Of the 12,000 technical colleges under the purview of the AICTE, we now have 1,000-odd institutions under our jurisdiction following the judgement, said S. S. Mantha, chairman of AICTE. And these institutes are largely polytechnics. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint (Hemant Mishra/Mint)
Of the 12,000 technical colleges under the purview of the AICTE, we now have 1,000-odd institutions under our jurisdiction following the judgement, said S. S. Mantha, chairman of AICTE. And these institutes are largely polytechnics. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
(Hemant Mishra/Mint)

AICTE defunct, technical colleges struggle in regulatory vacuum

No new colleges being granted recognition; existing ones at a loss over accreditation, intakes, other issues

New Delhi: An April Supreme Court (SC) ruling has effectively rendered irrelevant the All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE), a controversial and once-powerful regulatory body that used to control every aspect of India’s technical education schools, including engineering colleges and business schools.

Worse, with universities too not granting recognition to such institutions, no new engineering and business schools have opened in India in the past few months although this can also be attributed to an economic slowdown that has left graduates of most so-called second-tier schools unemployed.

With the Human Resources Development ministry yet to suggest an option—India needs to have some kind of standard if it wants to become a a member of the Washington Accord, a treaty that allows member-countries to recognize each other’s engineering degrees—even schools that are relishing the freedom of operating in a free market are beginning to feel the need for a new supervisory regime, even if it is a light one.

And some schools are feeling lost, because they aren’t sure who will now “accredit" them—which AICTE used to do to schools after making sure they met some criteria, thereby providing prospective students with a basic measure.

Nor do these lost schools know where to go for permission to increase or decrease the number of students they admit. AICTE used to do this, and these schools likely haven’t realized that they can now pretty much take such calls.

On 25 April, the apex court ruled that the council does not have the authority to control or regulate professional colleges that are affiliated to universities. That means a technical college with university affiliation does not need to seek AICTE approval.

“AICTE was earlier working as a national body, setting some national standards but after the Supreme Court judgement (calling it an advisory body, not a regulator), we don’t know how to proceed. There is confusion and uncertainty," said Raju Davis Parepadan, chairman of the Kerala-based Holygrace Academy.

At the other extreme is R. Panickar, director general of Indo Global Colleges, a chain of private colleges in Punjab.

“Freedom from AICTE is in a way good," he said. “The institutes will now be governed by market dynamics and if you don't perform well, you will suffer in both placement, and finally survival will be difficult."

Still, even Panickar says there should be some kind of national supervision for minimum checks and balances and that the human resource development (HRD) ministry, which oversees education, needs to act quickly.

The Supreme Court ruling removes most engineering and business schools from the council’s ambit.

“Of the 12,000 technical colleges under the purview of the AICTE, we now have 1,000-odd institutions under our jurisdiction following the judgement," said S. S. Mantha, chairman of AICTE. And these institutes are largely polytechnics.

“AICTE is now a defunct body. This may not be a good news for the technical education sector in India," added Mantha.

With AICTE all but defunct, there is need for a body that sets standard for infrastructure, curricula, and quality, and also supervises technical education institutions, said Parepadan of Holygrace.

If that doesn’t happen, given the widely divergent standards of Indian universities, the quality of education and, consequently, that of graduates, could suffer, he added.

Indeed, with no national body to supervise them, many engineering colleges in Kerala are appointing fresh engineering graduates to teach, Parepadan said. It could be the AICTE or some other body, but a national body “is required", he said.

Worse still, the University Grants Commission, the apex body of universities, has asked varsities not to offer affiliation to any new technical or professional colleges.

The HRD ministry considered an ordinance to restore AICTE’s powers, but “nothing has been finalized yet," said an official at the ministry who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Monalisa contributed to this story.

Close