Sunday, June 19, 2005

Let minds fly

Times of India, June 19, 2005

It is with anguish that I sit down to write this column. Two years ago I met a distinguished friend in Delhi, who is the president of a prestigious American university that has produced several Nobel laureates. He loves India and he told me with some pride that India is increasingly perceived as a future knowledge capital of the world. He thought he would contribute to this future by setting up a branch campus here so that Indians could acquire his university’s degree at a fourth of the cost in America. I was delighted. Here’s a chance for a world-class education for our young, I thought.

Two years later I heard this tale of woe. His university’s application to the Association of Indian Universities (AIU) for an equivalence certificate went unanswered despite three reminders. Their meeting with the All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) resulted in the demand for a huge bribe. Their efforts with the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the Ministry entangled them in miles of red tape. After knocking about like this for a year they concluded that their only hope was to go to Chattisgarh, which allowed private universities. Just as they were about to acquire 25 acres of land and make the Rs 2 crore mandatory deposit came the infamous Supreme Court ban on Chattisgarh universities.

“Infamous”, I say, because the court judgment did not distinguish between good and bad private universities in Chattisgarh. All of them were asked to go and take UGC’s approval. But if UGC had been willing to give approval in the first place, why would they have gone to god forsaken Chattisgarh? And wait--hasn’t UGC, in fact, killed off higher education? Only two dozen out of its 200 plus universities offer reasonable teaching and most of these existed prior to the birth of UGC. For fifty years it has promoted rote learning, incompetent faculty, and mediocrity. It has punished original thinking and failed to create an employable graduate. Hence, students have been pushed into a parallel universe of coaching classes, which ironically take their obligation to students far more seriously. The eminent Prof Yashpal, the former UGC chairman and the mover of the Public Interest Litigation should look himself in the mirror. If he is an honest man, he will confess that UGC has betrayed our trust.

Along with his letter my friend has attached draconian new AICTE guidelines for private universities, which he says “will decide our fees, student intake, and even the size of our buildings, and prosecute us like criminals for non-compliance. Even if we get their approval, it’s only for a year, and meanwhile the courts could overturn things as they have done in Manipal’s case”. Sadly, he concludes that India is a hopeless cause and he has decided to set up a campus in China. After reading his letter I felt like weeping.

Who could be against enlightened regulation of private higher education? We all wish for a body that ensures standards. But if this is how we regulate—with corruption and red tape—isn’t it better to give universities autonomy and leave it to parents and students? A private education costs less than a car, and we don’t protect car customers via AICTE or UGC. Rather than fall into the trap of case-by-case approvals, good regulators everywhere provide lots of information–such as our magazines, who now rate colleges by polling students and faculty. These ratings are not precise but they help students make an informed choice. A free society must offer autonomy to its universities--only then will minds be able to fly.

1 comment:

About Health Blog said...

After knocking about like this for a year they concluded that their only hope was to go to Chattisgarh, which allowed private universities.