Be it the Times Higher Education rankings or the OECD’s PISA rankings, Indian universities don’t figure very high globally. While these rankings take into account academic repute and reach, there is no doubt that, given the way the ministry of human resources has been interfering in the management of some of India’s premier institutions, our varsities are not going to be recognised for excellence any time soon. One of the key factors for academic excellence is institutional autonomy. That is what the MHRD seems bent on eroding with its draft Bill for the management of the IIMs. The proposed Bill gives the government the preponderance not just over determining the fee structure at the institutes but also on academic appointment—all appointments recommended by the institute have to get the Centre’s approval, as per the Bill. And this is not the first time that MHRD has acted in such a manner; in December 2014, IIT Delhi director Raghunath K Shevgaonkar resigned after the ministry allegedly interfered in some financial matters of the institute, while Anil Kakodkar, chairman of the Board of Governors, IIT Bombay, and the Standing Committee of the IIT Council, resigned in March this year, citing differences with minister Smriti Irani over the appointment of IIT directors.
The problem here is that ministry officials, largely, will not be the better judges of talent for faculty positions than the members of the faculty themselves. The other concern is that if every appointment was to be taken to the ministry for approval, the decisions could, given the typical bureaucratic rate of functioning, take ages to be taken, with both the institute and its students being the losers in the process. The MHRD, with its Bill on IIMs, not only vitiates against the IIMs’ own recommendations on their restructuring but also against the recommendations of a 2005 report of a committee of its own—the Central Advisory Board of Education—which states, among other things, that the autonomy of higher education institutions is a prerequisite for enabling them to achieve their goals and objectives.