The shortage of skilled man-power is a cause for concern in most sectors in India. Experts acknowledge that the present higher education system in India is not equipped to address this problem without some changes in the basic structure. Official records show that the gross enrollment ratio in higher education is only 11 per cent while the National Knowledge Commission says only seven per cent of the population between the age group of 18-24 enters higher education. Even those who have access are not ensured of quality. Despite having over 300 universities, not a single Indian university is listed in the top 100 universities of the world. Present Regulatory framework The present system of higher education is governed by the University Grants Commission (UGC), which is the apex body responsible for coordination, determination and maintenance of standards, and release of grants. Various professional councils are responsible for recognition of courses, promotion of professional institutions and providing grants to undergraduate programmes. Some of the prominent councils include All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), Medical Council of India (MCI) and the Bar Council of India (BCI). The Central Advisory Board of Education coordinates between the centre and the states. Universities in India can be established by an Act of Parliament or state legislatures such as Delhi University, Calcutta University and Himachal Pradesh University. Both government-aided and unaided colleges are affiliated with a university. The central government can also declare an institution to be a deemed university based on recommendation of the University Grants Commission. There are about 130 deemed universities and includes universities such as Indian Institute of Foreign Trade and Birla Institute of Technology. Such universities are allowed to set their own syllabus, admission criteria and fees. Some prominent institutions are also classified as institutions of national importance. Reforms in Higher Education There have been calls to revamp the regulatory structure, make efforts to attract talented faculty, and increase spending on education from about 4% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to about 6%. Presently, the allocation for higher education is at a measly 0.7% of GDP. From time to time government appointed various expert bodies to suggest reforms in the education sector. The two most recent recommendations were made by the National Knowledge Commission (NKC) formed in 2005 under the chairmanship of Mr Sam Pitroda and the Committee to Advise on Renovation and Rejuvenation of Higher Education, formed in 2008 under the chairmanship of Shri Yashpal.
|Key Recommendations of NKC||Key Recommendations of Yashpal Committee|
|Sources: The Report to the Nation, 2006-09, NKC; Yashpal Committee Report, 2009; PRS|
The Draft NCHER Bill, 2010 In response to the reports, the government drafted a Bill on higher education and put it in the public domain. The draft National Commission for Higher Education and Research Bill, 2010 seeks to establish the National Commission for Higher Education and Research whose members shall be appointed by the President on the recommendation of the selection committee (include Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha, Speaker). The Commission shall take measures to promote autonomy of higher education and for facilitating access, inclusion and opportunities to all. It may specify norms for grant of authorisation to a university, develop a national curriculum framework, specify requirement of academic quality for awarding a degree, specify minimum eligibility conditions for appointment of Vice Chancellors, maintain a national registry, and encourage universities to become self regulatory. Vice Chancellors shall be appointed on the recommendation of a collegium of eminent personalities. The national registry shall be maintained with the names of persons eligible for appointment as Vice Chancellor or head of institution of national importance. Any person can appeal a decision of the Commission to the National Educational Tribunal. (For opinions by some experts on the Bill, click here and here.) Other Bills that are in the pipeline include The Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operation) Bill, 2010; the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admission) (Amendment) Bill, 2010; and the Innovation Universities Bill, 2010.
In the last few years, several states have enacted laws to curb cheating in examinations, especially those for recruitment in public service commissions. According to news reports, incidents of cheating and paper leaks have occurred on several occasions in Uttarakhand, including during the panchayat development officer exams in 2016, and the Uttarakhand Subordinate Services Selection Commission exams in 2021. The Uttarakhand Public Service Commission papers were also leaked in January 2023. The most recent cheating incidents led to protests and unrest in Uttarakhand. Following this, on February 11, 2023, the state promulgated an Ordinance to bar and penalise the use of unfair means in public examinations. The Uttarakhand Assembly passed the Bill replacing the Ordinance in March 2023. There have been multiple reports of candidates being arrested and debarred for cheating in public examinations for posts such as forest guard and secretariat guard after the ordinance’s introduction. Similar instances of cheating have also been noted in other states. As per news reports, since 2015, Gujarat has not been able to hold a single recruitment exam without reported paper leaks. In February 2023, the Gujarat Assembly also passed a law to penalise cheating in public examinations. Other states such as Rajasthan (Act passed in 2022), Uttar Pradesh (Act passed in 1998) and Andhra Pradesh (Act passed in 1997) also have similar laws. In this blog, we compare anti-cheating laws across some states (see Table 1), and discuss some issues to consider.
Typical provisions of anti-cheating laws
Anti-cheating laws across states generally contain provisions that penalise the use of unfair means by examinees and other groups in public examinations such as those conducted by state public sector commission examinations and higher secondary education boards. Broadly, unfair means is defined to include the use of unauthorised help and the unauthorised use of written material by candidates. These laws also prohibit individuals responsible for conducting examinations from disclosing any information they acquire in this role. The more recent laws, such as the Gujarat, Uttarakhand, and Rajasthan ones, also include the impersonation of candidates and the leaking of exam papers within the definition of unfair means. Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Andhra Pradesh prohibit the use of electronic aids. Maximum prison sentences for using such unfair means range from three months in Uttar Pradesh, to seven years in Andhra Pradesh.
Issues to consider
The Gujarat and Uttarakhand anti-cheating Acts have relatively stringent provisions for cheating. The Uttarakhand Act has a fixed 3-year prison sentence for examinees caught cheating or using unfair means (for the first offence). Since the Act does not distinguish between the different types of unfair means used, an examinee could serve a sentence disproportionate to the offence committed. In most other states, the maximum imprisonment term for such offences is three years. Andhra Pradesh has a minimum imprisonment term of three years. However, all these states allow for a range with respect to the penalty, that is, the judge can decide on the imprisonment term (within the specified limits) depending on the manner of cheating and the implications of such cheating. Table 1 below compares the penalties for certain offences across eight states.
The Uttarakhand Act has a provision that debars the examinee from state competitive examinations for two to five years upon the filing of the chargesheet, rather than upon conviction. Thus, an examinee could be deprived of giving the examination even if they were innocent but being prosecuted under the law. This could compromise the presumption of innocence for accused candidates. The Gujarat and Rajasthan laws also debar candidates from sitting in specified examinations for two years, but only upon conviction.
These laws also vary in scope across states. In Uttarakhand and Rajasthan, the laws only apply to competitive examinations for recruitment in a state department (such as a Public Commission). In the other six states examined, these laws also apply to examinations held by educational institutions for granting educational qualifications such as diplomas and degrees. For example, in Gujarat, exams conducted by the Gujarat Secondary and Higher Secondary Education Board are also covered under the Gujarat Public Examination (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 2023. The question is whether it is appropriate to have similar punishments for exams in educational institutions and exams for recruitment in government jobs, given the difference in stakes between them.
Sources: The Rajasthan Public Examination (Measures for Prevention of Unfair Means in Recruitment) Act, 2022; the Uttar Pradesh Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 1998; the Chhattisgarh Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 2008; the Orissa Conduct of Examinations Act, 1988; the Andhra Pradesh Public Examinations (Prevention of Malpractices and Unfair means) Act, 1997; the Jharkhand Conduct of Examinations Act, 2001, the Uttarakhand Competitive Examination (Measures for Prevention and Prevention of Unfair Means in Recruitment) Act, 2023, the Gujarat Public Examination (Prevention of Unfair Methods) Act, 2023; PRS.