HEERA—the proposed higher education empowerment and regulation agency—will not come into being, at least for now. Minister of state in the HRD ministry, Upendra Kushwaha, confirmed this in a parliament reply last week.
"No such proposal is under consideration at present, to merge the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) into a single higher education regulator,” Kushwaha informed the Rajya Sabha.
While a couple of meetings between UGC and AICTE had taken place and a draft note was also prepared, nothing much has moved beyond that. Sources said that the government has decided to prioritise other higher education reforms than work on one mammoth project.
"In some ways, this is good. The government has understood that it is not feasible in short term and will take lot of planning and work to be done. There are other ways as well in which higher education can be revamped", says Karthick Sridhar, vice chairman of ICARE, a private sector rankings agency.
This is evident in some of the recent announcements made by the ministry. One of the biggest projects in the government's agenda is creation of world class universities. HRD minister Prakash Javadekar recently announced that the government will give Rs 20,000 crore, that is Rs 1000 crore each to 20 universities to help them propel into top 100 in global rankings.
The accreditation framework by NAAC has been revised to make it more in tune with the global systems. Under the revised framework, it will be more objective and less subjective, relying a lot on data.
The government has also hiked fellowship amount for PhD scholars at IITs and IISc to curb brain drain that was happening due to lack of funding. It will pay Rs 70,000 monthly fellowship to 2,000 PhD students from Indian Institutes of Technology and the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru for a period of five years, Currently, research students at IITs get Rs 25,000 as monthly scholarship.
In fact, imparting more autonomy to IIMs through the IIM bill is also a part of government's agenda to reform the higher education sector.
There is more impetus on rankings and going ahead government plans to link grants and autonomy to these rankings.