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.

No comments: