New Delhi: The waiting room at the head office of the All India Council of Technical Education, or AICTE, is familiar territory for B.N. Mishra, director of the Maharaja Agrasen Institute of Technology in New Delhi.
In the line of fire: The HRD ministry had suspended AICTE chairman R.A. Yadav after CBI filed charges of bribery against him. Ramesh Pathania / Mint
“I have been here many times,” Mishra says, adjusting a pile of files on his lap as he and several others await their turns for appointments. “Files here move very slowly.”
AICTE licenses the launch of all engineering, management and other technical courses offered by private colleges in the country. For colleges, it is also the place to go for approval of any increase in seats, additional courses and yearly licence renewals.
“This doesn’t end here. Each time one needs to start a course, or construct a building, one needs to start all over again,” says Mishra, whose institute received an approval for the introduction of a new course four years after applying to the regulator.
The alleged regulatory delays, red tape, restrictive policies, opaque functioning—and even bribery—at AICTE underscore the need for reform of the educational system that is being considered by the ministry of human resource development (HRD) under Kapil Sibal.
The government plans to scrap AICTE and the University Grants Commission, the top two regulators of higher education, in line with the recommendations of the the advisory body to the Prime Minister, Mint had reported on 9 June.
In July, the HRD ministry, which oversees education, suspended AICTE chairman R.A. Yadav after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) filed charges against him and three other senior officials for allegedly receiving Rs5 lakh as bribe.
After Maharaja Agrasen Institute sought approval for an electrical engineering course in collaboration with Auburn University of the US, in 2004, the sanction came last year, and so late in the day that the institute couldn’t even advertise it properly.
“It was too late to attract enough students. The approval came in September. That is actually the time academic sessions across most educational institutes begin,” Mishra says.
Last year, his institute could admit 19 students against a sanctioned strength of 120. Mishra fears it will be the same story this year, too. The institute’s application for renewal of the approval is still gathering dust with the regulator.
The tight regulatory controls have led to a web of corruption, from inspection teams demanding cash from colleges to brokers approaching colleges to set up “meetings” with senior officials where money changes hands, institutes have complained in the past.
Most agree that the council needs a revamp and greater involvement of stakeholders in education to cut down on procedural delays and for faster processing of applications.
“The government is just one stakeholder in education. There should be involvement of all stakeholders—corporates, chambers (of commerce), NGOs, parents, alumni and students,” says Varun Arya, an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, and the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, who runs the Aravali Institute of Management in Jodhpur, Rajasthan.
Arya had to struggle for nine years to get AICTE’s approval for 120 seats in a postgraduate programme in management. The school run by Arya was launched in 2000, and approval finally came in June this year after a hearing with Sibal and before CBI raided AICTE’s offices.
Since the raids by CBI, colleges report, the work of granting approvals has virtually come to a stand-still and the work culture at AICTE remains slow and secretive as ever. Colleges are confused about some rules that are not clearly defined in the legislation governing the regulatory body.
At least two colleges that have approached AICTE for approval for the new courses they wished to start this year, said the regulator had rejected their applications on flimsy pretexts.
“They rejected our application for approval for a new building on our institute’s campus, saying the building plan did not mention the name of the course! How are we supposed to explain that, since building plans are cleared by the municipal body,” said an official from an educational institute in Delhi.
The official didn’t want to be named for fear that speaking to the media could jeopardize the institute’s chances of receiving an approval from AICTE. The institute has faced three review committees at the council in the eight months that its application for approval to construct a new building has been pending.
In many cases, delays have also meant additional expenses for institutes.
Under AICTE rules, the processing fee for every application for approval to increase the number of students or introduce a fresh course is Rs60,000. Apart from that, institutes need to set aside Rs50 lakh to start a degree course and Rs25 lakh for a diploma course.
“If your application gets rejected and you (get) the order to be reviewed, you also have to pay a penalty of Rs40,000,” said Mishra.
“So far, our destinies are being shaped by people who do not have the remotest idea of education. Everyone here (at AICTE) is busy doing nothing. The rules must be made clear for us to understand. There is a complete lack of communication and interaction, which often leads to such secrecy about affairs,” Mishra says.
Rajeev Kumar, adviser at AICTE, said an e-governance model was being developed for the regulatory body to speed up processing and clearance of applications. “Everything is being streamlined,” AICTE chairman S.S. Mantha couldn’t be reached for comment despite repeated attempts.
Now, everyone is waiting for a more benign—and honest—regime to take over. While some colleges favour a laissez-faire policy, with the higher education regulatory body allowing colleges to start without any interference and then forcing them to seek accreditation, others want regulation but say it should be demand-driven and decentralized. Some argue that autonomy should be encouraged as a model for higher educational institutions to follow.
“The regulator should just set benchmarks and targets on quality and excellence for institutes to meet,” Mishra says.
Sharda University vice-chancellor Ravi P. Singh, who was part of AICTE’s officialdom for eight years from 1996 to 2003, blames a spurt in the number of colleges for corruption. The task of regulation is complicated by the fact that a number of engineering and medical schools are “controlled by politicians”, he says.
Singh says the regulation mess is a “jigsaw puzzle” that will be “difficult to solve”.