THE Union Human Resources Development (HRD) Minister, Mr Arjun Singh, has called a meeting of Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) in New Delhi, on February 1, "to discuss issues of autonomy and measures needed to further strengthen them".
Clearly, there can be two views on the importance of the subject to be discussed. But what is of much more importance is to declare in the same breath that the autonomy of educational institutions is sacrosanct, and that unless they are seen to be violating the law of the land and their own internal working arrangements, the Government should have nothing to do with them (even if the institutions are being partly financed by official funds). The background to the February 1 meeting is well-known by now. The controversy erupted early last week when it was reported that the HRD Ministry had asked IIM-B not to go ahead with the project of setting up a campus in Singapore in the light of the need for the IIMs to meet the growing domestic demand for MBAs on a priority basis. According to the Institute's Director, Professor Prakash G. Apte, the Centre had, in fact, asked IIM-B "to cater to the growing demand for MBA within the country before venturing abroad". The clear inference that can be drawn from the HRD Ministry's stand is that the IIMs, and IIM-B, in particular, have been shirking their domestic responsibility of fully meeting the requirement of the MBAs.
Is this correct? The short answer is, no.
None of the IIMs have been neglecting this specific duty; on the contrary, every effort has been made, within given constraints, to expand the MBA-training facilities and improve their quality over time.
In fact, given New Delhi's concern over IIM-B expansion plans abroad, it stands to reason that, in the absence of comparable strictures on the institutes concerning their domestic programmes in recent times, the Government too has been more or less satisfied with the IIMs' performance in this direction. If this reasoning is accepted, it makes the HRD Ministry's stand on the IIM-B's Singapore plans even more incomprehensible on rational grounds. The incomprehensibility is compounded by the recent reports which state that the Ministry had decided not to set up any more IIMs or IITs, which would effectively mean cutting off fresh conduits of supply of MBAs in thecountry.As regards the export-domestic supply argument, would the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, agree with the proposition that since the internal hunger for software inputs is almost insatiable, given the huge domestic market, all software exports should be halted? Certainly, if IIM-B is violating its Memorandum of Association by setting up a campus abroad, steps should be taken to overcome the obstacle. More important, the Centre should not be seen to be harping on it with the objective of preventing the institute from venturing abroad, which, unfortunately, is what New Delhi appears to be doing at the moment.
The Union Science and Technology Minister, Mr Kapil Sibal, needs to be complimented for coming out into the open with his remark that the "challenge ahead for our Government, and for any Government of the future, is to release the genius of the Indian people", and that, "It is very important to release higher educational institutions from government control".
The Infosys Chief Mentor, Mr N. R. Narayanamurthy, has done his bit by stating unequivocally that official regulations "have limited the ability of our colleges and universities to adapt and change", his specific advice being to treat higher education as an industry in a free market economy so that it can be competitive. The former Singapore Prime Minister, Mr Goh Chok Tong, spoke volumes when he remarked that it would be India's loss if IIM-B was unable to set up a campus in Singapore, a venture which would have led to some money being made as well.
It is nothing short of pathetic that the HRD Minister should have come out with the riposte that IIMs are not "floating companies with freedom to do whatever they want". The long and the short of it is that they should be free to do what ever they want, provided they operate within stipulated norms and their objective is educational excellence, which is precisely what most IIMs, including the IIM-B, are doing now.
Ranabir Ray Choudhury