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Let IITs breathe: Government must not undermine the autonomy of higher educational institutes

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October 30, 2015 |  TOI Editorials | TOI |  Times Blog | Opinion |

When the autonomy of India’s finest institutes of higher education seems to be under threat, it’s time to be afraid for the future of education in the country. This week the human resource development (HRD) ministry once again meddled in the affairs of IIT Delhi by asking it to review its decision to cancel the admission of a PhD student, who had submitted incorrect information regarding her work experience. Though the institute’s senate rejected the directive, the incident has brought the issue of the ministry’s repeated attempts to undermine the autonomy of IITs – the lynchpin on which their excellence rests – back into focus. In December last year IIT Delhi director R K Shevgaonkar resigned his post following differences with the HRD ministry. Earlier this year nuclear scientist Anil Kakodkar too resigned as the chairman of the board of governors of IIT Bombay, citing interference from the HRD ministry. The latter has not stopped short of intervening even in petty matters. For instance, HRD minister Smriti Irani issued a directive to IITs and IIMs last year, asking them to segregate vegetarian and non-vegetarian students in their dining halls.

In short, the government has been making regular stabs at thrusting its own agenda – and people – on these institutes. In the same vein, it foisted B-grade actor Gajendra Chauhan as director of Film and Television Institute of India, Pune, triggering student unrest that went on for months. The point is that the excellence of these institutes, which makes them a bulwark against the largely shoddy quality of the Indian education system, has been built on their autonomy. The government runs the risk of destroying them and stifling scientific thought and research – and much else besides – if it persists in interfering with them. Along with writers and artistes, the mood of India’s scientific community is sullen today. Scientist P M Bhargava plans to return his Padma Bhushan in protest against the “government’s attack on rationalism, reason, and science”. Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke eloquently at the Africa Summit yesterday about the need to develop scientific capabilities and human capital. Perhaps a start can be made towards tackling pervasive mediocrity in Indian higher education by inducting talent at the head of the human resources ministry itself. Smriti Irani has strong political instincts; she can be moved to a political role. – This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.  –  Courtesy


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