Given the 50-odd deaths of both those accused in the Vyapam education scam in Madhya Pradesh as well as those involved in its uncovering such as a TV journalist who interviewed the parents of a person who died mysteriously and a medical college dean who gave scam-related documents to the team probing the scam, finance minister Arun Jaitley has done well to ask for a larger inquiry into it. While only an impartial inquiry—there is a high-court monitored probe on already—can decide on whether chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and his family members are involved, the larger issue relates to political control over educational institutions. Apart from conducting exams for government jobs, Vyapam conducted entrance tests for medical and engineering colleges. The controversy over the IIM Bill is the latest in those relating to educational institutions, but India has a history of problems relating to education and, more important, state control over it—the Medical Council of India chief was arrested for demanding a bribe to certify a college a few years ago. The fundamental reason for Vyapam and other such scams—the Supreme Court has just cancelled the CBSE’s all-India pre-medical test—is the shortage of top quality educational institutions.
As poor and middle-class India realises its value, the rush for college and professional degrees is probably unmatched in India’s history. Given the shortage, the premium for such education is obvious, and that is why in a large number of states, it is politicians who control various colleges. Even in cases where politicians do not control the institutions, they try and control the certification bodies, and that leads to scams of a different nature—of certifying a dubious college or of denying certifications to deserving colleges.
In such a situation, it is vital that more supply be created, and that the entire government-controlled certification process be liberalised. While many argue this will open up the country to fly-by-night operators, it has to be pointed out that the rising number of scams make it clear government certification isn’t helping contain the scams or to reduce the number of dodgy schools/colleges. One committee that studied business schools found, for instance, certification bodies had cleared colleges that were so fly-by-night, they had rented libraries on the day of their inspection. While allowing more supply, there are other ways that need to developed to control quality. Independent accreditation bodies—a Crisil for education, for instance, based on output-based criterion—could be one solution.
Another is to regulate, and then monitor, as much disclosure as possible – details of the faculty and their degrees/publications, of the alumni, of placements and salaries, etc. Encouraging third-party tests like GMAT/GRE/SAT are other possible solutions—the main thing is to liberalise supply, not restrict it.