Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Union government has decided to introduce the Higher Education Commission of India (Repeal of University Grants Commission Act) Bill 2018 that will do away with the University Grants Commission Act and pave the way for the setting up of the Higher Education Commission of India (HECI). The new Commission will focus on "improving academic standards and the quality of Higher Education," Union HRD Ministry said in a release Wednesday. The decision to set up HECI is the latest among a series of reform measures undertaken by the government for the overhaul of higher education regulatory bodies. Previously, the government had launched reform measures in NAAC, Regulation for grant of Graded Autonomy to Universities, granting of Autonomous status to colleges, the Regulation for Open Distance Learning, Regulation for Online degrees etc. What will HECI do? According to the government, attempts at the reform of the higher education regulatory body are guided by principles of "less government and more government"; "separation of grant function"; "End of inspection Raj"; "Focus of academic quality"; and "Powers to Enforce" The above imply: - First, the government aims to downsize the scope of the regulator to ensure no more interference in the management issues of the educational institutions. - Second, the grant functions would be carried out the HRD Ministry, unlike the UGC till now. This will allow HECI to focus on academic matters only. - Third, by ending the inspection Raj, regulation will be done through transparent public disclosures, merit-based decision making on matters regarding standards and quality in higher education. - Fourth, the mandate of HECI will be to improve academic standards and specific focus will be on learning outcomes, evaluation of academic performance by institutions, mentoring of institutions, training of teachers, promoting use of educational technology etc. HECI will be responsible for setting standards for opening and closure of institutions, providing greater flexibility and autonomy to institutions, lay standards for appointments. - Fifth, HECI will also have the power to enforce compliance to the academic quality standards, order closure of sub-standard and bogus institutions. The non-compliance by institutions will also lead to fines or jail-term. Highlights of Higher Education Commission of India (Repeal of University Grants Commission Act) Bill 2018: Powers - HECI shall have the power to grant authorization for starting of academic operations on the basis of their compliance with norms of academic quality. - HECI shall have the powers to revoke authorization granting to a higher education institution where there is a case of wilful or continuous default in compliance with the norms - The Commission shall take steps for promoting the quality of academic instruction and maintenance of academic standards. - The Commission shall, subject to the provisions of this Act and regulations made under this Act, take measures to promote the autonomy of higher educational institutions for the free pursuit of knowledge, innovation, incubation and entrepreneurship, and for facilitating access, inclusion and opportunities to all, and providing for comprehensive and holistic growth of higher education and research in a competitive global environment. - No higher educational institution empowered, by or under law, to award any degree or diploma established after the coming into force of this Act shall commence its first academic operations unless it is so authorized, in accordance with such norms as may be specified by the Commission. - The Bill also provides for the penal provisions, which albeit graded in nature, will cover withdrawal of power to grant degrees\/ diplomas or direction to cease academic operations and in cases of wilful non-compliance, may result in prosecution sanction as per the Criminal Procedure Code with a punishment of imprisonment for a term which may extend up to 3 years. - Every application for grant of authorization shall be made, by a higher educational institution or a University, to the Commission using an online e-governance module. Responsibility The Commission shall: - Put in place a robust accreditation system for evaluation of academic outcomes by various HEIs - Provide for mentoring of institutions found to be failing in maintaining the required academic standards - Order closure of institutions which fail to adhere to minimum standards without affecting the student\u2019s interest or fail to get accreditation within the specified period - Monitor, through a national database, all matters concerning the development of emerging fields of knowledge, balanced growth of higher educational institutions in all spheres and academic quality in higher education and research. Directed by Centre - In the discharge of its functions under this Act, the Commission shall be guided by such directions on questions of policy relating to national purposes as may be given to it by the Central Government. - The provisions of this Act shall have overriding effect notwithstanding anything inconsistent there with contained in any other law for the time being in force or in any instrument having effect by virtue of any law other than this Act. - The constitution of the Commission is strengthened by the co-option of Chairpersons of regulatory bodies in higher education, namely the AICTE and the NCTE. Moreover the Chairpersons\/Vice-Chairpersons and members will be scholars of eminence and standing in the field of academics and research, possessing leadership qualities, proven capacities for institution building and deep understanding of issues of higher education policy and practice. Fee control - The Commission will also specify norms and processes for fixing of fee chargeable by higher education institutions and advice the Central Government or the State Governments, as the case may be, regarding steps to be taken for making education affordable to all. Leadership - Commission shall consist of a Chairperson, Vice Chairperson and twelve other Members to be appointed by the Central Government. The Secretary of the Commission will act as the Member-Secretary. - Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson and Members shall be scholars being persons of eminence and standing in the field of academics and research possessing leadership abilities, proven capacity for institution building, governance of institutions of higher learning and research and deep understanding on issues of higher education policy and practice. - The Chairperson shall be selected by a Search-Cum-Selection Committee, consisting of Cabinet Secretary (Chairperson), Secretary Higher Education, and three other eminent academicians to be co-opted as members.