Mother of all management

THE UNION minister for human resource development's election-eve decision to slash Indian Institute of Management (IIM) fees by a third has created a storm. The most vocal lot are the faculty and management of the premier schools, and industry captains, who employ their products. The reaction from the minister and his party collegues is expectedly holier: the poor must get access to specialised higher education! Can anyone deny that? Critics have attributed a conspiracy motive: its autonomy ended, the IIMs will now depend on state funds. An acceptable argument in the current Indian scenario, indeed!

 
Published: Monday 15 March 2004

-- THE UNION minister for human resource development's election-eve decision to slash Indian Institute of Management (IIM) fees by a third has created a storm. The most vocal lot are the faculty and management of the premier schools, and industry captains, who employ their products. The reaction from the minister and his party collegues is expectedly holier: the poor must get access to specialised higher education! Can anyone deny that? Critics have attributed a conspiracy motive: its autonomy ended, the IIMs will now depend on state funds. An acceptable argument in the current Indian scenario, indeed!

The minister has taken refuge in the recommendations of the U R Rao panel, set up to look into the state of the country's technical education. But a look at the panel's analysis shows that in fact, reduction of IIM fees was a miniscule agenda. This immediately raises doubts about the government's intention. The report is mostly critical of engineering and medical education. It points out that an annual growth of 15 per cent of engineers is absolutely unsustainable for even a GDP growth of 8 per cent. It is another matter that the current education system only creates job seekers, not imaginative job creators! In fact, high investment in technical education pushes graduates to flock to only 'high return' jobs. India's need for technically skilled personnel remains unfulfilled. The large volume of 'speculative' investment of the Indian middle-class in technical education has generated a sea of private institutions that, according to the panel, do not even spend a third of what they charge. There should be a harsher monitoring for these schools.

But the question of more democratic access to higher education still remains unanswered. The hint at state subsidy is absolutely unacceptable, for only the powerful would reap the harvest, as they always have. The Rao panel clearly wants industry to partially fund the education. But industry captains are silent on this. Even if they do pick up the tab, what's to ensure funding is not attached to narrow corporate agenda? The need of society must be the supreme guiding force.

The selective decision to reduce IIM fees without addressing the larger malaise of infrastructural reform, prioritisation of technical fields and imaginative exploitation of skilled personnel smacks of an attempt to collect claps from the gallery. Harping about equal access to higher education sounds like out-of-tune music, as a fourth of children in the 6-14 age group remain out of school. All access ends here.

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