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AICTE – Waking up from 61 years of slumber

Education must be regulated but can AICTE do its job without ruining the lives of students already enrolled in courses?

May a million flowers bloom, said Chairman Mao. And one day, on a whim, he went and razed the garden. In India, flowers and gardens remain scarce but a million other things bloom. Illegal construction. Unregulated educational institutions. Until one fine day, someone wakes up and commands, “Hatao!”

But this is not China, so people take to the streets in protest. Like the students of Satyabhama Engineering College and SRM Institute of Science and Technology – both deemed universities. Hundreds of students of these colleges held demonstrations demanding to know the status and validity of their degrees.

This follows a notice from AICTE (All India Council for Technical Education) which apparently states that B.Tech degrees awarded by deemed universities would not be recognised, unless the courses were approved by the council. Students of the Dr MGR Deemed University and Bharat Engineering College had gone on strike on the same issue, a few days ago.

The sad part is, in all these ‘technical’ discussions of eligibility and approval, the fate of thousands of students who took admission in good faith hangs in balance.

We do need a regulatory body but clearly, AICTE is like an old and toothless ayah running around and shouting, “Children, don’t be naughty.” What else can one say about a regulatory body which, Kumbhakaran-like, awakes from its stupor once every 5 decades or so?

Did you know that All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) was first set-up in November 1945??!!! Yup, that’s what it says on their website and honestly it was news to me.

AICTE was meant to be: “A national level Apex Advisory Body to conduct survey on the facilities on technical education and to promote development in the country in a coordinated and integrated manner.”

But something, somewhere went awry. So…

The Government of India (Ministry of HRD) constituted a National Working Group to look into the role of AICTE in the context of proliferation of technical institutions, maintenance of standards and other related matters. The Working Group recommended that AICTE be vested with the necessary statutory authority for making it more effective.

Wonderful. Is that why AICTE is suddenly getting so active? Er, not exactly. These recommendations were made in 1987 !! The AICTE Act came into force on May 12, 1988. But no one has a clue where AICTE was in the 1990s when engineering, management and medical colleges were mushrooming all over the country.

Many of these colleges were started by politicians, and flouted every conceivable norm (‘technical institutes’ in sheds with tin roofs for example – that was the state of some colleges in New Bombay when they first came up). Money and muscle power ensured AICTE looked the other way.

Now, the powers that be are keen to rectify the situation. AICTE is publishing notice after notice in newspapers imploring technical institutes to apply for accreditation – and threatening legal action against those who do not comply. But colleges are thinking, we’re all in it together – can they really shut down hundreds of us?

Well, Amity Business School’s flagship PGDM course actually lost its AICTE accreditation in September 2005 after failing to meet prescribed norms. But surely in the course of an entire year it could not have been the only institute found unworthy of accreditation? Why was so much speed shown in revoking Amity’s accreditation while others receive only threats and warnings??

The point being that unless AICTE is perceived as being fair, impartial and speedy in its actions it will never be taken seriously.

Secondly, however badly a college may have sinned revoking accreditation in the middle of an academic year is senseless. All such announcements must be made before the start of a session and must apply to new admissions – not students already enrolled!

The Tamil Nadu tangle:
SRM and Satyabhama were – at least till a couple of years ago – well respected colleges. Then, they became deemed universities and according to this news report, went in for reckless expansion

The Tamil daily Dinamalar, in its report dated 2 September 2003, states: “on obtaining the deemed university status, SRM Engineering College has admitted 2000 students netting in Rs.300 crore. In the much sought-after ECE course, 600 students had been admitted. A complaint on this had been sent to the chief minister’s office, which has initiated an enquiry.”

Expansion by itself is not a bad thing – doing so without inadequate teachers, facilities etc is what needs to be checked.

Between the out and out commercialism (of colleges) and the out and out bureaucracy (of AICTE) lies a middle ground which desperately needs to be explored.

– Rashmi Bansal

Also read:
A former student of Satyabhama Engineering College recounts what it is to study at his college.

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