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“Companies Are Welcome To Set Up B-schools”

In an exclusive interview with BW Businessworld, All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) chairman Anil D. Sahasrabudhe answers a range of questions related to B-school education, the challenges facing the sector, and the regulator’s and government’s response:

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In an exclusive interview with BW Businessworld’s Suman K. Jha, All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) chairman Anil D. Sahasrabudhe answers a range of questions related to B-school education, the challenges facing the sector, and the regulator’s and government’s response:

What are the challenges facing technical education, particularly management education?

In technical education, whether it’s engineering or management, the biggest challenge that we are facing is a large number of vacant seats. This is closely followed by the quality of education.

You recently said that number of seats in engineering colleges would be cut. Will we see a similar cut in B-schools as well?
We didn’t say that we will cut the number of seats on our own. There was some misreporting. There are a large number of vacant seats and institutes where there are just 20 per cent admissions won’t be able to survive. Therefore, if they come forward for the closure of the institute or programme, we will facilitate it. Huge numbers of seats are vacant — to that extent we can absorb the reduction of seats. And, yes, this will affect the B -schools as well.

You have also said that you will be strict with the opening of new institutes. How will this affect new B-schools?
There are enough number of available seats. Adding one more institute, which is run of the mill, will not help. If a new institute imparts good quality education, we will allow them. This will be ensured by an expert committee’s visit to the institute etc. We will see if they have good infrastructure, a vision for the institute, principal / director in place, intent to recruit, etc. We will also be very strict with those who want to expand — either the number of programmes or their overall number of seats.

Various experts are in favour of allowing those B-schools that are doing well to increase the number of seats...
That can be allowed provided they have accreditation. They will have to go through the accreditation process by the National Board of Accreditation, and if they have taken pains to get five-year accreditation, certainly they are good. They will be allowed to increase the number of seats.

Another suggestion is that the AICTE should have a mentorship role rather than the role of a regulator. Do you think that will work, specifically in the context of B-schools?
This mentorship role is already in place. Rather than imposing penalty, or not granting permission, our emphasis now is on how to improve the quality of education. There are four new schemes that have been added to the existing quality improvement schemes. One of them is called “margdarshak” or the mentorship programme. We will provide funds, and we will ask a well-performing institute to hand hold and take other institutes in their neighbourhood to a higher level.

Some are of the view that corporates should be encouraged to set up B-schools. What’s your take on the issue?
Why not! They have all the practical on-field experience and exposure. Many corporates are coming forward to set up both management and engineering schools. It’s a good sign. For them, industry interface already exists. For other institutes, it becomes difficult to get industry internships for all the students. When corporates embark on this, they have the responsibility to provide their students internships. Also, the corporates will not be able to crib that their students are not employable due to lack of industry exposure.

This sector, as we discussed at the outset, is facing a crisis of sorts. What’s the government doing?
Not just management, higher education is a priority for this government. We always talked about reaching the 30 per cent gross enrolment ratio in higher education; we have come to around 22 per cent. All sectors / areas of higher education are important but they should also be in sync with the availability of jobs. Here the government and industry need to put their heads together. This is being done already, in fact. We as well as the government are more worried about skill development. We are also thinking how to make the school dropouts employable. Brighter ones among them can also become entrepreneurs — after all, many successful entrepreneurs in US were school dropouts!

Why are so many B-schools shutting down?

Number of students seeking admission are way below the number of seats available. The business schools that are good will remain in business; but the ones where only 20-30 per cent of the seats are filled, how will they pay their teachers are staff? So, it is but natural, they will shut down.

We hear that a Common Management Test for all B-schools is on the anvil. Do you think this will work well for the system?

There are five tests that are allowed right now. A single test is ideal. But it has not happened (so far). I don’t know if the system of single test is possible that easily. The Supreme Court has given permission to have five tests.

So, would it be ideal to have one test, nationally?
It would be ideal to have as few tests as possible. It will be good in that a student will have to take only one test. The flip side however is if s/he doesn’t perform well in that, s/he loses all chance. So, may be two or three tests, but they should be minimal. At one point, there were twenty-thirty tests for business schools; this naturally is not in the interest of students.

You talked about the Supreme Court — the SC had once said (though it reversed its position later) that management education is not really technical education. So, do you think there’s a need for a dedicated regulatory authority for management schools?
This is a call which the government has to take. For the AICTE, which came into existence in 1987, there were areas mentioned like engineering, technology, management, hotel management, architecture, pharmacy. Whatever is there in the Act, is being followed, and I would not like to make any other comment.

There’s a huge gap between the top B-schools and the rest. The 2000-odd B-schools at the bottom find it difficult even to place 10 per cent of their students. How do you plan to bridge the gap?

Our four “quality improvement programmes” are to ensure that the lower-rung colleges improve their performance. It’s for this that we have launched the “margdarshak” programme where good schools hand-hold lower-rung schools and we provide the funds. We will also support an adjunct faculty scheme for getting industry people — a CEO or a manager, for instance — as faculty so that they can teach for one semester or teach elective. This will add great value to the institution.

If we leave the top B-schools, then are we facing a crisis of sorts in management education?
The situation is not any different from, say, engineering. The IITs are several notches higher than other engineering institutions — a similar situation exists in B-schools. The issue is how do we create an enabling environment and push these (lower-rung) institutes to come up. This will also happen as market forces are supreme. The ones doing well are attracting more students; the ones not doing well are shutting down. Very soon, equilibrium in the system will be restored.

There’s a severe shortage of faculty. According to your guidelines, the teacher-student ratio is 1:12. A suggestion has been made that this be raised to 1: 15. Another suggestion says that the retirement age of teachers be raised to 70, or 68, or let them retire when they want to – like in the US or in Europe..

The age of retirement is a call not only for the regulatory agency but also of the government. To face the problem of shortage of teachers, we are trying to encourage online courses. The best educators of the world are available on the Web. Whatever shortfall we have in quality teaching, why can’t we take that in form of online courses? This is what we call “blended learning”.

B schools, or at least the top-notch ones, have not been given the autonomy they deserve. If Maharatna PSUs that do exceedingly well are allowed a good deal of financial autonomy, why can’t B schools doing well be accorded the same status?
Any autonomous institute has the freedom of deciding its curriculum, even if it’s under a university. There’s a misconception that the schools are not allowed freedom. Also, the national institutional ranking framework has been announced for management schools, engineering schools etc. They will be asked to apply and rankings will come; there will be a spirit of competition amongst them. All the management schools that apply will be ranked so that any student applying next April will know which institute ranks where.

Your critics say that the AICTE is still living in the pre-liberalisation era. Do you contest this?
It’s, in fact, changing quite rapidly. For instance, earlier there used to be yearly inspection of colleges. It has all stopped. Now we expect them (B-schools) to upload a data, and we believe that the data they upload will be genuine. If there are, however, complaints then we act – the point being that the AICTE, too, is changing in tune with the times.

[email protected]; @skjsumankjha

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 14-12-2015)

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