Millennium Post

‘Revive AICTE, in interest of the nation’

S S Mantha, Chairman, All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) is an eminent academician and an able administrator. Originally from Andhra Pradesh, he was brought up in Mumbai. Since 2009, Mantha has been at the forefront of bringing in some deep-seated changes for transparency and accountability in administration. The credit of bringing e-governance in AICTE also goes to him. In a freewheeling chat with Millennium Post, he suggests ways to revive the AICTE for the benefit of the nation.

Do you think the SC’s judgment ruling that technical institutes in India would be no more answerable to AICTE will affect the technical education system in India?

It will certainly affect the education system of India. The AICTE is the statutory body and a national-level council for technical education. Established in November 1945 first as an advisory body and later on in 1987 given statutory status by an Act of Parliament, AICTE is responsible for proper planning and coordinated development of the technical education and management education system in India.

Similarly several other bodies existed, like Medical Council for India, Dental Council for India, Bar Council of India, Nursing Council of India and Agriculture Council of India, which look at specific requirements of their area. The order, I feel, is not just. In AICTE, management is power of the act. For example, MBA is a management programme and saying that management is not technical is again something that is built into the act which we do not want to look at. Therefore, I firmly believe the acts and provision enacted by the Parliament should be held supreme.

Enlighten us on the reforms brought by you?
Since the last five years, we have tried to put e-governance in place. The entire process from issuing application to issuing an approval letter is on line now. An applicant can sit at home and print his approval letter. That is the extend of automation that has been done.

People no more come to our offices today. Full information of all the institutions is in public domain. The entire portal along with a mechanism to file RTI complained, grievances available online. Apart from University Grants Commission (UGC), which other regulator has this kind of automation in place?
There are several initiatives that AICTE has undertaken. Five years back AICTE was in great difficulty, where people were accusing institutions of corruption. From transactional activities we have moved on to complete processed driven activity.

Some years back, we had 5.5 lakh students enrolled in technical education. Today, the number has increased to 1.26 million. Earlier we had 3.8 lakh teachers in our technical education system. Today we have nearly 6 lakh teachers involved. Has it not contributed to the quality of technical education?
We have introduced tuition fee waiver scheme for the economically backward students. We have given five per cent supernumerary seats in every course and every college including private educational institutions. Today 1.5 lakh children are benefited from it. There are several initiatives which stand to loose if AICTE is not in place. Therefore we believe that AICTE should be strengthened. Several things can be done by the government to revive the AICTE.

Do you think the decision of the SC shrinks the role of AICTE?
No, the AICTE’s role as per the Supreme Court’s judgment becomes advisory in nature. When advice is sought and not given, for instance, if it’s given without shrinking the role of AICTE, then it becomes unsolicited. But this advice is not binding. If it becomes binding, then it has to become the directive.

How do you think will UGC and universities manage it? Do you think that UGC would be able to take due responsibility?
I think that the UGC should answer it first. But, look at the ground reality. We have almost 12,000 institutions in various disciplines like technology, architecture, management, pharmacy, hotel management and so on. Each one has it’s own ethos and its own requirements. All institutions are accessed programme wise and accredited course wise. They are not accredited institution wise. Similarly, the requirements of civil engineering is very different from mechanical engineering and different from computer engineering and so on.

There are more than hundreds of disciplines at the undergraduate level and more than 600 disciplines at the post graduate level. Can we say one single university will look at all this and would do justice to them?
There are many universities which do not have engineering departments within the campus itself. Here we are trying to turn the entire technical education to this university.

Is this regulation a kind of a quality check for academical institutions?
The government will have to answer. Assuming, the government can explore the options, there are number of options that the government can take and revive AICTE, in the interest of the nation.

Do you feel that there is a need to relook into the matter?
Definitely. And it has to be done by our honourable members in the parliament. It is necessary to preserve the requirements of technical education. I can understand individuals coming and going. That will always happen in an administration system but institutions have to survive. Institutions cannot be shut on the requirements of that profession.

Will anyone challenge the Supreme Court’s judgment?
It’s upto the people how they react but people in the government have to look at this as a serious issue. We seem to be reacting on several issues. For example, SC’s recent judgment on LGTB rights was vehemently opposed and several people came out in open to oppose the same. I support people’s power and believe that everybody has the right to live their way.

What is your next move?
As long as I am heading the AICTE, I will fight for the rights of technical education and will try to convince the government and members that it is in the interest of the nation. The body has to be preserved. I will ask them to provide an adequate support to take technical education forward. My simple grouse is to look at technical education today. We have more the 11,000 colleges and almost 500 colleges are funded by the state. If we add the government aided colleges they are almost 1,000 in number. The annual budget for AICTE is a meager 200 crore rupees, which is less than half of what the IITs get. What they are doing for quality?
We have improved massively in quality and any audit will prove it. Going by this judgment, are we trying to say that there is no need of technical education and everything will be managed by the UGC? Everyone knows UGC is grants commission. It provides grants and its purpose is to find out a filtering mechanism to differentiate between institutions. Regulatory process is different from the grant giving process.

Do you think AICTE is a better regulatory institution for technical education than UGC?
Today, Yes! UGC was never in this business. There is no comparison here. UGC doesn’t regulate. It will probably send the entire regulation system to the universities.

How will AICTE function without regulatory powers?

The government will have to decide the future role and direction of AICTE. As far as the act is concerned, there are several roles that AICTE can perform but essentially AICTE is a regulator and has been created as a regulator.

What if the judgment came before you joined AICTE as the Chairman?
In 2009, AICTE was facing corruption charges, unfair practices and so on. We have made a conscious effort to move out from that, along with taking several inputs from the investigating agencies.
We have even made presentations for Central Vigilance Commission. We have backed two telecom awards for the e-governance projects for two successive years (2011-2012). Today we have an entire accountability system in place and entire institution information is in the public domain. The revenue has improved as all the money is transferred through e-payment.

Any message for the students?
The world, we live in, has become very challenging. Merely acquiring one skill in not sufficient. One has to develop an expertise in any other areas as well and that one more area need not necessarily be from the professional domain. Along with being an engineer, if one is good in playing tabla or violen, that’s a way to go.
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