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No passport for IIM Bangalore

New Delhi, Jan. 11: The Centre has barred IIM Bangalore from opening a campus in Singapore, raising doubts over the government’s promises of autonomy in higher education.

It was the Singapore government that had sent the invitation. But the human resource development (HRD) ministry forced the Bangalore institute to turn it down, saying it must meet “its internal demands” before it could think of setting up shop abroad.

The same rule will obviously apply to the other five IIMs, too.

The argument that IIMs can set up campuses abroad only after they have reached saturation point at their institutes at home is unrealistic, experts say. Two lakh students appear for CAT every year, but only one in 100 gets admitted to an IIM. There is little chance of the demand going down.

Currently, high-profile IIMs like the one in Ahmedabad conduct short-term courses abroad but do not grant degrees. Setting up a campus would mean a long-term commitment, which the ministry does not want the institutes to make.

The ministry’s refusal to let IIM Bangalore chart its own course of development strikes at the root of the IIMs’ autonomy. The UPA government, in its common minimum programme, had promised to protect the autonomy of institutions of higher education.

HRD minister Arjun Singh’s predecessor, M.M. Joshi, had triggered a row by halving the tuition fees charged by IIM Ahmedabad on the ground that the original fees were beyond the means of most students. The institute defied him and went to court. Joshi had also asked the IIMs to change their curriculum.

When Arjun assumed charge, he overturned the fee slash and declared it a priority to restore the IIMs’ autonomy.

Many feel Arjun is not living up to his promise. Experts say the ministry’s decision is ill-timed when the Centre is weighing whether it should open up the higher education sector to WTO’s General Agreement for Trade in Services (GATS).

If it does, Indian institutions would be able to open campuses abroad and foreign institutions to set up shop in India.

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