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Resurrect AICTE for the benefit of Nation

The order of the Apex Court dated 2nd April 2019, dismissing the appeal filed by All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) challenging the Court’s earlier order withdrawing AICTE’s authority as a regulator in Technical Education (TE) is a serious blow to the efforts in providing quality technical education in the country. By reconfirming its earlier order dated 24/09/2001 in Bharthidasan University vs AICTE and others, after the usual seesawing in between for 20 years, it brushed aside the role of a separate regulator in TE.

 

Did the Indian Parliament in 1986 while enacting the AICTE Act, not foresee this clash with the provisions in the UGC Act of 1956? They noted that the Constitution of the TE Committee of the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) first came in 1943, and that it needed to be converted to an ACT, to ensure all TE, especially engineering and technology for which a great demand existed. It was the country’s arch reformer PV Narsimha Rao the then Minister for Human Resource Development (MHRD) who initiated setting up of AICTE as a regulatory body. Over the years, AICTE also created and nurtured the National Board of Accreditation (NBA). Early part of the last decade saw NBA become completely autonomous and the Nation become a signatory to the Washington accord.

 

Whereas the power of affiliation and degree giving authority would continue with the university, for setting quality standards in TE, a national level regulator was thought necessary. The Universities being stand alone and autonomous, would lack the overall perspective and wherewithal to maintain requisite common standards at the National level. They were anyway overburdened with day-to-day responsibilities, conduct of examinations and declaration of results. Far from the two acts being in clash, the system was functioning well as both UGC and AICTE had reached sufficient functional harmony. The April 2nd order has rendered all that redundant by ruling AICTE itself redundant.

 

Despite the negative media hype about AICTE, what it has been able to achieve in the last 35 years is no mean feat. It introduced a uniform criterion, (infrastructure as well as faculty and pedagogy) for setting up as well as running these institutions, even when the numbers were large. 3500 engineering collages, 3400 polytechnics, 500 architecture, 4000 management institutes and a host of institutions that ran other technical courses. In contrast today we produce just about 60,000 medical graduates a year with a ratio of 1 doctor per 1500 people, because Medical Council of India (MCI) artificially pegged the number of medical colleges and seats, thereby seriously affecting the medical care system in the country.

 

Much credit is due to AICTE for the IT revolution, even more than the IITs deserve, as bulk of the foot soldiers for the IT revolution were from the AICTE approved engineering colleges located in tier 2 and 3 cities. AICTE was singularly responsible for ensuring the Nation lead technical education, without the government spending a penny as most of the expansion was privately funded. Would the Universities have ever achieved this?

 

Exactly a decade back, AICTE made a turn around and completely revamped by launching comprehensive e-governance that enabled online approvals allowing people apply for institutional expansion, or set up new institutions through a single window, apart from automating all its other transactions that brought in much needed transparency and accountability. Apart from these initiatives, new funding schemes, a great number of PG programs, new scholarships, a spanking new state of art green building for its offices, 960 seater auditorium and guest houses catapulted AICTE into a new league education regulator. A simple yardstick that deserves mention is how a meagre 43 Cr corpus rose to 950 Cr at the end of a six year period that was enabled through an efficient online payment gateway. The administrative initiatives and measures taken cleaned the system and even found a mention in the 2017 World Bank report.

 

Growth does not mean only expansion. It means quality with acceptable standards and enabling policies. Regulations whether constricting or facilitating will decide the real growth. Virtually no regulations existed before 1987. The computerisation allowed, facilitated and enabled effective regulations to be put in place.

 

The Justice system, has unfortunately taken a very technical point of view and probably missed the wood for the trees. There is and was rampant commercialisation on the ground, which AICTE contained to a great extent in its quest for providing quality education to all. But all concerned failed in appreciating that, like the UGC ACT, the AICTE ACT was also a creation of the Parliament.

 

If the same logic were to be extended to other regulators, what fate would await them? Would the Medical Board, Bar Council of India, Council of Architecture, the Pharmacy Council and others also become redundant, as their degrees too are awarded by universities? The influential education lobbies would certainly be happy since they would be free to expand and charge fees that they want. Would this not promote commercialisation? Admittedly some institutions driven by a quality vision, would benefit from the autonomy, but they are few in number. It must be appreciated that 90% of TE is in the private sector.

 

In another batch of SLPs, filed by AICTE against IIPM No.17764/2014 & 17765/2014, dated 24/7/19 were also dismissed, where SC refused to interfere in the matter of MBA defined under Section 2(g) of the AICTE ACT, further observing that Management is not a discipline in the technical education domain.  In a set of appeals and counter appeals, AICTE was also divested of its role in Pharmacy and Architecture education. The last straw in the coffin was the 2nd April order where it was reduced just to an advisory role.

 

Where does one go from here? Should TE go unregulated? Will this not affect the quality quotient? Is the university system which is reeling under its own burden and incongruities, capable of taking over the additional burden? The country aspires to soft land on Moon and Mars. Answers must be found to resurrect AICTE to its past glory. Now that a new Education policy is in the offing, envisaging a merger of the two bodies UGC and AICTE, how would the unique character of TE be preserved? Time alone will tell, for reinventing the wheel has never helped any in the past, nor will it in the future.

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