Updated: August 26, 2014 12:04:34 am
The University Grants Commission (UGC) is clearly unfamiliar with the Euclidean maxim that parallel lines never meet, or it would not have asked the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) to “align” their courses and degrees with those it recognises. Members of the committee, led by Anil Kakodkar, which suggested improvements to IITs, now protest that they are centres of excellence beyond the ambit of the UGC, which they accuse of regulatory overreach. Actually, this is more than linear overreach. It is a category mistake, a blunder that logicians abhor.
The NDA government’s focus on jobs and skilling has highlighted the parallel streams that higher education has branched into. For the majority of students, it now means certification, vouched for by the standardisation of evaluation processes. Its objective is to create reliable workers who can enliven the job market and fuel growth. On the other hand, the most valuable outcomes of technical education are research and innovation. It is powered by creativity, which rejects standards and benefits from institutional autonomy. The Kakodkar Committee, set up in 2010, had recommended that centres of excellence be liberated from the educational bureaucracy. The board of governors of each IIT should have complete control over the teaching process, ranging from course design to expenditure management, human resource development and rules governing staff and payroll.
The first NDA budget announced the commissioning of five new IITs, and its commitment to creating more centres of technical excellence may persist in budgets to come. Amid concern that increasing the number of IIT campuses might dilute the quality of education and research, there is an opportunity for the government to signal that expansion would not be cosmetic. In line with the Kakodkar Committee recommendation to create an extensive PhD programme, it could give IITs the right to invest capital and human resources as they wish and involve private enterprise to create innovation ecosystems across institutions. It should not matter if their vision diverged widely from that of the UGC. The latter was established by an act of Parliament. So were the IITs, as their directors often point out. Both institutions were designed for independence and should remain free.
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