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IIM battle in people’s court

Mumbai, Feb. 25: The Indian institutes of management came out in the open today with their opposition to Murli Manohar Joshi’s move to cut tuition fees, fielding two business heavyweights to present their views.

Infosys head .R. Narayana Murthy, who is chairman of the board of governors of IIM Ahmedabad, and Hindustan Lever chief M.S. Banga, who is a member of the board, called a news conference to argue that the human resource development minister’s move to slash fees was ill-advised.

The decision, seeking to lower the annual fee from Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 30,000, would make the IIMs weaker, which was a “lose-lose” proposition, Murthy said.

He brought out the irony that “in a country where nearly 45 million children don’t go to school, and where 350 million are illiterate, and 50 per cent of rural schools have one teacher for every two classes”, the government wanted to spend money on subsidising higher education so that it could be made affordable to the poor.

He asked how the poor of the country would be able to afford even a fee of Rs 30,000, which Joshi is keen on pushing through.

Contesting the charge that the IIMs were “elitist”, Murthy said 80 per cent of the students came from the lower and middle classes.

“I started this discussion with the HRD minister, Dr Murli Manohar Joshi, sometime last year. Now, the time has come to widen the debate,” Murthy, looking upset, said.

He and Banga recently had a hush-hush meeting with the Prime Minister also. The decision to come into the open might have been prompted by the fact that Joshi has been using public platforms almost every other day to drum up support for his stand.

Explaining the reason for speaking out, Murthy said Joshi had desired that he look after the interests of IIM Ahmedabad.

“We thought it is much better to hold the press conference and make the stand of well-wishers of the IIM system very clear,” he said.

The fee cut cannot be implemented without sanction of the boards of the IIMs.

Murthy indicated that business leaders associated with the IIMs might step down in the course of the ongoing battle with the minister. “I am serving the board at the pleasure of the minister. If he wants me to resign, I will resign. But still be friends with him,” he said.

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