November 27, 2008

Fixing Indian education

Private sector education entrepreneurs experiencing "schadenfreude" (German for joy in other people's misery) in the Manipal group's confrontation with the medical education regulator have much to learn from a poem written after World War II by a German pastor called Martin Niemöller about the Nazis. He wrote, "First they came for the Communists,/ and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist/ Then they came for the Jews,/ and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew/ Then they came for the Catholics,/ and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant/ Finally they came for me,/ but by that time there was no one left to speak up."
Irrational, corrupt and autocratic regimes must always be stood up to because there is no place to hide from them. Making peace (or an off-balance sheet settlement) only makes things worse because this beast feeds on itself. Medical education in India is regulated by an autonomous body called the Medical Council of India (MCI). MCI, like other vertical ayatollahs of education, has created a toll gate in milking education institutions with irrational capacity licensing norms around infrastructure sharing, faculty, curriculum, governance and much else. In true licence raj tradition, they have draconian inspection powers that create regulatory arbitrage with an answer looking for a question. MCI has arbitrarily halved the number of medical seats for Manipal and continues to make public noises about derecognition. Being singled out for selective enforcement means that an institution with students from 53 countries now mostly spends its energy (and money) expanding overseas because of regulatory cholesterol in India.

November 13, 2008

India's Colleges Battle a Thicket of Red Tape

MUMBAI -- P.M. D'Mello, the principal of a pharmacy college here, wants to double student enrollment, fill the empty space in her building and help remedy the shortage of skilled workers that plagues India's economy.

The government won't let her.

Dean M.L. Shrikant, left, has been trying for years to expand the S.P. Jain Institute of Management and Research in Mumbai.

Under the labyrinthine regulations that govern technical colleges nationwide, the Principal K.M. Kundnani College of Pharmacy must provide 168 square feet of building space for each student. The rule is intended to ensure students have enough space to learn. But it effectively caps enrollment at 300, even though students are spread so thinly in the eight-story building that the top floor remains unused, its lecture halls padlocked.

The rules also stipulate the exact size for libraries and administrative offices, the ratio of professors to assistant professors and lecturers, quotas for student enrollment and the number of computer terminals, books and journals that must be on site.

"I am not free to run this school as I wish," Ms. D'Mello, 51 years old, says. "I am at the whim of unrealistic demands."

Loosening the Indian government's famously bureaucratic "License Raj" when it comes to governing businesses has helped spur an economic surge that has transformed the country and its standing in the world. In contrast, critics say India's educational system remains mired in red tape that stifles expansion and innovation.

The system falls far short of meeting the demand among young people for places in good colleges and universities. And it deprives India of the ranks of well-educated graduates it needs to supply crucial industries such as information technology and pharmaceuticals.

The mandate that pharmacy colleges must provide 168 square feet per student, for instance, meant that nearly 75% of the 25,000 people who took the pharmacy-college entrance exam this year in the state of Maharashtra, which includes Mumbai, were turned away because there weren't enough seats, according to Ms. D'Mello.

The regulatory restrictions are especially severe in technical fields such as engineering, pharmacy, business administration and computer science. Almost every aspect of operations for about 8,500 private and public colleges and universities is overseen by the All India Council for Technical Education, a New Delhi-based government body empowered by law in 1987.