New Delhi, May 31: Human resource development minister Arjun Singh today took the first step towards undoing his predecessor Murli Manohar Joshi’s acrimonious agenda regarding the Indian institutes of management.
He struck a conciliatory note — unlike Joshi — and assured the premier business schools that the Centre would not ram any policy down their throats.
In his first meeting with the six IIM directors, Singh made it clear he would safeguard the autonomy of the institutes. “I believe in complete autonomy of the IIMs,” the new HRD minister said.
“The six IIMs should decide their own fee structure,” he added.
This was in sharp contrast to Joshi’s instructions to all IIMs to implement his ministry’s order slashing annual fees by 80 per cent to Rs 30,000 a year. The order had been passed without prior consultation with the institutes.
Singh has asked the IIMs to consult among themselves on the fee cut before reaching a final decision by June 25. It was decided at the meeting that the IIM directors would discuss the issue on June 6 and the HRD ministry study their recommendations on a uniform fee policy on June 8.
Bakul Dholakia, director, IIM Ahmedabad, expressed satisfaction that the Centre was consulting them on the fee slash controversy. He said he was confident of sorting out the dispute through dialogue.
The faculty council of IIM Calcutta welcomed the ministry’s move. Dean Ashish Bhattacharya said the new HRD minister had restored the autonomy of the institutes as the directors had been asked to evolve a common fee structure. The faculty had opposed Joshi’s move to slash fees, saying it would affect its autonomy as it would have to depend on government funds for functioning.
It was clear that Joshi’s policies were going to be shoved aside. Singh kept out of today’s meeting Joshi’s lieutenant V.S. Pandey. A joint secretary in the ministry, Pandey had played an active role in the fee-cut proposal. During Joshi’s tenure, the joint secretary and not the higher education secretary was in full command of the IIM agenda.
Joshi’s exit has changed the situation overnight. At today’s meeting, which stretched for two hours, the only government representatives present were Singh himself and S.C. Tripathi, the higher education secretary.
Singh said the Centre should not have tampered with the IIM fee structure without consulting the institutions because they impinged on a “public policy”. He also made it clear that the V.K. Shunglu Committee report recommending a slash was not discussed today.
Taking into consideration the uncertainty over the fee structure, Singh said: “I would ask the students to bear with us till the problem was sorted out.”
The HRD ministry would like the IIMs to adopt a graded fee structure in which the institutes would fully subsidise poor students, give interest-free loans to middle-class students and charge full fees from the affluent.
It remains to be seen whether the IIMs stick to the earlier fee of Rs 1.5 lakh a year.