Human Resources Development Minister Kapil Sibal discusses some of the problems of management education with Sebastian P.T. Edited excerpts:
Q: Management institutes incapable of providing quality education have been proliferating across the country and churning out mostly unemployable graduates. Many have been shutting shop lately. Does this worry you?
Sibal: We are certainly worried about quality in higher education, whether in management schools or engineering institutions or higher education institutes in the private sector. Unless we put our accreditation system in place we will not be able to deal with quality. So the passing of the National Accreditation Regulatory Authority for Higher Educational Institutions Bill, 2010 is very important. The Opposition should realise the challenges we are facing and the necessity of these reforms. Ultimately, students are entitled to quality education. If institutions that have mushroomed over the years provide substandard education, the graduate will not be able to get a job. As things are, there are fewer jobs as the economy is not growing as fast as it earlier did. Already, the impact is showing with management schools either closing down or not providing employable students.
Q: The gross enrollment ratio (GER) for higher education is still low at 20 per cent. When do you think it can go above 30 per cent?
Sibal: When I took over (in 2009) the GER was 12.4 per cent. It has gone up by over seven per cent in these three years. You should be giving us credit. When I said that GER could go up to 30 per cent by 2020, no one believed me. But now people say it could go beyond 30 per cent. Again, this is why reforms need to be introduced immediately.
More students in higher education would mean more quality institutions or expansion of existing institutions with quality. That, in turn, will need (reforms in) accreditation, addressing issues of unfair educational practices, enormous investments by private sector and also regulation. I have been stressing on reforms as I knew what the consequences would be for India otherwise. If we do not put the reforms in place immediately, our children will ask why we have not provided them quality institutions.
Q: You wanted to provide the IIMs the status of 'Institutions of National Importance' through an Act, which the latter seem to be reluctant to accept…
Sibal: It is for them to decide. I brought it up at the last meeting with the IIMs. By and large, they were in agreement but the flipside is they will lose some of the enormous autonomy they presently have. When you come under the statute (Institutions of National Importance), its contours will then regulate these institutes. A couple of IIMs do not want this.
The advantage of such a move is that the institutes can then award a degree. It will give the children mobility and some of these institutes will be better recognised by the rest of the world. The system will benefit enormously, but it is really for the IIMs to decide.
Q: Even if they give only diplomas, these institutes do have high value in the market…
Sibal: They do. But their value will increase exponentially if they give degrees because very few jurisdictions in the world recognise management diplomas. The word 'diploma' in terms of its acceptability or in terms of quality is less acceptable than a degree.
Q: But some top B-Schools are going in for international accreditation or affiliation…
Sibal: Look at it from a different point of view. If a child from the United States comes to India to do a management course and ends up with a diploma, his chances of getting employed back home (United States) are reduced. Many jurisdictions have a condition that you can get a job only with a management degree. In a sense, you are actually depriving yourself of students who are willing to come to India for a management degree.
Q: Is there a middle path where autonomy can be increased under the statute?
Sibal: We cannot change the statute for one institution because there are many Institutions of National Importance (already) - like the IITs.
Q: There have been differences between your ministry and the Planning Commission with the latter wanting to do away with the 'not-for-profit' tag on education…
Sibal: There is no difference of opinion. The Planning Commission contends that when in any case these institutions are making a profit, why do you call them 'not-for-profit'? I agree they do make profits. But, if a 'not-for-profit' institute or a society or a Section 25 company makes profits, they will have to plough it back into the institution. In a 'for-profit' scenario, the profits can be distributed as dividend to the shareholders. In the Indian milieu, unless the people's mindsets change and the nation is ready for it, we should not take such a step forward. Families sell their silver to send their children to school and part of that profit going to the shareholder is something that will not be taken to warmly by the Indian public.
Q: There are many Bills relating to higher education reforms such as the Higher Education and Research Bill, 2011 and the Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operations) Bill, 2010 that await Parliament's nod. How hopeful are you on having them passed?
Sibal: I am hopeful. I have met almost every Opposition leader and explained the issues. Almost all of them have agreed that these Bills should be passed. In the forthcoming Winter Session, we will be able to pass some of these Bills. On the Foreign Educational Institutions Bill, the Opposition has been inflexible.
Q: But the Educational Tribunals Bill, 2010 (that seeks to set up national and state level tribunals) could not be passed in the Rajya Sabha over certain contentious provisions. Would you be open to some changes in the Bill?
Sibal: We have agreed to those changes suggested by some members. In fact, I have gone to the Cabinet and incorporated some of the amendments. So, I do not think there should be a problem.