India’s government is mulling a plan to give the country’s top engineering institutes more autonomy — here’s what that would entail

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  • India’s Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has instituted a panel to assess the viability of reducing the government’s control over all 23 IITs.
  • The move is part of the government’s larger plan to reform the higher education sector and increase the global rankings of these institutions.
  • Earlier this year, 20 Indian Institutes of Management (IIM) were granted more independence in choosing board members and making decisions related to course selection and hiring.
Last week, India’s Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) formally instituted a panel to assess the viability of reducing the government’s control over all 23 Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT), according to a report in the Indian Express.

The seven-man committee is led by M Anandkrishnan, the former chairman of IIT-Kanpur, and comprises the directors of 5 top IITs - Bombay, Delhi, Madras, Kanpur and Kharagpur.

The move is part of the government’s larger plan to reform the higher education sector and increase the global rankings of these institutions. It will have significant implications for the operation of IITs, which are currently regulated by the government’s IIT Council.

The state-backed engineering institutes are globally renowned and routinely feature in lists of India’s best colleges. Earlier this month, QS released its rankings for India’s top universities in 2019. IIT-Bombay came first in the nation, while five other IITs rounded up the top 10 spots.

The panel will primarily focus on changes to the IIT Act. This will likely involve amendments to the selection process for the governing boards of IITs. Each IIT comprises a nine-member Board of Governors, all of whom are appointed by the central government. It could also involve the devolution of more powers to governing boards. For example, they could be allowed a greater say in amending the fundamental rules that relate to the day-to-day operations of IITs.

The possibility of giving greater autonomy to state-backed institutes has precedence. In August 2018, the possibility of giving both IIT-Bombay and IIT-Delhi greater autonomy was mooted after the institutes were granted an “Institute of Eminence” designation. The designation grants institutes the power to decide on curriculum and fee structures.

Furthermore, earlier this year, 20 Indian Institutes of Management (IIM) — the graduate business equivalent of IITs - were granted more independence. Under the amendments to the IIM Act, the 15-member governing board of these institutes will now comprise five alumni and they will also be allowed to appoint their own chairmen. This will translate into the ability to select courses and hire faculty with greater ease.

This could be the case for IITs as well. A reduction in the number of government appointees could bring about a diversity in opinion, not to mention less politically-motivated decision-making.

Before submitting its report, the seven-member IIT panel will reportedly seek feedback from the heads of IIMs to assess the pros and cons of being given greater decision-making power. The panel is expected to submit its final recommendations to the MHRD by the end of the year.
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