Managing IIMs or controlling them?

Chandu Nair | Updated on January 24, 2018

Let them fly: Autonomy is the key to creating world class educational institutions

The Bill sets out to divest the board and directors of all powers, transferring these to a clutch of faceless babus in New Delhi

The introduction to the IIM bill posted on the mygov site is rather innocuous and well-meaning. “The proposed IIM Bill 2015 proposes to grant statutory status to thirteen existing IIMs…to enable them to grant degrees to their students (as the current certificates ) lacked universal acceptability in the field of academia and research….. the Fellow Programme in Management (equivalent to PhD), without the formal degree stamp, has not, been able to attract talented students, required to develop a strong research base in the country in the field of management education and also address the faculty shortages affecting the management institutions in the country. The proposed Bill will address this gap.”

High ideals, but...

These are high ideals and worthy of consideration by any right thinking individual interested in enhancing the quality of management education, research and practice in India. However, as the old chestnut goes, “God is in the details”. And what a God it is: the details reveal the extent to which the netas and babus, particularly the latter, want to impose their writ over these few oases of academic excellence.

The particularly ominous clauses are the following:

21(1) & 21(2): these are too vague and give enormous leeway to the central government to change policies on a whim. It accords total supremacy to faceless babudom which is a dangerous thing. Take a look at the clause “Without prejudice to the foregoing provisions of this Act, the Institute shall, for the efficient administration of this Act, be bound by such directions on questions of policy, as the Central Government may give in writing to it from time to time”. And if you didn’t understand, 21(2) shoves it down unambiguously,” The decision of the Central Government whether a question is one of policy or not, shall be final”.

30 & 31: the coordination forum, a new creation, is a bad idea. Period. A huge rather unwieldy forum, it consists of the Central minister of the HRD/ technical education portfolio, MoS, state education ministers, Union Secretary of education, 3 ‘persons of eminence including a woman in academia or (the omnibus delightful phrase which covers everyone from a savant to a you know who) ‘public service’, plus (the person who would really call the shots on a day to day basis) “one officer not below the rank of a Joint Secretary to the Government of India in the Ministry or Department of the Central Government having administrative control of the technical education, ex-officio, as Member Secretary”.

Like the token African American or Asian in Hollywood movies, the Chairperson and Director of the institute are also included in an ex-officio capacity. What this “Coordination Forum” should do is vague and it is essentially a neta-babu forum meant to exert control, rendering the board and director into mere rubber stamps.

35: this totally undermines the individual autonomy of each institute and puts all powers in the hands of the Central government for everything from appointing the chairman to deciding the travel allowance. This is not at all a good thing, plus the clause does not specify which person/ authority in the Central government is going to do it.

36: likewise, the Board needs to get approval from “Central government” for virtually all key matters

I am not even getting into other clauses which wish to exert control over decisions such as the fees that should be charged by the institute not just for students but even for consultancy and training, what salaries it should pay faculty etc. Why should a babu, sitting in some cubby hole in Delhi, wield so much power and authority over such decisions which should be taken by the Director and Board of each institute?

Ensure autonomy

The stated objective is to create more globally recognised institutions of higher education, particularly in the field of management, and improve and strengthen the existing ones. For this, what is essential is to ensure the autonomy of the institutions while at the same time, have clear measures of accountability and hold the IIMs to them.

What is certainly not desirable is to have faceless nameless bureaucrats trying to remote control such institutions of higher education and excellence from Delhi. In the entire Bill, one would do well to note that there is no mention at all of the accountability and responsibility of the Central government or any of its functionaries. The government would do well to manage the IIMs, not control them.

The writer is an alumnus of IIM-A and entrepreneur-business adviser

Published on June 26, 2015

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