A question of autonomy

Topics IIM

The controversy between the premier Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) and the Ministry of Human Development Resources (HRD) over eligibility criteria for admissions to doctoral programmes highlights yet again the fact that when it comes to education policy, autonomy is skin deep. Ever since the IIM Act, 2017, came into effect on January 30, 2018, the exercise of formulating the rules to implement the Act has been a constant source of friction between the IIMs and the HRD ministry. Fierce arguments ensued over the composition of the boards of governors, fee regulation, student intake and other standard operating procedures. The debilitating stalemate eventually required intervention from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to assuage the misgivings of IIM administrations. That template broadly suggested that the IIMs would enjoy the broader ambit of autonomy that lay behind the legislative intent of the Act. Barely three months later, the IIMs and the HRD ministry are at loggerheads again, and that too over an issue that suggests an unprecedented degree of micro-management on the part of the government and makes a mockery of the Act.

The source of friction is a missive written by the government last month to all 20 business schools setting out the minimum qualifications required for admission to the IIM doctoral programmes. The new rules permit IIMs to admit students with a four-year Bachelor’s degree directly into PhD programmes, which IIMs are permitted to offer under the new Act but requires candidates to have a minimum eight cumulative grade points average (CGPA), a weighted average of points collected by a student in each semester. Those applicants with professional qualifications, such as a chartered accountancy, company secretary or cost and works accountancy, are also required to have a Bachelor’s degree. The IIMs claim that the admission criteria are restrictive and out of sync with the autonomy promised by the PMO earlier this year. The principal source of dissatisfaction is the minimum requirement of eight CGPA for direct-entry candidates, which IIMs say is inconsistent with the practices they followed before the new Act. In a letter to the secretary, higher education, the director of IIM Ahmedabad, the flagship B-school, has pointed out that a fair proportion of their Fellow Programme in Management (FPM) students are engineering students who have CGPAs of less than eight and some of them are currently teaching in IIMs.

The reason IIMs lay less stress on CGPAs is that the score is part of a rigorous admission process that includes a written statement of purpose and an hour-long interview that provides a better all-round view of the candidate than such scores can offer. The second point of difference is the longer duration of the PhD programme — three years instead of two proposed by the institutes. The new rules also state that the post-graduate diploma must be of two years’ duration instead of the one year under the current FPM. Why change what has worked in the past, the head of IIM-A has asked. On its part, the HRD ministry has said the new rules are aligned with standards mandated by the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the standards followed by the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs). Considering the UGC can scarcely be described as a beacon of standard-setting in higher education and the IITs have an entirely different focus, this explanation appears to be just another insidious way of weakening IIM autonomy.

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