Where's the autonomy? PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 08 December 2020 08:44
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Ishaan edit 

The government seeking a backdoor to have its say in the Indian Institutes of Management (IIM) shows how resistant it is to granting autonomy to the premier institutes, all its talk of education reforms and the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 notwithstanding. The Indian Express (IE) reports that the ministry of education has shared a draft executive order with the law ministry which empowers it to order an inquiry against the Board of Governors of an IIM if the government believes the institute is in violation of the IIM Act, 2017 (which came into effect on January 31, 2018). Ironically, when this Act was passed, the government had tom-tomed the autonomy it would give the institutes. However, the rather vaguely-worded Section 38 of the Act, which empowers the government to interfere to remove “any difficulty” arising in giving effect to the Act, is being invoked in the present instance, IE reports.

The backdrop to this move is the turf-war between the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the IIMs, over some of the IIMs deciding to convert their one-year executive management diploma into a one-year MBA. The UGC, which says postgraduate degrees must be of a two-year duration, had immediately challenged this, and the ministry of education had written to the IIMs saying that they must act in “conformity with the UGC Act 1956”. This was a clear attempt by the government to make the IIMs fall in line, despite having promised them academic, administrative and even financial freedom. However, this is not the first such instance of intervention since the new IIM Act came into effect—in 2018, it attempted to get the IIMs to impose a fee cap, while it has simply not removed the yoke of reservation from the premier institutes. While the UGC’s contention was that the UGC Act supersedes the IIM Act, the Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) Bill, once passed, will cause the UGC Act to lapse. The fact is that, in some of the most advanced jurisdictions, there are one-year postgraduate degree programmes, including in management education. If the IIMs are not to have even the basic freedom to decide on programmes, what autonomy is the government talking about, really?

The NEP 2020 talks of near-complete autonomy for top-notch institutes in the country—and if autonomy for the IIMs is a sort of pilot for this, the government’s intent on implementation of the NEP vision seems questionable. If the government arrogates to itself powers to interfere in the IIMs, what stops it from doing this for other institutes/universities? As this newspaper has pointed out many times, autonomy—in all aspects of functioning, academic, administrative and financial—are central to creating world-class institutions. The fact that Indian universities/higher education institutions are largely missing from the global rankings—more pronouncedly, in the top ranks—shows how decades of bureaucratic control of higher education has choked their growth. Stanford researchers found that Indians constitute just 0.57% of the top-10,000 researchers globally, against China accounting for 4%, and the US for 40%. A significant reason for the US faring so well is the degree of control its institutions have. As long as vision is held hostage to implementation, NEP 2020 will remain a mere policy document.


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