May 19, 2008

Education : From Darkness to Light

Today's copy of the Economic Times carries two articles that, taken together, highlight the disastrous corner that India has painted itself into in the area of education, and then offers some hope of finding a path through which it could extricate itself ! If this is too confusing, consider the following :

First, Rajrishi Singhal [ End License Raj in Education ] has very elegantly made the point, known to most of us in academia that it is the license-control mindset India's bureaucracy -- led by the last two, regressive and venal, education ministers -- that is at the heart of the darkness that has eclipsed the academic landscape. Jurassic institutions like the AICTE -- that insist that educational institutions cannot have a profit motive but must pretend, hypocritically, that they are charitable organisations -- have ensured that educational services cannot be delivered to the citizens unless it is through entities that are controlled by politicians. This includes both the Public Sector Institutes ( like IITs, IIMs) as well as private institutes owned by crony capitalists. Can this control mindset change ? Can it be made to change as has been the case in telecom or airlines ?

Which brings us to the second article by Niranjan Bharati & Rajeev Jayasway[ The Professor as a Businessman ] where we see a glimmer of hope. Apparently, the government is considering the option of allowing academic institutions to pick up an equity stake in companies formed by faculty. While this may certainly benefit the entrepreneural academician, what is at stake is something that is far more fundamental. An entity that delivers educational services could now be allowed to behave like commercial -- and god forbid, profit seeking -- entity ! Which is a revolutionary thought for our fossilised socialists. For to make this happen, the AICTE/UGC -- or hopefully the Higher Education Regulator -- must discard the requirements for a hypocritical, not-for-profit business model and replace it with the more pragmatic and efficient corporate structure ... and then who knows Dalal Street might start dreaming of and IIM or an IIT coming out with an IPO.

But that could be too much to hope for. Let us be happy to dream about publicly owned, board managed corporate institutes that give Public Sector Institutes a run for their money.

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