Govt interference in working of top institutes unacceptable

Three years after a law was enacted with the aim of granting academic autonomy to the 20 premier business schools of the country, the Central government is apparently trying to use the same legislation to regain a part of the ground it had once ceded reluctantly. The Indian Institutes of Management (IIM) Act, 2017, dubbed by PM Modi as a ‘landmark experiment’ in higher education, empowers the institutes to appoint directors, chairpersons and Board members, besides letting them award degrees, instead of diplomas, for their postgraduate programmes.
The Act had seen the light of day after a disagreement between the Ministry of Human Resource Development (now Ministry of Education) and the PM’s office over retaining government control. It was the writ of the PM’s office that had prevailed, paving the way for the IIMs’ autonomous functioning.
The most recent standoff between the government and the IIMs involves its one-year programme. The IIMs call it an MBA degree, as is the global norm in many business schools. But the mighty UGC rulebook says only two-year programmes deserve that term. This illustrates the kind of tussle over trivialities that bureaucratic systems expend energies on, almost by reflex.
This tug-of-war has played out before. In 2015, the ministry under Smriti Irani was involved in a tussle with the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) on the matter of government role in the elite institutions. At the time, the PMO had pushed back against the ministry’s plans to give itself sweeping powers over the IIMs, and underlined the need for autonomy on various fronts, from scrapping the President’s role as “visitor” of the IIMs to the composition of the board and regulation of the fee structure.
Thankfully, the PMO’s views prevailed. In 2016, almost a year later and with a new minister, Prakash Javadekar, in charge, a new draft of the law gave wide powers to the IIMs, with an internal system of checks and balances. The current move threatens to undo that detente and slide back into central micro-management for goals that remain extremely unclear. The PM has championed the autonomy of the IIMs, a system which has proved its mettle over and over again. The New Education Policy (NEP 2020), too, envisages greater freedom for institutions of higher learning.
According to the latest QS Global MBA rankings, only three IIMs — based in Ahmedabad, Bengaluru and Kolkata — made it to the top 100. The government is well advised to let institutes of national importance work freely and do a course correction, if required, on their own.

- Prabhakar Purandare

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