Every year on August 1, the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), the country’s technical education regulator, gets busy sorting applications and granting approvals to edu-preneuers to set up new institutions. This year, however, a Supreme Court verdict has left the AICTE wondering if it can begin the process at all. AICTE’s confusion is only adding to the woes of India’s technical education sector. Technical education, a segment which has one-fourth of all Indian students enrolled and contributes five points to the 19 per cent gross enrolment ratio, does not currently know the direction it is headed. According to AICTE officials, the genesis of today’s situation dates back to 2004, when some arts and science colleges in Tamil Nadu were running a Master of Computer Applications (MCA) programme . AICTE objected to this. Subsequently, many colleges affiliated to Bharathidasan University and Manonmaniam Sundaranar University moved court, questioning AICTE’s role and to find if colleges affiliated to universities were obliged to take separate permission from it to run technical courses. Nine years later, the Supreme Court’s answer was "... that colleges who have opened the courses in question are affiliated to the universities. They are the controlling authorities with regard to their intake capacity for each course, the standards to be followed for each course, the syllabus of the course, the examination process, etc.... Thus, for all intents and purposes the courses are being run by the Universities…Therefore, the control upon the affiliated colleges of the University is vested with the University itself and it cannot be said that for certain type of courses, the control will be with the AICTE." The court ruled that “an MBA (Master of Business Administration) course is not a technical course within the definition of the AICTE Act", and "an approval from the AICTE is not required for obtaining permission and running an MBA course by the appellant colleges." It further said AICTE’s role is advisory, implying it can prescribe uniform standards of education in affiliated members of a university, by sending a note to the University Grants Commission (UGC). While this has brought cheer to many institutions, it’s a matter of concern for some. “We are an autonomous institution, providing a postgraduate diploma in management. We don’t know who is our regulatory body now. We had applied to the AICTE for approval to add seats to our existing programmes. Now, that is stuck.
We don’t know if for 2014-15 we would be able to add seats,” says the director of a Mumbai-based management institute. For management education, AICTE has created two separate segments - masters and diploma. The masters degree is awarded by universities or institutes affiliated to universities, while an AICTE-recognised institute awards a Post Graduate Diploma in Management (PGDM). Thus, institutes not affiliated to universities are autonomous and need AICTE’s permission for expansion. As PGDM institutes do not fall under the state’s purview and now not even under AICTE’s purview, the institutes say they don’t know who will set the standards for them. Referring to the apex court order that AICTE’s role is advisory, AICTE chairman S S Mantha quips: “But advisor to whom? We are clueless.” According to Rahul Choudaha, director, World Education Services, New York, business education in India is already in a state of crisis. A regulatory vacuum will only aggravate the situation. “With UGC itself struggling in enforcing quality standards, the case of IIPM (Indian Institute of Planning and Management) has been constantly embarrassing the powers and purview of UGC. Giving regulatory powers to UGC and expecting universities to assure quality of technical colleges for a highly fragmented system in terms of quality will make things worse,” adds Choudaha. However, AICTE can take heart from the fact that many B-schools which have been opposing many of its moves in the past still want it at the helm. “The Supreme Court’s verdict may look logical but UGC currently lacks capabilities, wherewithal and expertise to deal with the 11,800 technical education institutions. AICTE evolved during the last 20 years and, in spite of all failures, did reasonably well,” says Harivansh Chaturvedi, director, Birla Institute of Management Technology and alternate president, Education Promotion Society of India. According to Chaturvedi, with the public universities currently in a bad shape, and under corrupt influences, the technical education players have serious doubts if UGC will be able to deliver. To add to AICTE’s woes, the Delhi High Court said last month that Common Management Aptitude Test administered by AICTE cannot be considered compulsory to seek admissions in B-schools. In AICTE’s defence, Mantha says: “AICTE has delivered in the past few years and the nation should be defending us. Which other regulator has brought about this kind of transparency? We need to preserve this transparency.” He claims AICTE has brought about a lot of difference in technical education over the past five years. “We have done a good job. But no one seems to notice that.” Another AICTE official adds: “In medical education, one PG (post graduate) seat entails Rs 2-4 crore in capitation fee. Where do you find such examples in technical education? Students and parents call AICTE directly and seek help. We have helped them get reimbursement from colleges. Which regulatory body works in this manner?" AICTE, which had once been synonymous with corruption, has of late been advocating transparency and accountability. Set up in 1945 as a national-level advisory body, AICTE was given statutory status in 1987 by an Act of Parliament for regulating and developing technical education. Mantha, who took over the reins at AICTE in January 2012, has been a professor of robotics for 16 years and is credited with bringing e-governance at AICTE. The HRD ministry is dragging its feet on an ordinance to amend the AICTE Act, to undo the Supreme Court judgment. AICTE plans to fight for its own existence by filing a curative petition in the court shortly. Its review petition on the SC verdict was rejected this July. * AICTE had 11,800 technical education institutions under its purview * It oversaw investments worth Rs 6 lakh crore in tech education in the past decade * Technical education generates revenues of Rs 1 lakh crore per year * AICTE's yearly income is Rs 200 crore which it earns through services rendered to tech institutions and processing fee * While 40% of the revenue is used in grant allocation, 60% goes as corpus, used for introducing new schemes