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?
[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.
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.