A leaked examination is a disgrace in every sense. An expensive, difficult and elaborate examination like the common admission test for the country’s premier management institutes has an even greater claim to being properly managed. A prohibitive amount of money and time is invested by the candidates in a cut-throat world where they can afford to lose neither. To make such a mockery of this effort is therefore a profound injustice. This is yet another unsavoury face of the corruption and mismanagement which inform higher education, and particularly large-scale competitive examinations, in this country. But another, somewhat more political, dimension seems to be at play in this case, which might turn out to be just as damaging for standards of excellence in management studies. A test administered together, however inadequately, by a number of autonomous educational institutions has now become an excuse for the Central government’s will to control higher education in the country. Even before the six institutes of management who hold the test declared the leaked CAT officially cancelled, the ministry for human resources development lost no time in making the declaration on their behalf. This was justified on the contradictory grounds that even though the IIMs were autonomous bodies, in the event of “administrative failures and malpractice” the Centre could choose to intervene. The problem comes down to the Centre’s unwillingness to grant these institutions real autonomy.
The HRD minister, Mr Murli Manohar Joshi, had been pressurizing these IIMS — only a few weeks before the CAT — to scrap their test and go for a single national-level entrance test for all candidates seeking admission to management and business schools. The ostensible reason given by the ministry is to make things cheaper and fairer for the examinees. But maintaining a higher degree of control over these academically and financially self-sufficient institutions seems to be the real intention. The IIMs have been resisting, for a while now, the ministry’s pressures to make them sign an annual memorandum of understanding which would oblige them to give the government a detailed account of their plans. This MOU would also prevent the IIMs from maintaining more than Rs 25 crore in their corpus. National-level tests, given the scale of such things in India, invariably lead to a far greater collapse of fairness and order, besides giving the Centre and the likes of Mr Joshi free rein to meddle with higher education in a manner that could only compromise standards of excellence.