AICTE - time to revamp
Rishi Joshi April 16, 2008
The Hyderabad-based Indian School of Business (ISB) recently added another feather to its already crowded cap: it was ranked #20 in a list of Top 100 business schools in the world by London’s Financial Times.
A Chinese business school was at #11; four European schools were among the top 10, and the rest were from the United States. No other Indian business school, not even the iconic Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), made it to this elite list.
Ironically, ISB is not recognised by the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), the statutory body in charge of planning and regulating the coordinated development of management and technical education in the country.
In fact, ISB has not even sought AICTE approval. In a guarded response, ISB Dean M. Rammohan Rao says: “We did not approach AICTE for approval as it doesn’t have rules to recognise short-duration programmes, which we offer.”Management consultant Gurcharan Das is more blunt, and puts the issue in perspective. “ISB doesn’t want accreditation from AICTE because it (AICTE) will then start interfering in its course content, batch sizes, student intake, and even the sizes of their buildings. I spoke to a top AICTE official, who scornfully dismissed ISB, saying its fees were too high and that it doesn’t even have a permanent faculty.”
Cut to Mumbai’s S.P. Jain Institute of Management and Research (SPJIMR), another business school that is ranked among India’s best. The institute has had a tough time convincing AICTE officials about its expansion plans over the years. It took eight years for it to get AICTE approval for its proposal to increase student intake from 120 to 180 for its regular two-year MBA programme.
Then, AICTE has refused to recognise its dual-degree programme, which it launched in 2004 in collaboration with Virginia Tech, a leading US university. In a novel experiment, Virginia Tech agreed to offer a Master’s degree in information technology (IT) by bringing its faculty to India. The two-year programme is already a success. The first batch of 29 students, which graduated in 2006, recorded 100 per cent placements. This year, the average salary of the graduating batch of 63 students was Rs 11 lakh per annum, and recruiters included big names like IBM, Wipro, TCS and Infosys Technologies.
A law unto itself
These are not isolated incidents. The whimsical and arbitrary functioning of AICTE has increasingly come under the scanner. In the past, it has been often accused, with good reason, of approving institutions with questionable credentials even as some of India’s premier institutes have found it difficult to gain recognition.
Stung by the public outcry against the functioning of this premier body, the HRD ministry, under which AICTE functions, has belatedly woken up to the crisis on its hands, and has set up a high-powered committee headed by Professor Yash Pal to review the functioning of AICTE.
The 22-member committee will critically assess its role “keeping in view the emerging demands of access, equity, relevance and quality of higher technical and university education.” Says Ashish Rajpal, CEO, iDiscoveri, a social enterprise dedicated to reviving education in the country: “What we need is inspirational policies to promote management and technical education. AICTE has failed to evolve a broader vision to promote quality education.”
This forced the government’s hands, and AICTE was made a statutory body in 1988 for planning, formulating and maintaining norms and standards.
But this failed to arrest the trend. The government-appointed U.R. Rao Committee, which reviewed the performance of AICTE, observed in its report in 2003: “A serious situation has arisen in recent years because of the mushrooming of a large number of private technical institutions and polytechnics.
Barring some exceptions, there is scant regard for maintenance of standards.” Says Sam Pitroda, Chairman, National Knowledge Commission (NKC): “The challenge is to consistently monitor quality as more colleges are set up to promote technical education.”
Nowhere is AICTE’s failure more apparent than in the sphere of engineering education. The Council determines the requirements for new universities as well as colleges and their programmes, and outlines curriculum standards and norms.
Even more damning is the fact that although accreditation is mandatory, less than 10 per cent of institutions offering technical education are actually accredited. The data appears to reveal a general lack of belief, and a directionless drift, in the accreditation process. Then, institutions cannot wait indefinitely for accreditations to come through. Says Atul Chauhan, Chancellor, Amity University: “AICTE measures quantity, not quality.
In management education, too, AICTE’s performance leaves a lot to be desired. There are about 1,000 AICTE-recognised B-schools, which produce more than 70,000 graduates every year, the second-highest in the world after the US.
To compound matters, AICTE has often buckled under pressure from promoters of private technical institutes with political connections. Says Y.C. Halan, former Resident Editor, Financial Express (Delhi): “Many business schools are run by politicians. Due to political pressure, AICTE has granted recognition to many colleges that do not meet the standards. Many recognised institutions have sub-standard faculties, non-existent libraries, sub-optimal computer facilities and poor industry linkages. Many of them also charge high fees. AICTE has seldom initiated action or withdrawn approvals to such institutions.”
Even Acting Chairman Yadav is under the scanner. There are allegations that the approval process, in many cases, is non-transparent, and leaves considerable scope for corruption.Says Pabla of Manipal Institute of Technology: “There is certainly a widespread impression that extraneous considerations colour AICTE’s approval process.” Shrikant of SPJIMR feels his college might have been targeted because “we don’t accept ‘recommendations’ for admissions from anybody”. And Amity group, whose PGDBM programme was derecognised by AICTE in 2005, accuses it of not applying its mind to the issue. To prove his point, Chauhan says: “The courts subsequently held that AICTE was wrong and quashed its orders.” As mentioned earlier, AICTE’s Yadav refused to respond to BT’s queries.Yadav himself is in the eye of a storm. In the past, he has been accused of claiming a double salary.
He faced a vigilance enquiry for drawing a monthly salary from AICTE along with a monthly pension from Delhi University (he took voluntary retirement from a teaching post at the Faculty of Management Studies in 2004).
The status of this case is not known since neither Yadav nor the vigilance officer investigating the matter were available for comment.
The way forward
So, what is the road ahead for AICTE? NKC’s Pitroda has called for its role to be redefined. He has proposed an Independent Regulatory Authority for Higher Education for bodies like AICTE and the Medical Council of India (MCI), limiting their roles to that of professional associations. Says Sunil Bahri, Executive Director, NKC: “The role of AICTE should be to nurture institutions. It should focus on issues like faculty development and curriculum. Even accreditation should be assigned to other agencies.” Other analysts agree with NKC’s line of thinking. Says Das: “Regulators should only ensure that institutions provide mandatory disclosures on the internet about their courses, faculties, fees, and facilities. Professional rating services should evaluate colleges the same way as CRISIL rates companies. This will make the system credible and competition will take care of the rest.”