The policy paralysis at the top of the All India Council for Technical Education is manifested in different ways at all levels.

The present pitiable position of the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) of is its own making. The AICTE, pre-Independent India’s recommendatory body, was in its 42nd year — in 1987 — vested with statutory powers through an Act of Parliament. The parliamentary wisdom hoped that the AICTE would discharge its statutory role of maintaining the standards and coordinated development of technical education in the country. During the 1970s and a part of the 1980s, a large number of unrecognised private self-financing/capitation-fee institutions came into existence in several States and most of them were sub-standard institutions run on a commercial basis and predominantly concentrated in four States, viz., Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. Twenty-six years after the statutory incarnation of the AICTE, such an imbalance continues to exist with its stamping approval. The issue of regional imbalance was pointed out but ignored by the AICTE through a self-appointed committee.

Coupled with regional imbalance was the resultant negative impact on the national quality of technical education. This writer pointed out, in The Hindu on April 6, 1993, the AICTE’s functioning out of a two-bedroom flat with skeleton staff . Immediately, the MHRD made arrangements for a spacious building and appointment of necessary personnel in the AICTE. The personnel appointed were either retired, on deputation as an Advisor or on contract. This ‘triple personnel avatar’ affected three basic requirements in the functioning of a statutory body — accountability, transparency and continuity. Very rarely, the AICTE benefited from the aggregate wisdom of its three top posts — Chairman, Vice-Chairman and Member Secretary — and there were times when the AICTE was managed for many months with an official deputed from the Ministry.

The policy paralysis at the top manifested in different ways at all levels. When the AICTE was given statutory powers, the Ministry of Human Resource Development wrote to State governments that the AICTE would grant one-time approvals based on inspection of quality, infrastructure, etc., and that the National Board of Accreditation (NBA) to be set up by the AICTE would handle issues of withdrawal, renewal, etc. But it did not happen. Approval by the AICTE continues to be an annual paper exercise and even the High Court of Madras as early as 1990 deprecated the AICTE on granting of approvals subject to conditions on “temporary or provisional basis” against the provisions of the Act. The charitable approval policy of the AICTE also resulted in another suo motu admission of a writ petition by the Madras High Court recently, questioning the AICTE’s supportive role in the mindless mushrooming of engineering colleges.

Model curriculum in limbo

On the issue of academics and curriculum, the story is no different. The AICTE published a model curriculum for the undergraduate engineering programme in the year 2000 which till date has not been updated. An attempt made by the AICTE to make engineering education multi-disciplinary by blending Science and Humanities never took off despite 1,000 man-days having been spent on it. The AICTE did not even have a copy of its funded research project report on MBA education in India.

The AICTE Act mandated the organisation to evolve a suitable performance appraisal system for technical institutions and universities and incorporate norms and mechanisms for enforcing institutional accountability and formulate schemes for the initial and in-service training of teachers. It is yet to be accomplished. In the early 1990s, the AICTE made an honest attempt to improve the quality of teaching faculty through its well-planned Early Faculty Induction Programme (EFIP). This successful EFIP was killed, however, without the stakeholders having been consulted, much to the grief of its many beneficiaries. In respect of diploma education, the AICTE suffers from the “all power, no responsibility” syndrome. The AICTE chose to retain its power to grant approvals for polytechnics but all the other responsibilities are discharged by the respective Directorates of Technical Education or universities.

The AICTE failed miserably to even provide a model curriculum for diploma education. Professor V.C. Kulandaiswamy in 2000 rightly recommended that polytechnics, being extensions of Higher Secondary Schools and sub-university level education, must be left to State governments through the concerned universities. This was accepted and delegated to State Level Boards in 2001 but was withdrawn in 2010 because the delegation was done without proper provisions in the Act. The AICTE never bothered to fix the issue and continued to enjoy its “power without responsibility” status.

Prof. Kulandaiswamy rightly added that “there has been a progressive emasculation of the university system over the years. It is necessary to examine the desirability of weakening the universities which are grassroots-level institutions, by the AICTE taking over certain responsibilities that better remain with the universities. Also, if the AICTE takes over fully and faithfully all the responsibilities under clause 10 (k) devoting time to approve new institutions, new branches, new additions and involve itself in unending litigations, it may not be possible for it to fulfil all other functions under 10 (a) to 10 (v)”.

The AICTE did not realise the seriousness of the Prof. Kulandaiswamy’s recommendation and sought to continue with its “Approval Only” motto as if it were the organisation’s only function.

Consequential to the Supreme Court’s latest order withdrawing the AICTE’s powers of approval, the quality of technical education is at a crossroads. The proposed remedy that transfers power from one statutory body to the other, University Grants Commission (UGC) may become worse than the disease.

Hence, it is suggested that the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) should amend the Act with a five-point formula (i) allow the AICTE to function as per the provisions of the Act under Section 10 (k) to grant approvals for new institutions and or new programmes as a one-time event only and not as an annual ritual; (ii) vest affiliating Universities with the power to enforce the AICTE’s guidelines/regulations; (iii) leave diploma-level educational institution to Universities and State Directorates of Technical Education; (iv) direct the organisation to concentrate on producing competent teachers for technical education and (v) direct the promotion of innovations and research in all institutions based on competitive proposals besides attending to the other provisions of the Act. This five-point formula needs immediate legislation.

(The writer is the vice-chancellor of SASTRA University)

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