Question of excellence

Updated: Apr 30 2007, 05:30am hrs
If India is seen globally as a success in higher education, thank the IITs/IIMs. Why did these succeed while 250-odd universities and 17,000 colleges failed to deliver Part of the answer lies in their insulation from government interference, thanks to the autonomy granted to them. An added point is their stiff admission criteria, ensuring quality. Having ruined much of the rest of the education system, the government has now turned its attention to IITs/IIMs. The brouhaha about reservations isnt about providing access to the disadvantaged. It is about gaining control of Indias centres of excellence, even though many of the IIMs no longer depend on government funding. These institutes may represent only a fraction of the countrys B-schools, but their influence is such that the future of Indias management education is at stake here.

There is no objection to regulation, especially since education is characterised by asymmetry of information. But regulation is one thing, control is another. Mandatory disclosure norms, as all companies must adhere to, spliced with external ratings, would be perfectly acceptable. Instead, the government wants control, exercised through three different bodiesthe UGC, AICTE and AIU. Should it even matter whether your business education is certified by a degree (under UGC) or a diploma (under AICTE) Most public B-schools offer degree programmes and private ones administer diplomas, and it isnt surprising that by and large, it is the diploma holders who get better jobs. They are found to be better performers. If the IIMs lose their autonomy on what fees they may charge, where they can set up branches or who they may admit, they might see a fall in job market demand for their graduates. It is not for any government to broadbase Indian management talent. Such enforced social engineering can have unintended consequences. If business pressures in the market necessitate it (as the modern economy envelops more and more people), any such need would be transmitted to the IIMs through the demand patterns of recruiters, and the institutes would respond to it themselvesby increasing capacity by a few multiples, for a start.