In my writings I have often remarked that the All India Council for Technical Education, or AICTE, has strangulated the growth of quality institutions. This allegation was based on the inputs from private business schools, though none of them came out openly for obvious reasons.
So, when last month, M.L. Shrikant, chief executive of SP Jain Institute of Management and Research in Mumbai, contacted me and volunteered to speak out, it came as a pleasant surprise. He said he was impressed by Mint’s effort to highlight the problems with the regulator and wanted to support us by data that demonstrates how the body has stunted the growth of his institute. (Read Mint’s 1 November story, ‘AICTE battles private colleges, allegations’, at www.livemint.com/aicte.htm)
We finally met last Tuesday at his campus. The institute is considered one of the top 10 B-schools in the country, and is known for innovations in pedagogy, curriculum and entrepreneurship development. Placements from the institute are also comparable with that of the Indian Institute of Management. Shrikant, who is a Harvard alumnus, has been the CEO of the institute for the past 18 years. A no-nonsense man, he runs the institute with an iron hand. The pedagogy and curriculum in the school is highly influenced by his alma mater. There is also no compromise with the admission process, unlike most private B-schools where back-door entry and management quotas are rampant.
The institute also has a policy of not paying bribes, and their registrar Varsha Parab claims that though AICTE officials and politicians often pressurize them to admit their candidates, they have never given in to such requests. And that is how, they say, their troubles with AICTE began.
Last year, they were so depressed by the attitude of the body that they even contemplated closing the admissions for a year. They have stopped admission to one of their programmes and that is one reason why they have started campuses in Dubai and Singapore, outside the reach—and interference—of the regulator.
Started in the early 1980s, the institute initially conducted the management programme of what was then Bombay University. In 1993, it took a bold step by dissociating from the university and started an autonomous, two-year full-time programme. In 1992, the institute applied to AICTE for a student intake of 120, for which they had necessary infrastructure, but received approval for only 45.
The applying process continued every year, and finally in 1999 they got approval for 120, though they had applied for 150 that year as they had since upgraded their facilities. In 2001, they again applied for an intake of 180 but they had to wait for six years before finally getting the approval just a few months back. This delay, they say, was unjustified as the institute had necessary facilities and there was high demand for competent management professionals during this period. It is also surprising to me how some institutes which do not have infrastructure comparable to SP Jain’s got approval for higher student intake during this period.
The institute’s initiative to establish linkages with a reputed foreign university was also thwarted by the body, they say. Well before the AICTE notification in May 2005 that gave guidelines for foreign collaborations, the institute in 2004 launched a dual degree programme with Virginia Tech University. This was a unique programme where Virginia Tech agreed to offer a master’s in information and technology degree by flying their faculty to India.
The programme was a success and well appreciated by the industry, which was reflected in 100% placements of the first batch. The institute then applied for AICTE approval for this programme in June 2005. Even after the approval by an expert committee (this information was obtained through a Right To Information request), the AICTE, in its executive council meeting, decided to refuse permission on seemingly flimsy grounds. As a result, the institute had to stop admissions to the programme, Shrikant says.
Similarly, their other popular and innovative programmes, such as the one for family members of family-managed businesses, and another for working executives, were not approved by AICTE on the grounds that the course curriculum and structure did not meet its norms. Their one-year programme has also been recognized only as a certificate programme though, in my assessment, it is comparable to the one-year postgraduate programme of IIM Ahmedabad.
AICTE wouldn’t respond for this column.
The high level of corruption and inefficiency in AICTE, despite nascent efforts at reform, is linked to the strong political influence on its key appointments. In the previous BJP regime, an ex-RSS pracharak was made AICTE top official and he is believed to have played a significant role in institutionalizing corruption in the body.
There are now touts in almost every major city collecting money for the body. About a dozen serving and ex-AICTE officials are believed to be worth several crores each. Some of them are running educational institutions directly or thr-ough relatives. There needs to be a Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry against such officials. Our good schools have silently suffered too much and for too long. It’s time they stand up and speak out for their dignity and freedom from this licence quota raj.
Premchand Palety is the director of Centre for Forecasting & Research (C-fore) in New Delhi, from where he keeps a close eye on India’s business schools.