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Higher education councils in doldrums
The State Councils of Higher Education (SCHE) was established to empower states to play a greater role in the development of higher education at the state level. They are manned by bureaucrats, not educationists, all the way. Bureaucrats sitting in the state councils appear least concerned with weighty issues. Nor do they wish to enlist the educational and industrial community to seek remedies to the current ills. I even wonder if the political masters are aware of the existence of the policy instruments for higher education.

The SCHE was meant to prepare coordinated programmes of development of higher education and for consolidation of the existing institutions. The Council was expected to play an active role in strengthening non-viable colleges. The Council was to do the state level planning and coordination.  The UGC and the Council were supposed to develop coordinative methods to keep a watch on standards. The SCHE was meant to provide the guidance to state governments. 

The primary functions of the SCHE include preparation of consolidated programmes in the state; initial scrutiny of the development programmes of universities; assisting state governments in determining the block maintenance grants; encouraging setting up autonomous colleges and advising the state government in establishing new institutions.


State level initiatives

With the growth in the number of colleges and universities, several states decided to create SCHEs. The following eight states have set up SHECs: Andhra Pradesh (1988),  Tamil Nadu (1992), West Bengal (1994), Uttar Pradesh (1995), Kerala (2007), Karnataka (2010), Haryana (2010) and Maharashtra (2014).  Gujarat constituted a knowledge consortium, for performing the functions analogous to those of the SCHE but with no reference to UGC.  More states are in the process of establishing SCHEs.

Among the states that created SCHEs, there is considerable variation in their composition and functions.  All the acts contain the features as suggested by the National Policy and the UGC guidelines. The unprecedented growth of higher education brought in new issues related to quality and the relationship between the university system and government on the one hand and the autonomy of the university on the other. In this context, the state level planning for higher education needs to be institutionalised and SHECs are expected to act as a catalyst. 

Probably the Andhra Pradesh State Council for Higher Education (APSCHE) has the widest mandate in the development of higher education in the state.  For instance, it has the power for grant of permission to start private unaided degree colleges and also to conduct common entrance test (CET) for admissions into professional courses.  It assists in coordination among state institutions in respect of curricula and improvements in quality of examinations. It promotes sports and other extracurricular activities, assists in the growth of research activities in academic institutions and advises the universities in preparing statutes and ordinances.

It determines the level of block grants to different government funded universities.  It conducts workshops to provide logistical support to Private unaided degree colleges to go for NAAC assessment. At the initiative of the APSHEC, the rules for basic finance and accounting of the universities of Andhra Pradesh were prepared to bring uniformity in accounting matters and also transparency in the system.

The West Bengal State Council for Higher Education (WBSCHE) undertakes inspections for the approval of new institutions. It is currently acting as a nodal centre as appointed by National Board of Accreditation.  It serves as a liaison between UGC, state and universities for quality, service related matters (teaching and non-teaching staff), interpretation and formulation of rules and statutes.  Its other functions include curricular development, examination reforms, monitoring academic quality, examining proposals for new institutions and considering affiliation requests sent to universities.

The Uttar Pradesh State Council for Higher Education (UPSCHE) organises seminars to improve the quality of higher education. The Kerala State Council for Higher Education (KESCHE) conducts training for non-teaching staff, prepares schemes for financial assistance to colleges for conducting seminars. It has made recommendations to the government to reduce the number of examinations, to revise the grading system and has requested the Boards of Studies of universities to change the syllabi and textbooks to suit the choice-based credit and semester system. 

The powers vary widely among the SCHEs depending on their composition. In general, wherever the minister heads the council, the powers are diluted compared to those, which is led by eminent educationists. Among the existing councils, only the APSCHE, WBSCHE and UPSCHE have educationists as chairmen. 

The vice-chairman and the member-secretary of the APSCHE are also academicians. In WBSCHE the vice-chairman is an academician. In APSCHE one of the members may even be an educationist from outside the state. Academicians appointed to the positions of chairman,  vice-chairman and member-secretary serve on a full-time basis with privileges comparable to the vice-chancellor of a state university.

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