There is a relation between the nature of rules and their compliance. If rules don’t keep pace with changing times, if they are loaded with ambiguity and their compliance means going through cumbersome, tedious, corrupt and humiliating bureaucratic hurdles, then breaking them makes more sense for people.
This is precisely the case with the rules and regulations of the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE).
The rules, coupled with the integrity and competence of the AICTE staff, have made this body an expensive joke on the higher education sector of this country. Instead of regulating quality, they have strangulated the growth of quality education and encouraged the mushrooming of dubious institutions.
Many of the directors of business schools I have interacted with complain about the condescending attitude of AICTE officials. A director of one reputed business school in the South last year couldn’t take their humiliating, policemen-like attitude and shunted them out of his campus. Of late, the council has been harassing B-schools for not complying with their irrelevant and archaic rules, such as no two programmes can share the same building, not even the staircase or toilets.
Compliance to such rules have led to wastage of resources and time for institutes. The ones who have dared to ignore the body have been listed as the “law breakers” on their website; one among them is the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad, the institute which has established quality benchmarks in the country.
As per the council’s rules, a newly established business school can’t admit more than 60 students in the first year and for subsequent incremental expansion, there are a number of permissions at different levels to be taken. This rule, it seems, has been inspired by the licence raj philosophy of keeping capacity down to avert monopoly and protect the small-scale entrepreneur. With this constraint of student intake, quality institutes find sustenance difficult as, in order to run a quality programme without any aid, an annual intake of at least 500 is needed.
This has also led to the proliferation of shoddy B-schools who quickly moved in to fill the space that the growing economy created. If competent B-schools were allowed to increase student intake, they would have crowded out the substandard ones.
The council is also a big failure as far as quality control is concerned. In 2000, we surveyed more than 50% of AICTE approved B-schools. About 60% of the approved institutes didn’t fulfil basic standards, such as requirement of having at least seven permanent faculty members. One B-school, which was being run from a house in Delhi, also had AICTE approval!
This reflects the rampant corruption prevalent in this statutory body, where some top officials are believed to tip off certain B-schools on how to pass the council’s inspection drill. As a result of this practice, a new breed of entrepreneurs have sprung up in many states whose business is to rent out everything an educational institute needs, from computers to faculty, for the ‘inspection’ day.
The inefficiency of AICTE has also resulted in harassment for many good B-schools. There is a long waiting list for institutes that have applied for approval or accreditation. In 2003, AICTE announced that all institutes having foreign collaborations must seek their approval.
However, till date, many who have applied for the same have not got any response. Some of them, in spite of their application, have got a show-cause notice of derecognition for not seeking the council’s approval.
The challenge for any regulatory body of education in our country is to create quality, not to control it; there is hardly any quality in the first place to control. It would greatly benefit our business education if AICTE, in its present form, is simply scrapped and replaced by accreditation bodies for different fields.
For management education, there can be a separate accreditation body consisting of eminent management professionals and backed by the Confederation of Indian Industry.
Accreditation, as is the practice worldwide, would be voluntary, that is, only when an institute feels it has achieved a certain level of excellence does it apply for accreditation. This body can also facilitate in faculty development, research, innovations in pedagogy, strong industry-institute interface and development of curriculum. Institutes should be left free to try out new ideas, grow and compete. History has shown us that competition is a better option than controls in ensuring quality.
Premchand Palety is director of Centre for Forecasting and Research (C fore) in New Delhi, from where he keeps a close eye on India’s business schools.