The New Indian Express | By S Vaidhyasubramaniam | 02nd April 2016 |
The admissions season has begun and institutions screaming through their advertisements just fall short of assuring a Nobel Prize for their prospective students. They claim to have the best infrastructure, which includes Olympic-size swimming pool, 5,000-seater air-conditioned auditorium, spa, jacuzzi, salon and by the way good faculty, labs, contemporary curriculum, etc. That all institutions have statutory approval is no stamp for quality —thanks to the minimalist approach in the approval system. It is only after entering an institution that the deviance between the glamorous advertisements and stark reality is tellingly visible. Cost of exit is very high—either the student is already burdened by ‘capitation fees’ or will be a potential adversity-victim of a higher capitation fee elsewhere. There are other types of institutions that shamelessly claim that they don’t collect capitation fees. Reason: Most of them are institutions that students don’t prefer to join even if it offers free education. It’s like a roadside eatery offering free valet services.
Under these circumstances should be analysed the recent HRD Minister Smriti Irani’s written reply to the Lok Sabha that 8.87 lakh engineering seats were vacant in 2014-15 with a maximum of 1.32 lakh seats in Tamil Nadu, followed by 1.25 lakh in Telangana and 1.06 lakh in Andhra Pradesh. It doesn’t need a seer to conclude that the mindless expansion of the engineering college ecosystem by the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) did not adequately perform the statutory duty of maintaining standards and coordinated development. The AICTE, pre-independent India’s recommendatory body, was vested with statutory powers through an Act of Parliament in 1987. The parliamentary wisdom hoped that it would discharge its statutory role of maintaining the standards and coordinated development of technical education. Though the need to expand was a paramount necessity, the regional imbalance created by AICTE explains the huge vacancy situation in the southern states and when pointed out was conveniently ignored by AICTE’s self-appointed committee.
Adding salt to the injury is the Newtonian fall in the quality of engineering colleges that mushroomed in every available vacant real estate. The enlightened ‘Gen Y’ is aware of the true prospects of engineering education and has pushed many institutions to apply for closure. In 2015, AICTE permitted closure of 1,093 engineering programmes with Tamil Nadu and Telangana having a lion’s share in the closure. In 2016, there are 227 technical institutions that have applied for closure and surprisingly 415 new applications. Going by the gargantuan scale of the torturous annual approval/closure ritual, AICTE has no time to perform its other statutory functions, considering that it also looks after management, pharmacy and diploma education.
The solution lies in redefining the role of AICTE by amending the AICTE Act to ensure the following: (i) AICTE, as per the provisions under Section 10(k) grant approvals for new institutions and programmes as a one-time event only and not as an annual ritual, and future approvals shall co-exist with accreditation with AICTE strengthening its accreditation system; (ii) leave diploma education to universities and state directorates of technical education instead of micro-managing them from New Delhi; (iii) AICTE must shift its focus immediately to produce competent teachers for technical education; (iv) exit from participative governance in private institutions and monitor quality as a non-participant regulator; and lastly AICTE must elevate its statutory role to concentrate on the comprehensive quality of engineering education ecosystem instead of being a mere approval granting authority. All of this needs to happen either through the proposed New Education Policy or based on the AICTE Review Committee recommendations. The writer is Dean, Planning & Development, SASTRA University – Courtesy :