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Care to learn?

Care to learn?
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First Published: Wed, Dec 19 2007. 11 08 PM IST

Updated: Wed, Dec 19 2007. 11 08 PM IST
Ram Avatar Yadav, the acting head of technical education regulator AICTE, made front page news in this paper recently for an unethical practice. But barring a mild response from the government that “some action” would be taken after an “enquiry”, there’s been little public response to the latest complaint against the all-powerful authority.
The reason would be citizens’ widespread cynicism, not lack of concern. But this would spell a larger, ominous sign—of expectations that the authorities will continue to turn a blind eye to the faults in the system. (After all, the government was all ready to appoint Yadav as the head of AICTE, despite the number of complaints against him over the past two years. And even though that may no longer be the case, there are no real indications of a major turnaround in the system.)
The corollary is that the regulator will continue to curb the supply of higher, technical education. That’s precisely what it has been doing with undeniably corrupt and highly deterrent licence-quota regime. At huge cost to the nation. This week’s AICTE conference acknowledged the striking fact that barely 25% of our engineering graduates are actually employable.
Of course, this estimate, earlier revealed in a McKinsey report in 2005, would be the outcome of the larger mismatch between the skill requirements of industry and those imparted in educational institutions.
But it also points to the problems of over- and myopic regulation. For instance, consider what Mint has been reporting—there are multiple complaints that senior officials of AICTE, especially regional officers and inspectors, demand bribes in return for approving any increase in seats or courses, or renewing various annual permits. Indeed, not only this, but it is also well known how representatives of AICTE have engaged in rent-seeking acts while approving and accrediting new, private institutions.
What all this has translated into is a vicious cycle. The poor quality of regulation acts as a deterrent for genuine institution-building. At the same time, the perverse incentive structures encourage and perpetuate poor-quality vendors, instead. In other words, those who can work and thrive in the system with money or their political associations. The image of private institutions largely being bad-quality, money-spinning shops, thereby, gets reinforced. As does the opposition to large-scale privatization and the case for stringent regulation.
The larger impact is that given the huge demand-supply gap in state-provided or state-supported institutions, and the lack of incentives for broad-based, genuine private institutions, students get limited choice. Which makes this a sellers market.
It was in reference to the acute inadequacy of technical colleges today that the director of IIT Mumbai recently pointed out that of the five million completing high school with science as their subject, only 20% can be accommodated. Evidently, regulation has impeded, not facilitated technical education. It is radical institutional reform that’s needed. AICTE must be made to clean up its act, and the human resource development ministry needs to set up a system of stringent accountability for this regulator.
The good news is that there is an increasing call—including from the government—for the private sector to play a big role in providing education and training along with mapping of the required skill sets, particularly through the public-private partnership route.
If a large and credible private sector role can thus evolve—and route to get there won’t be easy, the existing perverse incentive structures might get weakened. As far as the necessarily higher fees goes, it would be more fruitful to address equity issues through empowerment approaches such as easy loans.
How should AICTE’s role be reformed? Write to us at views@livemint.com
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First Published: Wed, Dec 19 2007. 11 08 PM IST