The Indian institutes of management and of technology must have become, by now, seasoned defenders of their autonomy from what could be called the Kapil Sibal syndrome. When Mr Sibal was the human resource development minister, every aspect of the administration and pedagogy of these institutions of excellence used to be monitored and regulated in the spirit of a paternalism that refused to see the distinctions between assistance, protection and control — much as authoritarian parents refuse to let go of their adult offspring’s lives simply because they continue to support them financially. So, the IITs and IIMs had to fight for their independence from the interference of the State, and could at no stage afford to take their autonomy for granted. And this tendency in the HRD ministry, and generally in the Central government, to not be able to let go, persists even after another politician has replaced Mr Sibal at the head of the HRD ministry.
So, true to its anxiously controlling nature, the HRD ministry has now decided that the IIMs must seek its “concurrence” every time they decide to increase their fees, so that the ministry might remain true to its “responsibility” towards the economic condition of Indian society. Academic excellence should be the only criterion for the making of administrative and financial decisions by these institutions, and any other form of regulation by the Centre should be resisted by them. A system of loans and scholarships do exist in all the IIMs, and their governing bodies all have senior representatives from the ministry in them. So, when decisions have been taken to raise fees, the participation of the ministry is built into the administrative process, making it unnecessary for the government to introduce further bureaucratic stages in the sustaining of interference. The same may be said of the ministry’s anxieties regarding the entry of foreign universities in the Indian higher education scene, with the University Grants Commission wanting to keep a tight quality and financial control over such collaborative arrangements. In both cases, the institutions themselves, and those who avail themselves of their services, should be allowed to determine and monitor every aspect of their running. Just the fact of giving them funding does not entitle the Centre to assume that it has the right to interfere.