Govt proposes to replace UGC with new commission

The new Higher Education Commission of India Act is likely to be tabled in Parliament during the monsoon session. Photo: Mint

The new Higher Education Commission of India Act is likely to be tabled in Parliament during the monsoon session. Photo: Mint

New Delhi: The Union government on Wednesday unveiled the draft of a bill to replace higher education regulator University Grants Commission (UGC) with a Higher Education Commission.

The new commission to be established through an Act will not have grant-making authority, will promote reduced inspection system and will focus more on quality outcome at universities and colleges.

Human resource development (HRD) minister Prakash Javadekar, who claimed this is a key education reform, said the new body will be more representational. Its board will have senior bureaucrats from the ministries of HRD, skills and entrepreneurship, and science and technology, in a way ending the monopoly of HRD ministry in regulating higher education.

“The draft Act is in accordance with the commitment of the government for reforming the regulatory systems that provide more autonomy to higher educational institutes to promote excellence and facilitate holistic growth of the education system,” Javadekar said in a tweet.

He said the new Act will separate grant-making functions, end inspection raj, focus on academic quality and empower the new commission to enforce quality issues.

According to the draft bill, university and college managements found wanting and violating penalty imposed by the commission “shall be liable for prosecution as per procedure laid down under the Criminal Procedure Code and may be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend up to three years”.

The new body will specify learning outcomes for colleges and universities, prescribe teaching, assessment, research standards.

UGC reform was part of the BJP’s general election manifesto in 2014. To be sure, a similar restructuring was discussed and promoted by the previous United Progressive Alliance government but could not become a law due to lack of support from the parliament.

Over the last four years, the HRD ministry has deliberated on several models like a single regulator for higher education by merging UGC, National Council of Teacher Education (NCTE) and All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE); however, the plans were not taken forward.

“This Act provides for establishing the Higher Education Commission of India repealing the University Grants Commission Act, 1956,” said the draft bill which is open for public feedback till 7 July.

“Whereas for promoting uniform development of quality of education in higher educational institutions, there is a need for creation of a Body that lays down uniform standards, and ensures maintenance of the same through systematic monitoring and promotion, Whereas the existing regulatory structure as reflected by the mandate given to University Grants Commission required redefinition based on the changing priorities of higher education and allow its growth,” underlines the draft bill on need for a change.

The new commission shall consist of a chairperson, vice chairperson and 12 members to be appointed by the central government. The secretary of the commission will act as the member-secretary. Of the 12 members, three members will represent union government namely: secretary of higher education, secretary of ministry of skill development and entrepreneurship and secretary, department of science and technology. Besides, there will be an “industry doyen” among the board members.

New Jersey Proposes “No Text While Walking” Law

Smartphone users in New Jersey will have to break themselves of the habit of using their devices while out and about. Proposed by Assemblywoman Pamela R. Lampitt, a new “no texting while walking” bill hopes to impose a $50 fine for those caught walking on sidewalks or streets using their phones and other mobile devices without hands-free tools.

While the dangers of texting while driving are clear and common knowledge (and even illegal in 39 U.S. states, including New Jersey) the newly proposed legislation looks at the dangers posed by the so-called ‘petextrians’ as well.

While the basics of mobile etiquette are well known, texting while walking is something most people are guilty of. However, studies show that by taking your attention away from your surroundings, you greatly increase your risk of injury.

This distracted walking is believed to be the cause of close calls ranging from simply tripping on the sidewalk to walking in front of vehicles. Lampitt mentioned “I see it every single day,” and hopes this new fine proposal will make the distracted texter think twice.

But more than anecdotal evidence has led New Jersey to bring the hammer down on the practice of texting while walking.

A report by the Governors Highway Safety Association released in 2015 shows an increase in pedestrian fatalities citing texting as the cause. From 2009 to 2013, the amount of pedestrian fatalities increased 15 percent, and nearly two million injuries were reported to be cellphone related.

A survey taken by Safe Kids Worldwide found 40 percent of teens had admitted to nearly being hit by a car, motorcycle or bike while walking. Most said they had been texting, listening to music or talking on the phone.

Texting has become a main form of communication, so much so that app stores carry dozens of alternate SMS text messaging services for users. With this growth has come some problems, and Lampitt believes that the proposed bill will help cut back on some of them.

However, since smartphones have become a key part of daily lives, it’s no surprise that this proposal faces some slow going ahead. In 2014, there was a bill that attempted to designate September as ‘Distracted Walking Awareness Month,’ but it died in committee. Another bill proposed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in January passed and established a Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Council.

However, this no-texting-while-walking bill hasn’t yet been posted for vote, and its future seems a bit uncertain. Lampitt acknowledged this by saying “If it builds awareness, that’s OK.”

Text Image via Shutterstock


Nasscom proposes start-ups be exempt from direct, indirect taxes

Nasscom also sought steps to increase investments in start-ups.

Nasscom also sought steps to increase investments in start-ups.

New Delhi: Software lobby Nasscom on Wednesday proposed that all start-ups be exempted from direct and indirect taxes to reduce compliance burden and cash outflows. In its pre-budget recommendations submitted to the finance ministry, Nasscom also demanded removal of so-called angel tax levied on capital receipts.

It also recommended allowing companies to carry forward losses even if there is change in ownership structure, if it is for capital infusion in the entity.

“Policy regulations like ease of compliance, reliance on self-certification instead of audits, tax exemptions for startups will allow entrepreneurs to devote their time, energy and resources to build upon their innovative ideas,” said R. Chandrashekhar, president, Nasscom. “With the number of tech start-ups in India growing over 40% over the last year, these startups can potentially develop innovative solutions to address the development needs of the country as startups focus on development solutions for health, infrastructure and energy among others.”

Nasscom also sought steps to increase investments in start-ups.

“Investments in early-stage startups are high-risk and there is a need to rationalise tax rates for investors,” it said. It recommended harmonizing capital gains tax for resident investors with non-resident investors and tax rates for angel investors, allowing proprietary domestic capital to set up a limited liability partnership as an investment vehicle as well as exemption of capital gains tax on income from sale of equity of a start-up if the proceeds are reinvested in securities of new start-ups.