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Break the chains: Javadekar admits higher education regulators like UGC are stumbling blocks, so subdue their powers

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The Times of India | May 4, 2017 |  TOI Editorials | Opinion |

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The All India Council for Technical Education has told institutions under it to involve NSS and NCC in a campaign to end spitting. This is a telling sample of the micromanaging mindset of India’s education regulators, whose top-down whimsies choke bottom-up innovation. With more than 10,000 engineering and technical institutions and more than 20 lakh students under it, the big picture before AICTE is an uphill global jobscape. Infosys for example plans to grow more jobs in the US in response to the rising protectionist tide there. Also, the newer IT jobs require higher levels skills in cloud analytics, robotics, artificial intelligence, etc. The need to promote excellence in Indian higher education is paramount. But as HRD minister Prakash Javadekar acknowledges, far from doing this regulators like AICTE and UGC have become “stumbling blocks”. Along the same lines Association of Indian Universities secretary general Furqan Qamar points to data proving the unhealthiness of regulatory cholesterol. For example none of the 16 central universities established since 2009 feature in the HRD list of top 100 universities but various IIMs, IITs and other institutions set up with greater autonomy fare much better.

So it’s commendable that in a bid to encourage excellence in higher education, government plans to grant top ranked colleges and universities full autonomy in framing curriculum, hiring faculty and other academic matters. The same kind of thinking is being seen in the scheme to set up 20 world-class universities. But the puzzle is that although all the evidence shows that heavy-handed regulators like AICTE and UGC are obstructing rather than advancing first-class education outcomes, they continue to roam free among the masses. Why are only elite institutions being provided shelter from them? This will only widen inequality of outcomes of different institutions. Perhaps today’s regulatory snarl is too labyrinthine to be sorted out quickly, but government must at least make that a goal and a priority. In the interim it should promote special educational zones, where institutions can formulate independent policies on everything from admissions and fees to conducting exams; where for-profit and not-for-profit institutions are both welcome and so are international ones. The important point is that excellence and quality cannot be made to order through government or regulator fiat, but grow in free and competitive environments. – Courtesy

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