Sunday, July 03, 2005

When masks fell off

Times of India, July 03, 2005

The sad story of how our callous regulators lost us a world-class university, which I narrated two Sundays ago, has resulted in new discoveries. One of the happier ones is a metamorphosis in the All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE). Not only have corrupt officials gone, but it is committed to regulate non-intrusively via the power of information. Last month it posted its initial findings on its website, and all hell broke loose as the masks of important men fell off. Students could now cheerfully begin to distinguish between the good, the bad and the ugly. Not surprisingly, many ugly colleges turned out to be those run by important public figures–ministers, MPs, and wives of powerful officials. The MPs from Andhra, led by a minister, even laid siege on the AICTE’s offices. And more masks are set to fall this month when new data will reveal which universities operate above halvai shops, and which ones charge Rs 50,000 in fees but pay its professors Rs 5000 salary and don’t possess a working toilet.

What do you do when keepers of the law become its oppressors? Since I knew one I decided to confront this eminence grise. He was polite and solicitous in his opulent home in Lutyens’ Delhi. With a straight face, he replied, “What can you do--we live in Kali Yuga?” I chuckled like Markandeya in the Mahabharata. The more mantriji talked the more he sounded like hypocritical Dhritarashtra half heartedly disapproving of Duryodhana’s wicked plan to trap Yudhishthira in the crooked dice game. Soon he began to blame AICTE, which is another law of nature–the guilty will always blame others. Ah, the self-deceptions of great men!

The Right to Information Act is the best thing to happen for improving our day-to-day governance. Our officials should learn from AICTE’s example that the Right to Information doesn’t mean that you must only respond reluctantly to citizens’ queries. It is your duty to pro-actively publish information. Information is also the best ally of markets, who need it like oxygen. The rotten colleges will now either improve or competitive forces will shut them down. If Drona had access to the Internet he would have known that the report of Ashwatthama’s death was only a wicked rumour–a crooked scheme to demoralise him.

The prize for India’s best regulator must go to the Directorate General of Shipping which regulates maritime training institutions. It is one step ahead of the AICTE–not only does it believe in non-intrusive regulation, but also in raising quality. It has asked three highly respected and independent rating agencies, CRISIL, ICRA and CARE, to grade both public and private maritime institutes (and their courses) and post the results on its website. Of course, some institutions don’t need ratings. Hyderabad’s famed Indian School of Business is neither accredited nor rated, but the market so respects its worth that its graduates earn a mean starting salary of Rs 10 lakhs a year. It’s a true testimony to autonomy.

The era of Rs 15 college fees is over as the government has finally realised that higher education is a “non-merit good”. Hence, universities desperately need private funds. But these will only come if colleges are given autonomy—if they are liberated from licence raj, corruption breeding case-by-case approvals, and court induced price controls. The state’s only job should be to ensure mandatory disclosure. Competition and information will take care of the rest. Students will be able to make an informed choice of their college based on ratings by independent agencies and the fees. Now, here is a model of higher education for India’s future!


About Health Blog said...

Ah, the self-deceptions of great men!

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