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.

Spider-Man Is the Best Character to Replace Iron Man at the Centre of the MCU

Spider-Man Is the Best Character to Replace Iron Man at the Centre of the MCU


  • Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige says Avengers 4 the end of a 22-movie arc
  • Spider-Man: Homecoming’s sequel will be a fresh start for the franchise
  • The contracts of most of the existing stars would have expired by then

Spider-Man: Homecoming is out in the cinemas now, and as we noted in our review, it’s an exuberant film that brings a fresh flavour to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Tom Holland played a brief but memorable part in Captain America: Civil War, and with Spider-Man: Homecoming, you’ll be happy to know that he’s able to sustain the viewers’ interest over the course of an entire film as well.

But as it turns out, Spider-Man has a much bigger part to play in the canon that Marvel has been building ever since it first came out with Iron Man in 2008. Talking to the Toronto Sun, Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige, the architect of the MCU, said that Avengers 4 (which will release in 2019, and doesn’t have a title as yet) will be the last of the current MCU films. And after that, the sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming will come out, starting off a new era for the MCU. To appropriate Star Wars a little – he’s not the last of the old Avengers, he’s the first of the new.

When you consider the ownership of the Spider-Man franchise – created by Marvel Comics, owned by Sony Pictures, with merchandising rights in Disney’s hands – that’s a weird place to rest the future of your cinematic universe, particularly as it will come at the end of an arc that Feige said spans 22 movies.

But it makes sense too – after all, Spider-Man was always one of Marvel’s top-tier characters, which is why he was much more saleable back when Marvel was bankrupt, before it was acquired by Disney.

homecoming cages spider man

By the time this new “arc” beings for the MCU, many of the actors’ contracts would have expired. Almost all the Avengers, from Iron Man to Captain America to Black Widow to Thor would either have to be recast, or the character retired in some manner. Perhaps we’ll finally see some stakes emerge in the Avengers movies, as so far, the films have actively shied away from killing off characters.

That’s because, thanks to the “shared Universe” concept, writers had some limits on their freedom. It might have been narratively sound to have the Vision accidentally kill War Machine in Civil War, but if he has a part to play in one of the upcoming movies, then you can’t really take that plot line forward.

There’s a lot of new characters in the mix now, such as Ant-Man and Doctor Strange, which will allow Marvel to ease off the earlier characters without thinning the ranks too much, and over the course of the next two years as we move towards the new MCU, perhaps the company can start looking at new characters to spotlight.

For one, the company has two new movies lined up that a lot of people are excited about, with Black Panther and Captain Marvel planned for February 2018 and March 2019 respectively. Beyond that, perhaps the MCU will also take a page from the comics again, and start finding new characters to take up old mantles.

homecoming climb spider man

Some of the most interesting characters that Marvel has right now are young enough that they can look up to Holland’s Spider-Man as a mentor figure of sorts, such as Moon Girl, or Ms Marvel, or even Amadeus Cho’s Totally Awesome Hulk.

In the new phase of the MCU that Feige talks about, Spider-Man could well occupy a role similar to that of Tony Stark today, as a leader who brings the whole team together.

Whether this will be possible with the deal that Marvel has in place with Sony is of course a different matter, but with the lineup that’s on hand, there’s a real risk that the MCU could lose the vibrancy that made it so successful to begin with, and that’s why Feige’s comments about basing the future of the MCU on Spider-Man makes us hopeful.


Can Exam Preparation Apps Replace Coaching Classes in India?

Can Exam Preparation Apps Replace Coaching Classes in India?

Can Exam Preparation Apps Replace Coaching Classes in India?
Exam preparation apps are competing with coaching classes.
For some students, learning online is more effective.
Low course completion rate is the biggest challenge.
Coaching classes still hold an iron grip on exam preparations, but this is another industry that could soon get ‘disrupted’. Traditionally, preparation has been associated with a classroom where a group of students are tutored by a teacher. New startups want to break the group study model, which they say doesn’t work for most students.

Joe Joshua Kochitty, product manager at online learning startup Toppr, says, “Coaching class doesn’t work for most people. If you practice differently, you fall behind.” Every student has a different way of studying, and quite a few of them may not be able to follow the set pattern of teaching that coaching classes follow, Kochitty says. That might be true, but companies like Toppr have an equally big problem – keeping students engaged.

Prepathon, an app for online preparation designed by education startup Pagalguy, is tackling this problem through bots. “If you look at Coursera, the course completion rate is just 3 percent,” says Pagalguy CEO Allwin Agnel, and [though most studies peg that number as closer to 10 percent it’s still pretty low. Prepathon uses bots in a big way to encourage more students to complete its courses.

“Our bots provide coaches with insights like these 3,000 people haven’t logged in today. Coaches can then click to send all of them a message,” Agnel says. This helps Prepathon keep students engaged with the app. Other bots send messages to students and guide them as well.

(Also see: How One App Enabled Entrepreneurship in a Gujarat School)


Prepathon allows students to message coaches, who can then answer their queries. This adds a personal touch that may sometimes be lacking in online learning through a Massive Online Open Course.

Education through analytics
However, according to Agnel, very few students actively ask questions or voice their doubts. He compares this to a typical classroom, where only a few students ask most of the questions. That’s why the bots are seen as an important part of the equation – as this helps the coaches to reach out to the students who need the most encouragement.

“Bots set [students’] agenda for the day. We have a feedback bot. If a student studied a topic a week ago, it asks them if they want to revise it,” Agnel says.

Toppr’s Kochitty has similar thoughts. “Ninety-five percent of students are not active learners. Active students have up to 15 queries a day [Toppr also allows students to ask questions], while inactive [learners] have around two doubts a month,” he says.

Vikas Gupta, a 25-year-old engineer based in Mumbai, used Prepathon to prepare for CAT (Common Admission Test – for admission to MBA courses in India). He says he loves the app’s Coach feature. “It’s like WhatsApp. If you’re asking something you get an instant response. It helped me clear all my doubts,” he says.

Gupta says he used the app when he was on the move. “When on the move, I didn’t have to carry a book with me. It [study material] was all on the phone. It was very handy that way,” he says. Even though he found the app useful, Gupta didn’t use Prepathon as his sole learning platform.


“I’d also joined IMS, which is a coaching class. The part about having a classroom was basically the test. When you have a 3-hour CAT to give, you need an atmosphere where you sit in a classroom and appear like the actual exam that you’re giving,” he says. “That is not feasible on the phone but the learning part is happening on the phone.”
Unlike Gupta, 25-year-old Faizan Bhombal relies only on Prepathon. He works with a shipping equipment company in Mumbai and is preparing for the SSC (Staff Selection Commission) exam. “I had enquired about coaching classes but I found them to be too costly. That’s why I just use Prepathon,” Bhombal says.

He spends two hours every day commuting in Mumbai’s local trains, which is when he uses Prepathon to learn. “Now since I’m working I prefer apps for learning because I don’t get time. Most of the time that I get is during travelling, that’s why online learning is for me,” he says.

(Also see: No Visa, No Money? Get a US Degree Without Paying Much)

Toppr’s Kochitty says students who learn differently switch to learning online full time. The transition is already taking place, he says. “When there is some glitch in one of our features, we get a lot of reports from students asking us to fix it,” he adds. “That is when we realised that for those students Toppr is the only mode of study.”

Learning to teach
Feedback and metrics are a big part of how Toppr improves its product. “Through internal metrics we check if a feature is being used,” Kochitty explains. “There are some features, like asking doubts, that a handful of students use a lot but most students use infrequently.” In some cases where a feature is used only infrequently, Toppr scraps it.

The company also makes use of machine learning to gauge the level of comfort students have with different topics, and to benchmark progress. “The way coaching classes work is they make the students answer the 50 most difficult questions,” Kochitty says. “At Toppr, we start off with one question and depending on whether students solve it, we give them another question of different difficulty.”


Toppr works with 25 experts who are qualified to handle advanced queries. While the service has 100 tutors per subject active every day to help students with their queries, the volume of questions can become tough to handle. As a result, the company is now exploring automation to try and make things move faster.

“Most questions are asked between 9pm and 1.30am,” says Kochitty, adding that Toppr tries to ensure that more tutors are active during these hours. “We manually route tough doubts to experts, but we’re planning to automate this process.”

One of Prepathon’s coaches, Prashant Chadha, says students use the platform not only to get their doubts answered, but also to seek advice. “They want to know how to prepare,” says Chadha. “There are specific queries with respect to approach, strategy, which college to go for, which exam corresponds to their specific skill set, etc. We have a lot of conversations as well.”

“One student I talked to was preparing for IBPS (Institute of Banking Personnel) exam,” he adds. “Whenever she feels a lack of motivation or when she’s feeling low, she comes on the coach chat and I try to cheer her up.”

Chadha has a background in teaching. He says that students have the same conversations with coaches offline and online. Like in a classroom, many students are too shy to ask questions, Chadha says. “A lot of them are under pressure, [they think] ‘does this sound stupid? Am I being silly?’ That is different [on Prepathon]. A lot of questions are very basic,” says Chadha.

The approach that these companies are using is a step away from MOOCs, and offers a more personalised experience for the students. At this stage, it’s unlikely to make a big impact on coaching centres, even if the companies see it as inevitable; but for people like Faizan Bhombal, it’s clear that the apps are making a difference.

Tags: Allwin Agnel, Android, Apple, Apps, CAT, Education, Education Apps, Exam Preparation, IBPS, India, Joe Joshua Kochitty, Learning, Mooc, Moocs, Online Learning, Online Learning Apps, Pagalguy, Prashant Chadha, Prepathon, SSC, Toppr


Google Chrome to Replace WebView in Android 7.0 Nougat

Google Chrome to Replace WebView in Android 7.0 Nougat


  • It improves memory efficiency
  • It will also reduce bandwidth required to keep WebView up to date
  • Developers can activate it by enabling the ‘Multiprocess WebView’ option

Google’s WebView is a vital component of the Android OS that lets app developers render webpages in apps without requiring a full browser. Now, the tech giant has announced that WebView component will actually become a part of Chrome to bring in more data and memory efficiency.

In order for Chrome to handle WebView rendering, users will have to be running on Android 7.0 Nougat with Chrome v51, or higher. On its developer page, Google mentions, “Starting with Chrome version 51 on Android N and above, the Chrome APK on your device is used to provide and render Android System WebViews. This approach improves memory usage on the device itself and also reduces the bandwidth required to keep WebView up to date. You can choose your WebView provider by enabling Developer Options and selecting WebView implementation. You can use any compatible Chrome version (Dev, Beta, or Stable) that is installed on your device or the standalone Webview APK to act as the WebView implementation.”

The standalone WebView APK will no longer be updated by the tech giant, as long as Chrome WebView rendering remains enabled. Developers can activate this new feature by enabling the ‘Multiprocess WebView’ option. This will run web content on apps through a unique sandboxed process.


Also see: Google Responds to Concerns Over Widespread Android WebView Vulnerability

However, this is an optional feature and developers can opt out of it by selecting WebView Implementation in Developer Options. Developers can then opt for the standalone WebView APK, over the new Chrome WebView rendering if required.

WebView has constantly been tweaked by Google through the years, and it has changed vastly from where it started long ago. The component was based on the Webkit engine, which was replaced by Google’s Chromium engine when Android 4.4 KitKat launched, resolving the reported vulnerability in WebView and also enabling quick binary updates to the component via OEM updates. Android 5.0 Lollipop then unbundled WebView from the operating system, allowing it to be downloaded and updated separately by users from Google Play – without requiring an OEM fix.

Tags: Android 7.0 Nougat, Android Developers, Android Nougat, App Developers, Google, Google Chrome, WebView