From the Central Advisory Board of Education (in 2005) to industry (the 2003 Ambani-Birla report on education) and the NITI Aayog (in 2017), many have argued for granting greater autonomy to higher education institutes and universities, especially the top-rung ones.
From the Central Advisory Board of Education (in 2005) to industry (the 2003 Ambani-Birla report on education) and the NITI Aayog (in 2017), many have argued for granting greater autonomy to higher education institutes and universities, especially the top-rung ones. So, a HRD ministry committee arguing for greater autonomy for IITs may seem like another iteration of the same logic. But, given how the government has been pussyfooting on higher education autonomy so far, every such recommendation should serve as a reminder of how urgently this reform is needed. The IIM example should serve as a strong example of the government’s reluctance to give up control. Though the government passed the IIM Act in 2017 to give the premier management education institutions unprecedented autonomy, it never freed them of the shackle of reservations. And, as reported by Mint last year, the government is not truly ready to relinquish control of the IIMs. After seemingly having removed the government fetters on academic, administrative and financial matters, the government last year reportedly wanted to amend the 2017 Act to force the IIMs to implement virtual fee caps—ironically, “without flouting the autonomous spirit of the IIM Act”. And, this was despite the IIM Act itself having provisions placing reasonable restrictions on the IIMs’ use of surplus revenue. The government also wanted the IIMs to increase their intake, which, surely would have come at the cost of student-quality that is maintained through the rigorous admission procedure. This shows the government, despite all the right noises it has made on autonomy, is only too willing to burden higher education institutions—when it should be funding the creation of more IIM-like institutions, it would rather have the existing institutions dilute their standards.
It is not just autonomy for higher-ed institutions that is the problem. In fact, very few of the big education reforms the Centre has announced have materialised. The New Education Policy—that is expected to outline the overall reforms vision for the education sector—is now stale business. Two committees have submitted reports, and yet none have seen the light of day. A truncated version of the first was released by the government before it was junked altogether. The second one was submitted in October last year, and yet the draft remains to be tabled. Similarly, the Higher Education Commission of India (HECI), that was supposed to replace the inefficient UGC regime, is nowhere on the horizon. The government had announced the Diksha initiative to facilitate the training of untrained school teachers; but, as an analysis of Budget numbers over the Modi years, published in IndiaSpend, pointed out recently, the allocation for teachers’ training is a fraction of what it was a few years ago. The Higher Education Funding Agency, that was supposed to finance infrastructure development—from an overall corpus of `1 lakh crore—at “all educational institutions under higher education, school education and institutions under ministry of health which is referred by the concerned ministry” under RISE 2022 had managed to approve projects worth only `10,000 crore by November last year, and that too only exclusively to top-billed institutions. It is futile to expect this inertia to change this late into the term of the present government. The next government will need to hit the ground running on education reforms; else, it will only mean squandered potential and productivity.