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BW Businessworld

‘We Are Not An Advisory Body’

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A Supreme Court (SC) ruling (April 2013) stripped the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) of its regulatory powers and transferred them to the University Grants Commission (UGC). The judgment led to an impasse in the management and technical education sector. It has prompted the Ministry of Human Resources Development to make efforts to restore the AICTE’s powers. As per the SC ruling, AICTE can only regulate independent institutes offering postgraduate diploma in management (PGDM) whereas UGC will regulate institutes affiliated to state universities. An interim arrangement has also been put in place to enable AICTE to set standards for technical institutions. S.S. Mantha, chairman, AICTE, tells BW’s Rozelle Laha that in the next six months, the council expects to come out with a model that will encourage industry to participate in the promotion of higher education. Excerpts of an interview:

What do you have to say about the change in the role of AICTE — from a regulator to an advisory body? 
The role of AICTE is not that of an advisor. The advisory function is an observation in the judgement, not the order itself. We have moved the court. Technically, the issue is sub judice. Section 23 of the AICTE Act grants us the power to create regulations for maintaining (educational) standards and, therefore, we are still a regulator.  We would like to see that the role of AICTE, as envisaged in the Act — that of providing for coordinated development, setting and maintaining standards for technical education in the country — is preserved. Bodies like AICTE should be strengthened. Stakeholders can pull them up when they don’t deliver, but making them redundant is no solution.

Does AICTE risk becoming redundant?
Every organisation faces difficulties. AICTE too has faced them, but organisations have to move forward. When AICTE started — five years ago — it had 3.8 lakh teachers. Today, we have six lakh teachers in the system. Five years ago, two-thirds of the faculty had BTechs, one-third MTechs and 35,000 had PhDs. Now, we have been able to reverse that ratio — two-thirds of the faculty is MTech-qualified, one-third is BTech-qualified and 52, 000 have PhDs.  Against 5.5 lakh student enrolments five years ago, this year we have an enrolment of 12.6 lakh students.

The access (to students) has increased and quality metrics have improved. Has the system not improved? Has the system not delivered? We don’t close down organisations. If systems go wrong, we change the structure of the organisation; we change people within the organisation. Systems don’t fail, people who run the systems fail.

What are AICTE’s latest regulations?
We have formulated two new rules. The National Employability Enhancement Mission (NEEM) will enhance collaborative opportunities between industry and academia. The mission will allow a training provider to take in graduates or diploma holders from colleges and place them in industry to train them, thereby increasing their employability. The trainees are also entitled to a stipend. This training will range from 2-24 months, depending on the sector of specialisation. The other regulation is for conducting certain technical education programmes through distance learning and by the use of MOOCs (massive open online courses).

Can you cite some of the major grants sanctioned by AICTE recently?
We have funded the creation of hostels for underprivileged students in 75 colleges. We gave Rs 2 crore to each of these colleges. We have started a research park proposal wherein the colleges provide 2,000 sq. ft of space to set up an industry extension arm within the institute. We give Rs 1 crore, and the industry pitches in with a matching amount to form a  Rs 2-crore corpus to start activities. We have funded four colleges so far and have plans to fund more. We have also started a student innovation programme. Under this, we will conduct theme-based fairs for students, keeping in mind the requirements of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME). In a day-long programme, 10,000 students will participate and come up with new ideas and innovations. An expert committee will evaluate and select 250 of the best projects which will then be funded to move to the next level of commoditisation. 

Has AICTE signed any MoUs for skill development or capacity-building recently?
We have signed an MoU with UK-India Education and Research Initiative (UKIERI) of the British Council and are funding 250 delegates for leadership programmes in the UK. This will boost vocational education and skill-building activities. We have also signed an MoU with The American Association of Community Colleges and will be getting 35 Indian colleges to collaborate with them.

How many new polytechnics have been set up under the PPP model so far? What is your experience of industry participation?
We have got about 20-odd institutions. We have a target of 300 institutes. There are obvious difficulties in getting industry on board. While industries had land, they were unable to use it since only government land could be leased. Now, under Section 25 of the Companies Act, a private lease is also possible. Industry can turn over its excess land through a private lease to a trust or a society or a Section 25 company and set up an institution.

What can industry do to augment the skills of graduating students?
Industry should support students and faculty through actual hands-on intervention. To improve quality of education, industry-owned institutes are key. Unless you come up with new models that induce people to invest money, nothing will happen. We need to create an alternative mechanism by bringing in MSMEs — at least the larger among them — into the education space. Probably some PPP can happen there.

What is the biggest challenge to enhancing quality?
Creating a hundred institutes and saying that all of them will be equally good is a very short-sighted argument. We cannot have end-to-end quality.

Harvard University generates 24 per cent of its revenue through publishing. In India, most institutions survive on tuition fees. If the tuition fee is going to cater to 80-90 per cent of the salary requirements of an institution, we will have little money left for development. Also, you cannot raise the fee beyond a point. Central and state governments should pitch in with corpus funding. Also, if corporates give a small percentage of their CSR (corporate social responsibility) spend to the corpus, it will help.

What is the best way to accredit institutes?
Most states have a common admission methodology.  Students appear for a common entrance test, a common merit list is created, and seats are allotted to students based on their preference. Within the student community, there is a perception (of good and bad institutes) based on a strong analysis of institutions. They even know the courses on the basis of which the institutions are ranked. All students seeking admission go through a certain list, which they perceive as the ‘best list’. I believe, with all my experience, that the latter is the best list we can ever have. Therefore, students provide you the best accreditation technique you can ever have. They can rate your institute in a manner which no methodology can replicate. 

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(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 02-06-2014)