blasting the current draft.

  2. sunil said...

    Having a registry of 'eminent' academic candidates is not a bad option. In any event, it is better than having retired IAS/IPS officers as Vice Chancellors.

    Banu Pratap Mehta has written that the VC's ''will now have to be appointed from a National Registry prepared by a single Collegium which will forward 5 names for a position''. This gives the impression that the universities have no option but to stick with one of the 5 candidates suggested by the collegium.

    However, the NCHER-act states that ''WHEN CALLED UPON TO DO SO by a state govt/univ the commision shall recommend a panel of 5 names ... ''It does add that no person can be made a VC without his/her name being there in the registry.

    So, i guess that the state govts have to right to select any person as a VC as long as their name exists in the registry. There is no compulsion that they HAVE to ask the collegium for a list of 5 nominations.

    If the registry does contains the names of eminent academicians, wouldn't that weed out bad appointments and ensure the appointment of capable people as VC's ??

  3. Anonymous said...

    If the registry does contains the names of eminent academicians, wouldn't that weed out bad appointments and ensure the appointment of capable people as VC's ??

    Ah, so optimistic. To use a cliche, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.


    What exactly is an "eminent academician"? That aside, good administrators are not necessarily great academicians and vice versa. (We would certainly want someone with a decent academic record at the helm -- the usual criterion elsewhere is that the person should be good enough to get tenure and make it to full professor -- but I would certainly not ask for "eminent" academicians whatever that means.)

    Prediction is always risky but given our beloved government's track record, I will remain sceptical. Frankly, I think all such "sarkari" routes to academic excellence are doomed to failure. I hope I'm wrong.

  4. sunil said...

    @ Anon,

    To a large extent, I do share your pessimism about 'sarkari' routes to academic excellence. However, i think that there is no way out of this loop ... atleast in the near future.

    As far as the NCHER-act is concerned, the emergence of this 'super-UGC' can end up adding to the mess rather than improving matters. However, on the specific issue of appointment of VC's, it may actually be beneficial. The VC appointments in many universities are absolutely atrocious, and any step to improve upon it will only help us in the long run.

    And yes, the road to hell may be paved with good intentions,.. but that should not stop one from having good intentions.. should it ?? :-)