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Affordable education is my brief

The Murli Manohar Joshi interview / Umi A Goswami

Saturday 7 February 2004, by GOSWAMI*Urmi A.

HRD Minister Murli Manohar Joshi has sparked off a controversy by slashing IIM student fees. He has been accused of curtailing IIM autonomy; indeed, of playing petty politics with these centres of academic excellence. The Economic Times caught up with the minister for his views. Excerpts:

ET: Isn’t the cut in IIM fees so close to the election a political gimmick?

MMJ: I have worked through my time as HRD minister to increase opportunities in education. To make it accessible and affordable. Not merely in the higher education but also in primary level through the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan.

As minister it is my brief to keep the interests of common people ahead of the interests of few. I have started other programmes like the education satellite, the modernisation of madrassas, doubling the intake in IITs, all of which are geared to increasing opportunities in education.

However, I am not a hypocrite. To say that all actions of the government is not related to votes is a poor simplification. What is wrong if a party in power wants to approach the people with policies that are favourable to the people?

The fee cut is expected to dent the financial health of the IIMs. While you have assured that funds would never be a problem, constitutionally mandated programmes like the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan have found it difficult to get requisite funds from the Finance Ministry. From where will you find money for the IIMs?

There should be no cause for fear; if someone is raising this issue, then it is foolish. I have already appointed a committee to determine the kind of funding that will be required from the government.

Money is not a problem. If they need extra funds from the government then that, too, is not a problem. For a requirement that would be in the neighbourhood of say Rs 50 crore, I don’t need to go to the FM.

I can rework our own budget. I have funded 100 Kendriya Vidyalayas, upgraded 18 regional engineering colleges with no extra money from the Budget. Like a good housewife manages her household expenses, I have managed the expenses of the ministry.

During my tenure, no programme or scheme has stopped because of lack of funds, and it won’t in the future either.

There is a fear that the IIMs will have less money for expansion in Asian countries like the IITs are doing. If so, we will lose out on an opportunity to export educational services and training. Hasn’t the fee cut been a bad decision in the long run?

This fear of no money being made available to the IIMs is baseless. First, these institutes have corpus funds which are upwards of Rs 85 crore. Institutes like the IIMs are not supposed to have such huge reserve funds.

They get money every year from the government for maintenance and development expenses. I have suggested that they keep Rs 25 crore as reserve and then utilise the rest. As I said, the IIMs will never starve for funds.

What accounts for the lower budgetary allocation for the IIMs for the fiscal year 2004-05? It is almost 25 per cent less than the revised estimates for this year and 40% less than the budget estimates? The impression is that the IIMs were being forced to deplete their reserves.

The fact is that last year IIMs refused to sign the memorandum of understanding. As a result, their funds were frozen. The full allocated amount was not released.

That explains the marked difference between the budget estimate and the revised estimate for the current year. Now, the demand for grants is made on the basis of funds utilised in the current fiscal. Therefore, the much lower figure for the Budget estimates for the next fiscal.

But the IIMs have signed the MoUs now and the entire allocation will be released. As for budget allocation, this will be revised when the final budget is presented later.

The UR Rao Committee which you appointed clearly mentions in its report that even at an eight per cent growth rate, the country can only absorb 3-4 per cent increase in technical manpower, the current rate is anywhere between 15 per cent and 20 per cent. Isn’t there a need then to have better utilisation of management manpower rather than making management education “accessible and affordable” so that the employment market experiences a further glut?

The UR Rao Committee has not considered the needs for managers beyond the conventional corporate mould. It has not considered the needs for management in areas like co-operatives, traffic and transport, local self government institutions, sports.

These are some of the areas in which the country needs highly qualified managers. The expansion of the bank of highly qualified managers is needed now for areas other than conventional corporate.

India is expanding and with it its needs, and then I am not against their going abroad as well. After all there is the global market to consider. Besides an increase in student base would also mean an increase in the numbers who join the teaching and research stream. This would benefit institutes other than the IIM as well. The fact that IIM should only provide for high salaried jobs means that that IIM resources are being under-utilised.

P.S.

The Economic Times, Saturday, February the 7th, 2004.

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