New Delhi: Over two years after granting complete autonomy to the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) under the IIM Act 2017, the central government is said to be considering a new provision that could potentially dilute this law.
The move aims to check malpractice at the level of the institutions’ boards, said government sources.
“We are discussing a proposal by which the ministry will be able to initiate inquiry against the Board of Governors (BOGs) of IIMs if they are found indulging in malpractice. There is no ordinance regarding this yet, we are still at the discussion stage,” a senior official from the Ministry of Education (MoE) told ThePrint.
The IIM Act, which came into effect on 31 January 2018, gives sweeping powers to all 20 of India’s premier business schools, including appointment of directors, chairpersons and members of the BOGs.
According to the law, the BoG of an institute is the “principal executive body of that Institute, it is responsible for the general superintendence, direction and control of the affairs of the Institute” and “has the power to frame or amend or modify or rescind the regulations governing the affairs of the Institute”.
The ministry’s move to act against the institutions’ BoGs has not gone down well with the IIMs, which call it an attack on their autonomy.
According to the institutes, the development has stemmed from the latest tussle between the institutes and the government regarding the one-year MBA degree being offered by many IIMs.
After the IIMs became autonomous from the government, many of them converted their one-year executive diploma into a degree.
The MoE was not in favour of this and expressed its reservation to the IIMs on two occasions — first verbally, early this year, and then in the form of a written communication in July.
It has been raising objections to the idea because a one-year degree is not valid in India under the University Grants Commission (UGC) rules. According to its communication in July, the MoE said the IIMs are not “acting in conformity with the UGC Act 1956” while granting a one-year degree.
“No student shall be eligible for the award of the master’s degree unless he/she has successfully completed a minimum of two years after the first degree or five years after plus two or earned the minimum number of credits prescribed by the university for the programme,” reads the Act.
ThePrint sent a detailed questionnaire to the PIB division of the MoE seeking a comment on the issue but there was no response till the time of publishing this report.
‘Dilution is unfortunate’
Speaking to ThePrint on condition of anonymity, three IIM directors said the government’s latest move to dilute their autonomy is a result of the fact that the institutes did not pay heed to the ministry’s letters on discontinuing the one-year MBA degree.
Out of the 20 IIMs, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Kolkata, Indore, Kozhikode, Lucknow and Udaipur currently offer the one-year degree for executives.
“The one-year full-time postgraduate MBA degree is only open to students with work-experience. Only candidates with a minimum of four years’ work experience are admitted to these programmes,” said one of the IIM directors, who didn’t wish to be named.
“The IIM Act when it came was like a breath of fresh air for a lot of us and now the government wants to dilute it… it’s very unfortunate. There can’t be any reason for this but the one-year MBA degree,” said another IIM director.
“The one-year MBA degree is not something that the institutes just came up with, 20 IIMs sat down and thought about it properly, came out with proper rules to offer the degree. Since the current MBA that IIMs offer does not ask for work experience, the executive MBA, which is for a one-year duration, has mandatory work experience as a requirement. So we have designed it like that,” added the director.
After the ministry’s objection to the one-year MBA degree, the IIMs had sent a detailed communication to the government explaining the reasons behind their one-year degree. The note, a copy of which has been accessed by ThePrint, explained how the degree is not in violation of the IIM Act.
“As is recognised and accepted in the NEP (National Education Policy) 2020, internationally, degrees are given based on the number of credit-hours and not on the number of years of study in the programme. With a view to ensure quality and practice high standards of self-regulation, IIMs have uniformly decided minimum standards regarding number of credits/hours of classroom instruction required for the grant of degrees to students after taking into account credit hours in similar global one year programs,” the note read.
“Degrees were granted to participants of One-year full time Postgraduate programmes at IIMs only after establishing these standards,” it added.
‘Why should IIMs follow UGC rules?’
Speaking about the issue, the third IIM director ThePrint spoke to said, “The one-year degree that IIMs are granting is in accordance with the IIM Act. On one hand, the government says they want institutes to achieve international standards and on the other they want to bog us down by throwing UGC rules at us.”
He added: “Why should the IIMs follow UGC rules? Is it the highest academic standard setting authority?”
The director said most of the international B-schools offer a one-year MBA degree. “What is wrong with it if the IIMs offer the same? But if the government wants to dilute the autonomy based on this, it’s extremely unfair. I have a feeling that our alumni will challenge this in the court if the provision comes through.”
Sources in the ministry, however, denied that the move is being contemplated only because of the one-year degree issue. “If there is a mistake, people (BoG members) should be held accountable,” said a ministry official who handles the IIMs.
‘MoE should not worry about the number of years’
Speaking about the government proposal, Ahmedabad University Vice-Chancellor Pankaj Chandra, who has also been the director of IIM Bangalore, said the move could result in a loss of advantage that the Act sought to bring.
“I think the IIM Act was a very courageous and bold step on part of the government… to be able to put their faith in the Board of Governors. It was the right step to enable IIMs to become impactful institutions. If the MoE now wants to interfere and say they have an oversight on BoG, I do not think anybody would want to be a BoG chairman. Then you are losing that advantage that I thought this government gave to the IIMs. All good public institutions must have this privilege,” he said.
“Having said that, if there are malpractices or procedural problems, then the government should talk to the chairman and point out where the problem is, as is envisioned in the IIM Act,” Chandra added.
Talking about the one-year MBA degree, which is said to have triggered the government’s move, he said: “I am not sure why the MoE is doing what they are doing…it’s best known to them, but on the one-year degree programme, I would like to say that we should be more concerned about completion of a minimum number credits rather than the number of years for an MBA.”
Chandra added: “It’s important to understand the difference in a nuanced way. One-year programmes are for people with significant work experience and they don’t require much of grounding that a fresh graduate needs. I don’t think the MoE should worry about the number of years. They should just focus on the quality of the programmes. And if it’s about UGC regulations, they can also change their regulations to serve these needs of experienced professionals.”
Former Congress MP and ex-IIM Bangalore professor Rajeev Gowda said the government has found an excuse to target IIM autonomy by creating a controversy over one-year degree.
“When the IIM Bill was being prepared, there were divergent views within the government about how much autonomy should be granted to IIMs. The enacted version gives substantial autonomy and so the bureaucrats and the BJP government may be having second thoughts, given their penchant for control, especially over academic institutions,” he said.
“Using this excuse runs counter to the National Education Policy’s emphasis on flexibility and adherence to global standards, as one-year executive MBAs are the norm internationally. If anything, the UGC needs to update its requirements about one-year degrees. I hope that this controversy is resolved without destroying the hard-won autonomy of the IIMs,” Gowda added.