The autonomy of the country’s higher education regulator and universities may be curtailed, if the proposed Higher Education Commission (HEC) Act is passed and comes into force with its present provisions, said officials concerned.
Efforts were made in the last eight years to reconstruct the University Grants Commission (UGC) to increase its capacity, converting it into a higher education commission to effectively oversee around 150 public and private universities across the country.Some UGC officials, however, fear that the proposals made in the draft law could make the autonomous regulator a department of education ministry.
Now the UGC can give decisions on several matters. But approval from education ministry will be needed prior to taking decisions on the matters once the new law comes into effect.
Sources said the law have some provisions which will help develop country’s higher education, but there are some provisions which are contradictory to each other.
On August 26, the Administrative Development Secretary Committee at its meeting approved the ‘Higher Education Commission Act, 2018’, which was formulated by the education ministry secretly.
The draft of the HEC will now be placed in cabinet meeting and then before parliament for passage.
Officials concerned said autonomy of the HEC in the proposed law exists only in name.Under the existing law, the UGC can create posts for teachers and open new subjects and departments in any public university.
The present law also authorises the UGC to give approval to syllabus, opening or suspending new departments and subjects at private universities.
But under the proposed law, a prior approval from the education ministry will be needed to get the job done.
Even the regulator will have to take prior approval from the ministry to create any posts and determine qualification for recruitment under per the new law.
As per the draft law, the proposed HEC will be able to inspect universities but they cannot take action against them in case of any irregularities or violation of law. Only the ministry concerned can do it.
The proposed law will not even require the ministry to accept any recommendations of the HEC. It, however, authorises the ministry to inspect universities, though the commission has been referred to as the regulatory body.
Some UGC officials said the proposed law has not only reduced the autonomy for the UGC, but also the autonomy for the country’s universities.
The HEC will determine the minimum educational eligibility for admission of students into universities, though universities are now determining it by themselves.
The commision will be comprised of a chairman, five full-time members and three part-time members from private universities under the proposed law. Three secretaries will work as part-time members on behalf of the government.
Apart from this, three vice-chancellors and three deans from public universities will be appointed as members of the commission. The president will appoint the chairman and the members.
Currently, only academics can become the chairman of UGC. Under the proposed law, scope for appointing bureaucrats as chairman of the commission is opening.
Currently one of the UGC directors has been made its secretary. It has also been proposed in HEC draft that the secretary of the commission will be appointed by the government.
UGC officials said the organiasation is going to be powerless due to such proposed provisions in the draft of HEC act.
However, some strict provisions have been proposed in the draft. The commission can take various steps, including cancellation of approved programme and stopping student admission, if any university fails to follow the commission’s recommendations.
UGC chairman Prof Abdul Mannan said the journey of UGC started in 1973 with only six universities. But currently, there are 48 public and 108 private universities in the country. For this reason, initiatives have been taken to convert UGC into HEC.
“Bangabandhu said that if there is no autonomy then there is no higher education. So he gave autonomy to UGC in 1973 and formed it as a statutory organisation,” he added.
Former UGC chairman Prof AK Azad Chowdhury said if the HEC is formed, then it will be given the power to work independently.
“The HEC will be kept out of bureaucratic tangles for the greater interest of country’s higher education,” he added.