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IIMs as PSUs

The government now wants the authority to appoint directors of various Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), starting with Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Calcutta, where the terms of their directors are coming to an end.

Print Edition: August 12, 2007

The government now wants the authority to appoint directors of various Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), starting with Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Calcutta, where the terms of their directors are coming to an end. This obviously begs the question: why is Union HRD Minister Arjun Singh so hell bent on ruining the brand equity of the IIMs? Let's face it; the IIMs (along with the IITs, and a handful of other institutions) are among half-a-dozen or so Indian brands that are known and respected around the world. They have attained this stature on the basis of their cutting edge curricula, the excellence of their faculty and the achievements of their alumni.

 
Leave IIMs alone: The government should get the message

But there's another important factor that has contributed to their success-autonomy. Although the IIMs have been set up and continue to be funded (largely) by the government, they remain autonomous bodies. All of them have independent governing councils, comprising leading industrialists and executives as well as nominees of the government and others who have outstanding achievements in their chosen fields of activity to their credit.

The Director, the executive head of each IIM, is chosen by this governing council. The government, through its nominees in the councils, has some, but not a decisive, say in this choice. There have been several instances in recent times when governing councils at the IIMs have resisted attempts by the government of the day to stuff its political agenda down their throat. They did it when Singh's predecessor and supposed ideological opposite, Murli Manohar Joshi, initiated a move to increase his department's control by slashing fees (thus, making the IIMs almost totally dependent on government grants, and, in the process, making them more amenable to political pressure).

Then, civil society went up in arms over the directive, forcing the then NDA government to keep it in abeyance. The demise of the NDA government put paid to these efforts. The latest ploy of the government also needs to be resisted tooth and nail. It is reasonable to suspect that the move to increase control over the IIMs is just Step I of the larger plan to push through the HRD Ministry's pet project of implementing 27 per cent quotas, which has been stayed by the Supreme Court, in these educational institutions.

The Americans have a saying: "Don't fix it if it ain't broke." The current model, of governing councils selecting directors, has worked well, and should be expanded to other educational institutions. The last thing anyone will want is for the IIMs to go the way of other government-run universities and colleges.

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