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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.”

AICTE - Refurbishing required
AICTE - Refurbishing required
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.

 AICTE’S DNA

The Council is a statutory body...

  • It is a division of the Ministry of Human Resource Development

  • It is in charge of approving private institutes in technical and business education

  • Established in 1945, it became a statutory body in 1988

  • Responsible for regulation and planning of technical education in the country

  • Accreditation done by the National Board of Accreditation (NBA) constituted by AICTE

     ...and its mandate is to regulate education in

  • Engineering

  • Management

  • Technology

  • Agriculture

  • Pharmacy

  • Hotel Management and Catering

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.

The institute had applied for approval for this programme in June 2005, but the AICTE Executive Council refused to recognise it, despite the fact that an expert committee set up by it to study the proposal had recommended approval.

AICTE officials declined to comment, and Acting AICTE Chairman R.A. Yadav refused to respond to several phone calls, faxes and e-mails from Business Today on this, and various other questions. M.L. Shrikant, Chief Executive and Dean, SPJIMR, doesn’t pull his punches. “AICTE tried to arm twist and coerce us into seeking its approval for the course. We were told that our existing programmes would be derecognised unless we did so.”

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.”

The background

 What ails technical education in India

AICTE is primarily responsible for the sorry state of affairs.

  • Accreditation procedures followed by AICTE are non-transparent, arbitrary and sometimes dysfunctional

  • Many colleges and educationists openly charge AICTE with corruption and bribe-taking

  • Faculties at many technical institutes lack proper qualifications and AICTE has done nothing to enforce minimum standards

  • Many colleges have sub-standard course content with the result that they are unable to meet the skilled manpower requirements of industry; again, AICTE has nothing in this regard

  • Private colleges charge excessive tuition fees, but AICTE has failed to act against them

  • Unplanned and unregulated growth of technical institutions, especially in the private sector

  • Institutions mushrooming in pockets; there's a glut in some markets and a shortage in others
AICTE was set up as an advisory body way back in 1945, i.e., even before Independence. During the early years after Independence, technical education in the country was rolled out with the approval of the Council and the government.

But from 1980s onwards, the technical education space witnessed unplanned and unregulated growth, pushed mainly by the private sector—without the approval of the government or AICTE—particularly in south India.

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.”

A total failure

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.

It also accredits programmes through the National Board of Accreditation. Over the last 20 years, there has been an exponential growth in the number of technical colleges operating across India.

Between 1990 and 2008, the number of engineering colleges has risen from 337 to more than 1,300 (of which, almost 1,000 are in the private sector).

 The antidote

The National Knowledge Commission has suggested the following steps to overhaul management and technical education in India.

  • Assign AICTE's regulatory functions to an independent regulator

  • Assign its accreditation responsibilities, too, to independent bodies

  • Evolve a reliable rating system to grade colleges

  • Get independent agencies like CRISIL and ICRA to grade
    colleges

  • Consider branding of accreditation to encourage pursuit of excellence

  • Limit AICTE's role to that of a professional association

  • Repurpose AICTE to focus on institution-building through curriculum and faculty development
This exponential growth has led to a host of problems, particularly those related to finding properlytrained faculty, and this, in turn, has led to a general decline in academic standards.

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.

During inspections, it wants details about things like the size of faculty and classrooms. But what matters to students is the quality of education and AICTE hasn’t done enough in this regard.” Adds S.S. Pabla, Director, Manipal Institute of Technology: “There are engineering colleges that do have the basic infrastructure in place, but they lack guidance. AICTE can play a key role here as a facilitator but, instead, it comes across as a body focussed more on licensing and regulation.”

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.

However, only a handful is sanctioned by the National Board of Accreditation— a pointer to the poor standards of management education, outside of the IIMs, the XLRIs, the SPJIMRs and a few others, in the country.

Corruption all around

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.”

 Under the scanner

Senior officials, especially the Acting AICTE Chairman, face serious corruption charges.

  • Acting Chairman Ram Avtar Yadav is in the dock. Media reports highlight how an engineering college run by his brotherin-law received approval quickly to increase seats

  • Yadav was the subject of a vigilance inquiry by the HRD Ministry after allegations that he was drawing a salary from AICTE and a pension from the University of Delhi in contravention of rules. Status of investigation not known

  • Harish C. Rai, an adviser in the Engineering and Technology Section of AICTE, is under investigation by his previous employer, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, for allegedly manipulating his son's marks in an entrance examination
But more than these shortcomings— each a damning indictment of the way it functions—it is the corruption charges against top AICTE office-bearers that have dented its credibility.

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).

A severe indictment

The government-appointed U.R. Rao Committee's 2003 report was unsparing in its comments on AICTE.

  • Scant regard for maintenance of standards in private technical institutions

  • It's a matter of concern that most of the students study in non-accredited institutions, it said

  • Emphasised that accreditation should be mandatory

  • Expressed concern that technical education in India has expanded beyond sustainable levels

  • Pointed out the extreme shortage of qualified faculty

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.”

The ball is in the government’s court. But given the political influences and pressures at work, will it really sum up the courage to act? It must, if India is to fulfil its potential as the world’s knowledge backend.


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