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Teaching good regulation

Teaching good regulation

Human resource development minister Kapil Sibal has made some good noises in the past few weeks about reforming higher education. The recent indictment of education regulators makes it imperative for these noises to translate into actions soon.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) late last week took action against a number of All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) members on charges of corruption. CBI said it found assets worth around Rs2 crore with AICTE chairman Ram Avatar Yadav and adviser H.C. Rai, while it arrested member secretary K. Narayana Rao and S.B. Subba Rao for accepting a bribe from an engineering college in Andhra Pradesh.

Fingers have been pointed at AICTE for years now, but this is perhaps the first time that regulators have been caught red-handed. Mint had reported in December 2007 that Yadav drew both an AICTE salary and a separate pension from the University of Delhi. Corruption goes hand in hand with the kind of regulations AICTE imposes: from deciding the number of seats per institution to the number of books in the library.

This makes deregulation all the more necessary, and how Sibal acts is key. He said last month that he would try to implement the recommendations of the Yash Pal committee within 100 days. Yet, as far as changing the regulatory regime goes, that may bring us back to the same problem we face with AICTE here.

The committee has suggested that AICTE and the University Grants Commission (UGC) be abolished. That’s well and good, but the corollary to this recommendation is replacing AICTE and UGC with a single, powerful super-regulator.

In AICTE’s case, the issue is that it is the same regulator that sets standards, rates institutions, recommends penalties and then enforces them—for fields as diverse as engineering and business. Such concentration of power is a perfect recipe for the egregious rent seeking and absurd regulatory norms we see—power that will only be magnified with Yash Pal’s regulator. A super-regulator also isn’t the best bet for promoting educational diversity—an important concern, given India’s size and educational needs.

Regulation in education suffers simply because this sector has not benefited from liberalization yet. It is time these regulators learnt a thing or two about reform.

How should India regulate higher education? Tell us at views@livemint.com

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