Regulation & Structure: Indian Higher Education

Wishing all readers a very Happy and a Prosperous New Year!

The first post of the year is about an interesting look at regulation policy in the Indian Higher education system. I stumbled on an article during my quest to map the complex web of governing institutes that govern the governing institutes in more ways than one. In this 3-part article by Pratap Bhanu Mehta, President, Centre for Policy Research, published in the Indian Express on July 15, 2005, he makes an observation of a court judgement i the second part:

While the legislatures have often designed regulation badly, the courts have compounded these fallacies. Just to take one example from a recent court decision, in State of Andhra Pradesh v/s J.B. Education Society, the Supreme Court held that the consent of the State government is necessary before starting an engineering college and the AICTE cannot grant approval without this consent. But one of the grounds on which this determination was made is astonishing. The judgment says ‘‘the State authorities alone can decide about educational facilities and the needs of the locality. If there are more colleges in a particular area the state would not be justified in granting permission to one more college in that locality.’’

This is quite extraordinary. There may be good reasons to involve state governments in granting permissions, but this argument is premised on faulty logic many times over. Why are the Justices assuming that competition will not be good for the locality, both in terms of price and quality? What will be effect of granting quasi-monopoly rights to the existing college? Isn’t the agglomeration of institutions in a locality often a good thing for education? (Just think of Cambridge, Massachusetts). In case there is no government money involved, except for usual zoning considerations, why should the state exclude more colleges from coming up in a locality? This ruling is symptomatic of the rather odd character of our regulations.

(Via Critiquing the Regulatory Regime: Indian Express.)

While this article is more than four years old, I think the reasons are quite obvious. There are still a few sectors that we just refuse to open up to competition; a legacy of a (a) socialist order from the past, and (b) the need to appease all possible sections of the society.

Though I am not sure of what the Supreme Court was thinking about the State government when it awarded the statement, there is an argument in favour of the State Government (though I suspect, there isn’t this thought on its mind). The state of Maharashtra is a good example of the uneven density of engineering colleges in a locality. Students from institution-deprived areas come towards these semi-urban or urban places, and usually do not return, thereby increasing the burden on the locality’s infrastructure.

I do not think that India is unique in the world in having a complex education system. Significant social, cultural and economic forces are at play, especially in these days, than before. Take any large country, and you will have similar complexity. And this is where my project really started — even if complex, the first place to start is to understand a semblance of the underlying structure that feeds this chaos. Even when you take the most abstract view of the structure, you understand why the complexity prevails. Pawan Agarwal, in Higher Education in India: The Need for Change, gives a simple introduction:

There are different types of universities and colleges in the higher education system in the country. They vary in terms of their academic, administrative and financial arrangements. Universities can either be established by an Act of Parliament or by the state legislatures. Those established by the Act of Parliament are the central universities and the ones set up by the state legislatures are state universities. Some higher education institutions are granted the ‘deemed to be university’ status by the central government through gazette notifications. A few institutions are established by the Parliament / state legislatures as institutions of national importance. Universities, deemed to be universities and institutions of national importance are degree-granting institutions.

(Via [PDF] Higher Education in India: The Need for Change, Pawan Agarwal, June 2006, Working paper of the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations.)

Now add the complexity of aided and unaided institutions to the mix and the thirteen governing councils.

That’s a map, I hope to be drawing soon.

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