It is difficult to see how the government can keep talking about “full autonomy” for top institutions if it is going to force its social-justice obligations down the IIMs’ throats.
It is hard to tell if the government is truly intent upon reforming higher education, since every time it takes a step forward, it takes two backwards. Even as it talks of significant autonomy for institutes of eminence, it was looking to curtail IIMs’ autonomy soon after granting it to them by amending the IIM Act to bring in virtual fee caps—ironically, while insisting that this was to be done “without flouting the autonomous spirit of the IIM Act”. It promised deliverance from the rotten UGC and AICTE system, but the Higher Education Commission of India, the successor body, is yet to see the light of day. Now, it is likely to direct the IIMs to reserve teaching posts for socially and economically deprived backgrounds. In doing so, the government will be countermanding its own 1975 order that has been used by the IIMs to side-step adhering to quota norms for faculty positions.
The ministry will now force the 20 IIMs to set aside 59.5% of faculty positions—this is after factoring in the 10% EWS reservation that the government had brought in earlier this year. The IIMs have, so far, used the cover provided by the 1975 order of the department of personnel and training that allows for exemption of scientific and technical posts in the government from reservation. The government, as per media reports, will likely use the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Teachers’ Cadre) Act 2019 to make the IIMs fulfil the quota obligations—the Act provides for reservation in recruitment of faculty on the basis of clubbing vacant posts of the same ranks across all departments in an institution. There is every likelihood that the government will be issuing an explicit order stating that the provisions of the Act will supersede the 1975 order. The matter is further complicated by the fact that the Reservation in Teachers’ Cadre Act brings back the 200-point roster system in reservation of faculty posts. Under this, the university or institute is chosen as a unit for deciding on reservation, which means that the total pool of posts that must be reserved significantly goes up. Read together with the various court judgments and government orders on reservation in promotions and those that put limits on de-reservation of posts , it is likely that teacher-strength could also be affected if the IIMs are unable to find eligible reserved category candidates to fill up reserved posts.
Nor is it the first time the government is thinking on these lines—in 2016, too, the government had talked of faculty reservations at the IIMs. It is difficult to see how the government can keep talking about “full autonomy” for top institutions if it is going to force its social-justice obligations down the IIMs’ throats.
Reservation at the faculty level will effectively mean that recruitment requirements pertaining to academic achievement will get diluted; once that happens, teaching quality will get impacted. The fact that reservations in jobs are still talked about is evidence of how badly reservations in education have failed. At a time when India should be gearing itself for the next industrial revolution, which will be innovation- and AI-heavy, putting ineffective social justice methods ahead of factors influencing quality in higher education will be a severe drag.