Move to curb autonomy of IIMs may result in dilution of their brand value
Given the fact that India’s higher education is in a mess, interfering in institutions of excellence would mean a further slide in overall academic standards, leaving students with no option but to explore opportunities abroad before graduation itself.
This is a most alarming move. The ministry of human resource development (HRD) is framing a draft Bill that seeks to curtail the autonomy of the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs). Though academic institutions from India do not figure very high in international rankings, some like the IIMs, the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and the Indian Institute of Science have a good reputation worldwide. So, given the fact that India’s higher education is in a mess, interfering in institutions of excellence would mean a further slide in overall academic standards, leaving students with no option but to explore opportunities abroad before graduation itself.
In the draft Bill there are three salient points, all of which could be contested. First, it gives the status of ‘national importance’ to some IIMs, whereas the IIMs are saying it be given to all. Now if the government wishes to confer the status on the old IIMs and not the ones that came up in the past 10 years, it seems to have got itself caught in a cleft stick here. When the new IIMs, as well as the new IITs, came up, experts had suggested not naming them IIM or IIT because the standards of all would not be the same and that would diminish their brand value. However, the HRD minister in the previous regime was unbending on this point. And now that the new IIMs have come up, it would be bad policy to treat them unequally. On two other points — the fee structure and creating new posts in addition to the existing ones — the IIMs should be given a freer hand. The new IIMs are still functioning in difficult circumstances and attempting to control them would mean more delays and hold-ups.
Since the IIMs are funded largely by the public exchequer, there is bound to be a bit of government control. For example, the government does have a say in the appointments of the director and chairperson. After the appointments have been made, the government should leave it to them and the governing bodies or councils concerned to decide how the institutes are run within the framework of broad guidelines. One needs to recall how economist Bibek Debroy quit the Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Contemporary Studies when his autonomy was circumscribed to know to debilitating effects of excessive control.