The more things change, the more they remain the same. Three years after a law was enacted with the aim of granting academic autonomy to the 20 premier business schools of the country, the Central government is apparently trying to use the same legislation to regain a part of the ground it had once ceded reluctantly. The Indian Institutes of Management (IIM) Act, 2017, dubbed by PM Modi as a ‘landmark experiment’ in higher education, empowers the institutes to appoint directors, chairpersons and Board members, besides letting them award degrees, instead of diplomas, for their postgraduate programmes. The Act had seen the light of day after disagreement between the Ministry of Human Resource Development (now Ministry of Education) and the PM’s office over retaining government control. It was the writ of the PM’s office that had prevailed, paving the way for the IIMs’ autonomous functioning.
Now, the government is considering a proposal to give itself the power to initiate an inquiry against the Board of Governors of an institute ‘if any difficulty arises in giving effect to the provisions of this Act’. The supposed trigger is a confrontation between the ministry and the IIMs over the latter’s decision to grant one-year MBA degree for working professionals. The government calls it a violation of UGC regulations, while the institutes cite similar degree programmes across the globe.
The controversy is all the more unsavoury as it comes in a year in which the government unveiled the National Education Policy (NEP), a blueprint for ‘attaining global standards in quality education’. The policy envisages the setting up of model public universities for holistic and multidisciplinary education — on a par with IITs and IIMs. Such ambitious plans would be even harder to achieve if existing institutes such as JNU continue to bear the brunt of political interference. According to the latest QS Global MBA rankings, only three IIMs — based in Ahmedabad, Bengaluru and Kolkata — made it to the top 100. The government is well advised to let institutes of national importance work freely and do course correction, if required, on their own.