A quick scan of top-notch educational institutions globally should show that even public-funded ones are allowed to function unfettered in all administrative and academic matters. Thus, the Union Cabinet approving the IIM Bill that all but frees the hallowed Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) of its control is significant leap forward. The proposed legislation replaces the near-autarchic IIM Council that is headed by the Union HRD minister and had many senior ministry officials a members, apart from the chairpersons and directors of the various IIMs with a “coordination body” that will have merely suggestive powers. Even the role of the president as the Visitor has been dispensed with, which means the president, who acts upon the advice of the Union government, will not be able to order a probe or administrative action. Besides, the institutes’ performance is to be evaluated by independent agencies, with results being posted publicly, and annual reports are to be audited by the CAG.
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While all this unyoking will go a long way in ensuring the government can’t really bend the IIMs to its will, the IIMs are not truly autonomous as long as they have to fulfil the social justice obligations of the government. Unless the IIMs are completely freed of the need to reserve seats and teaching positions—though the IIM Bill doesn’t have any provision for job reservations and merely advises that the recruitment policy should be inclusive. At the same time, having to turn to the government for fulfilling their fiscal needs seriously crimps the IIMs’ autonomy. If the IIM must be free to set their fees, they must also work towards generating their own revenue, perhaps maintaining a corpus from alumni donations, as is done by many varsities abroad.