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.
Tribunals function as a parallel mechanism to the traditional court system. Tribunals were established for two main reasons - allowing for specialised subject knowledge in disputes on technical matters and reducing the burden on the court system. In India, some tribunals are at the level of subordinate courts with appeals lying with the High Court, while some others are at the level of High Courts with appeals lying with the Supreme Court. In 1986, the Supreme Court ruled that Parliament may create an alternative to High Courts provided that they have the same efficacy as the High Courts. For an overview of the tribunal system in India, see our note here.
In April 2021, the central government promulgated an Ordinance, which specified provisions related to the composition of the search-cum-selection committees for the selection of members of 15 Tribunals, and the term of office for members. Further, it empowered the central government to notify qualifications and other terms and conditions of service (such as salaries) for the Chairperson and members of these tribunals. In July 2021, the Supreme Court struck down certain provisions of the Ordinance (such as the provision specifying a four-year term for members) stating that these impinged on the independence of the judiciary from the government. In several earlier judgements, the Supreme Court has laid out guidelines for the composition of Tribunals and service conditions to ensure that these Tribunals have the same level of independence from the Executive as the High Courts they replace.
However, Parliament passed the Tribunals Reforms Bill, 2021 in August 2021, which is almost identical to the April Ordinance and includes the provisions which had been struck down. This Act has been challenged in the Supreme Court. For a PRS analysis of the Bill, please see here.
On 16th September 2021, the central government notified The Tribunal (Conditions of Service) Rules, 2021 under the Tribunals Reforms Act, 2021. A couple of the provisions under these Rules may contravene principles laid out by the Supreme Court:
Appointment of the Administrative Member of the Central Administrative Tribunal as the Chairman
In case of the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), the Rules specify that a person with at least three years of experience as the Judicial Member or Administrative Member may be appointed as the Chairman. This may violate the principles laid down by the past Supreme Court judgements.
The CAT supplants High Courts. In 1986, the Supreme Court stated that if an administrative tribunal supplants the High Courts, the office of the Chairman of the tribunal should be equated with that of the Chief Justice of the High Court. Therefore, the Chairman of the tribunal must be a current or former High Court Judge. Further, in 2019, the Supreme Court stated – “the knowledge, training, and experience of members or presiding officers of a tribunal must mirror, as far as possible, that of the Court it seeks to substitute”.
The Administrative Member of the CAT may be a person who has been an Additional Secretary to the central government or a central government officer with pay at least that of the Additional Secretary. Hence, the Administrative Member may not have the required judicial experience for appointment as the Chairman of CAT.
Leave Sanctioning Authority
The Rules specify that the central government will be the leave sanctioning authority for the Chairperson of tribunals, and Members (in case of absence of the Chairperson). In 2014, the Supreme Court specified that the central government (Executive) should not have any administrative involvement with the members of the tribunal as it may influence the independence and fairness of the tribunal members. In addition, it had observed that the Executive may be a litigant party and its involvement in administrative matters of tribunals may influence the fairness of the adjudication process. In judgements in 1997 and 2014, the Supreme Court recommended that the administration of all Tribunals should be under a nodal ministry such as the Law Ministry, and not the respective administrative ministry. In 2020, it recommended setting up of a National Tribunals Commission to supervise appointments and administration of Tribunals. The Rules are not in consonance with these recommendations.