The Rajya Sabha has just passed the Indian Institutes of Management (IIM) Bill 2017—it had been passed by the Lok Sabha in July. This is indeed a milestone for autonomy of top-notch educational institutes that the government has been talking about. The IIMs have done quite well so far—IIM Ahmedabad ranks a high 29th in prestigious Financial Times list of best B-schools in the world—but restricting the government’s role in their functioning will go a long way in making them truly world-class institutes. The IIM Bill abolishes the IIM Council, headed by the HRD minister, and creates a “Coordination Forum” that will have very limited government presence—one secretary-level official from the department regulating management education in country and two secretary-level officials carrying out similar functions in the state in which the IIM is located.
But the IIMs will not be truly autonomous until they are freed of having to help fulfil the government’s social development obligations. While the IIM Bill says that “admission … shall be based on merit”, it qualifies that with the condition “provided that nothing… shall be deemed to prevent the Institute from making special provisions for the employment or admission of women, persons with disabilities or for persons belonging to any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens and, in particular, for the Scheduled a and the Scheduled Tribes.” It may seem that this provision leaves the matter at the IIMs’ discretion, but Clause (b) of Section 7 of the Bill says every IIM must “provide, by regulations, for the admission of candidates to the various courses of study in conformity with the laws for the time being in force.” The IIMs will still be yoked to reservations, and that could prove to be a hurdle in equalling a Harvard or a Stanford for global repute.