Recent news articles have indicated that the Government has promised autonomy for IIMs. They will soon be able to decide where to open new campuses, or give top up salaries to their faculty, and so on. There were also news reports about Mr. Rahul Gandhi arguing in the parliamentary committee on higher education that IITs need to be given greater autonomy so that they can compete with the best. He was participating in the discussion on the amendments to the Institutes of Technology Act, which are necessary to legalize the status of new IITs. There also have been talks of introducing the concept of "navratna" universities, that is, some universities to be given more autonomy compared to the others. We have also heard that "Innovation Universities" would have much more autonomy than other universities in the country.
All this is great news. The Ministry of HRD under the leadership of Mr. Sibal, has been consistent in its approach towards greater autonomy in education sector, and this is very admirable. However, the approach is also piecemeal. Only a few top places are to be allowed greater freedom. MHRD needs to go much beyond this.
For example, as per a news item, IITs will be allowed to recruit 10 percent faculty from abroad. Foreigners are not queuing up to work in IITs on regular government salaries. The only real need for IITs is that a few NRIs, who for whatever personal reasons want to return, but have given up Indian citizenship, should be able to work in IITs. Also, there are a few foreigners (other than NRIs) who want to spend some time in India. So, the 10 percent limit will practically not be breached in foreseeable future. So, if MHRD had said that IITs are allowed to recruit foreigners without any limit, it would not change ground reality. But MHRD would have sent a signal to the world that it is ready to give real autonomy to IITs. Also, why this 10 percent only for IITs. Why not for NITs. NITs too are having the same problem as IITs. There are some NRIs who want to return and approach NITs, but they can't be offered permanent jobs.
IIMs are to be allowed to give extra salary to its faculty, as long as that money is not coming from the government. Why can't this be done for NITs as well. Surely, NITs are not having private sources of money today, and won't be able to make use of this autonomy. But, if NITs are given this autonomy, on one hand, MHRD would have signaled its positive intent, and on the other hand, there will be NITs who will find ways to raise private moneys (like alumni gifts), and try to attract better faculty.
IITs and IIMs are too few and too small to make any significant difference to India. Giving them more autonomy will help them compete with the best in the world. But giving autonomy to the tier 2 institutes will really start making a difference in the quality of education in India. Also, these Tier 2 institutes can then feed the post-graduate programs of IITs and IIMs, creating a strong research eco-system in the country, which then would encourage the Tier 2 institutes themselves to start focusing on research and not just remain feeder institutes to IITs.
And, of course, we have to unshackle the university system as well. The argument for control is a flawed one. If we do not control a poor quality institution, then it will become even worse. And hence the need for control. But if we keep controlling, we are not allowing it to improve at all. And maintaining status quo in the age where the only constant is "change", is damaging to the university system. Just count the number of letters that regulatory authorities (like UGC, AICTE, MCI, etc.) send to a university in a year, and you will know what autonomy they enjoy.