Centrally-funded higher-education institutions such as the IITs and IIMs that feared an encroachment on their autonomy may breathe easy for now after a proposal to increase the involvement of the human resource development ministry in their functioning was given a quiet burial.
A ministry bid to oversee every Memorandum of Understanding by these institutions with any other national or international institute was scuttled after it developed cold feet over the legal tenability of such a move, sources said.
"Apart from the fact that central universities, IITs and NITs are vested with the power, through their respective acts, to enter into agreements with foreign institutions, it would simply be impossible for the ministry to vet every collaboration," a faculty member at a top IIT said.
The proposal came during HRD minister Smriti Irani’s conference with more than 200 vice-chancellors in September last year, where she directed all universities to send MoUs signed by them in the last 25 years to the ministry.
A file that proposed all future MoUs be routed through the ministry was moved after the conference but was shelved following strong reservations.
The 18 functioning Indian Institutes of Technology alone collaborate academically with over 500 overseas institutions, in addition to the 100 other joint projects by other universities. The ministry not only lacked the wherewithal to go through every collaboration but would also end up impinging on the institute’s autonomy granted by Parliament, sources said.
Senior academics said the proposed move went against the collaborative spirit of the Institute of Technology Act 1961, under which the premier institutions were set up.