New Delhi: Much like the corporate sector, India’s top higher education institutions have been asked to furnish quarterly reports, listing their achievements and failings.

The central government-funded institutions, including the elite Indian Institutes of Technologies (IITs) and central universities, will be the first to comply with the requirement. In due course all institutions in the country will be required to do so, said two government officials, requesting anonymity.

“How do you enforce accountability and ask institutions to follow due diligence?" asked one of the officials cited above. “If you are using tax payers’ money, you need to be a bit more accountable. There is no negative motive, but yes, hundreds of institutions dependent on public money must come clean on their activities." He added that strength, weakness, opportunities and threats (SWOT) reports help.

Accordingly, the government is signing a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with all of these institutions. Most of the central universities are already on board except Delhi University. “The general financial rule requires this. The University of Delhi is evaluating the initiative and we believe they will be on board soon," said higher education secretary R. Subrahmanyam.

While the move may bring in transparency and an urgency to improve their performance, it will, in a way, also push institutions to have a cordial relationship with students at a time when campus protests are widespread in India.

While India’s burgeoning education sector has been growing fast, quality concerns remain. While the country is home to over 860 universities and over 50,000 colleges, not even 10 institutions figure in the top 400 in the world. While institutions have been demanding autonomy, they are not quite transparent in their activities and demand for accountability often faces criticism.

The first official said that in the last two years, the central government has taken several steps to liberate the higher education sector through executive orders, as well as legislations, but a segment of the government feels that institutional accountability should not be relegated to the back seat while awarding autonomy.

“Once you furnish quarterly information, it may help implement performance-based funding," a third government official said, adding that institutions now will need to be evaluated constantly on their performance. To improve performance, colleges and universities need to have better relations with their students and constant protests in the campuses are a clear negative to achieve this objective.

Students’ protests across top universities, including Delhi University , Jawaharlal Nehru University, Hyderabad University, Aligarh Muslim University and Banaras Hindu University, have grown over the past couple of years.

A segment of the government believes that once funding becomes performance-based, institution managements can no longer afford to ignore protests in the campuses. A quarterly SWOT report may be a way to serve the purpose.

“At one hand the government is talking about autonomy and on the other it is talking about constant evaluation. This, in a way, also means centralization of power, micromanagement and constant interference in academic matters," said a Delhi University professor, who also requested anonymity.

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