‘He will have independent authority to grant us total autonomy’
New Delhi: The country’s symbol of excellence in producing engineering graduates for management institutes, the IITs, today decided to establish their own ‘independent Education Minister’ who will be vested with the authority to help them have total autonomy in both administrative and admission matters.
A decision to this effect was arrived at a momentous meeting of all the Directors of the 15 IITs, which was convened in the light of several run-ins with the Union Minister Kapil Sibal, who had come up with certain judicious proposals to help reduce the stress and strain on the students of 12th standard.
As per the joint communiqué released by the Directors, ‘the independent Education Minister, who will be appointed by the IITs themselves, will be vested with independent powers to provide total autonomy to all the IITs at all times in both administrative and admission matters’.
The joint announcement by the Directors of the 15 IITs in the country is expected to put an end to old bickerings over the admission processes and pave the way for a totally new beginning with a fresh and bigger controversy.
Before we plunge headlong, a background on the story so far…
Hitherto, students wrote their 12th standard boards exams, and those desirous of making it to the coveted IITs, wrote a separate entrance test (JEE). This was the setup for many years, but as the astute Kapil Sibal memorably pointed out, ‘this may be a simple process, but you cannot forget it is totally complex’.
Kapil Sibal felt that students would be enormously stressed out by focussing primarily on only one of the two sets of exams (the Boards and the JEE).
So he suggested that the IITs take into consideration a certain percentage of the Board examination performance for admission into the IITs. Sibal also came up with the radical proposal to further simplify the single JEE by making it into a two-tier exam (ideally held on the same day) so that the students would be under no pressure.
With two batches of examinations to expend their energies on, Sibal rightly and logically concluded that the burden on the students would be that much lesser. (Little wonder Sibal’s intellect in the UPA is rated very high. The nation must use the occasion and put his undoubted prowess to streamline that one process which doubtless puts the maximum strain on both the student community and the parents: Admission to Pre-KG).
Anyway, the IITs, for their part, began to feel threatened. ‘Just because the IITs are run on government funds, and just because the entire IIT education system is heavily subsidized out of public money, it doesn’t mean the government can attempt to have a say in our administration,’ was the general complaint of the IITs.
Historically, the IITs have been autonomous in both structure and spirit, letting the students pursue pioneering engineering research, especially in the field of financial and marketing management PG courses.
Anyway, with the situation leading nowhere, the Union Minister and the directors of the IITs were supposed to meet today to thrash out a compromise formula. But Kapil Sibal stayed off from the deliberations.
In the event, the directors of the IITs, who discussed the matter threadbare, today arrived at the principled conclusion that they would be better served with a separate Education Minister.
The IIT Directors, however, clarified that they were not on a collision course with the government. ‘In fact, we intend to totally involve the government apparatus, especially in the matter pertaining to paying the salary to our Education Minister’.
Meanwhile, reacting to the announcement of the IITs, top legal sources said that there was no law as such which specifically stated that the IITs could not appoint their own ‘independent Education Minister’.
‘The Constitution is also totally silent on the issue,’ said Soli Sorabjee, the former Solicitor General of the country. ‘As a matter of fact, there is no chapter titled: ‘IITs’, in the Constitution. This makes it abundantly clear that the founding fathers had an open mind on this’ he explained.
Meanwhile, some government sources indicated that the UPA may not be averse to the idea of an independent Education Minister for the IITs as long as he/she had the right academic qualifications of being from a minority community with extra credentials of also being a SC/OBC. ‘With regard to educational institutions we must look at merit only. The merit of caste and community,’ the sources added.
It is also learnt that till such time the IITs find a suitable candidate for the post, the UPA government, as an ad-hoc measure, will suggest the name of that one person who is well qualified to be a Minister, but who, for the time being, is totally out of work: Pranab Mukherjee.
(Disclaimer: If this doesn’t happen, the UPA may well settle for the inevitable: Let Kapil Sibal hold, as is the norm, the additional portfolio of independent Education Minister of the IITs, too)