June 17, 2021
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Defending Doctor Feel Good

By severely amputating IIM fees, does Dr Murli Manohar Joshi want to control admissions - and the power, patronage and lucre this entails, as has been alleged? Stuff and nonsense! Never mind his critics, the good doctor should go all the way and abol

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Defending Doctor Feel Good

The good Dr Murli Manohar Joshi should go all the way in reducing Indian Institute of Management (IIM) fees. He should abolish them altogether.

The six IIMs have a total of 1,200 seats this year. At today's Rs 1.5 lakh per seat, the total fee collection is Rs 18 crore. At the reduced level of Rs 30,000 per seat, which the good doctor is imposing, it will be Rs 3.6 crore.

The good doctor has committed to plug the gap of Rs 14.4 crore, never mind the obstructionists in the Ministry of Finance. He can comfortably plug the balance Rs 3.6 crore as well. It's a mere trifle, an amount lost in the rounding-off of his ministry's monthly expense statement. The maintenance of his ministry's fleet of Ambassadors probably costs more.

No question about elitism, then. The IIMs will truly be affordable to all.

The more serious issue is the vituperation that is flying around. Consider the allegation that the good doctor wants to control the corpus built up by the IIMs. Which leads on to a comparison with the sacking of the English monasteries by Henry VIII, or of the Somnath temple 400 years earlier. Patriotism demands that we join hands and distance the good doctor from such wild allegations.

Just see how unfounded the allegations are. The medieval raiders plundered established institutions of learning in order to get their grubby hands on the accumulated wealth stored in their hallowed precincts - wealth resulting from the offerings of visitors and worshippers, and contributions from others who ascribed success to their influence. In each case, a religious justification was created, a new doctrine dutifully trotted out by captive propagandists, typically in the name of religion or the larger benefit of their constituents.

One was a plunderer, pure and simple. He kept his constituents happy by sharing the booty. The other, Henry VIII, was also impelled by a political agenda, one on which his regime's survival depended. Any parallel with this year's elections should not be used to malign our good doctor.

The good doctor wants to control admissions, they say, and the power and patronage and lucre this entails. Stuff and nonsense! He wants to increase the admissions multifold. If seats are not available, he will rapidly promise to create them. The capacity of the fabled IIMs will be doubled or more, the number of IIMs increased tenfold or more, and a super-common entrance exam introduced. This will make admissions as transparent, leak-proof and non-elitist as for all courses in all our universities. In fact, some of the universities may well be renamed IIMs, to take the quality of their output to new heights.

If truth be told, the timing is perfect.

The world's largest democracy, the world's fifth-largest GDP, eight per cent annual growth, the world's Infotech workshop - all these are finally being appreciated across the world. Internally, we see India Shining and undergoing change at a speed and depth unprecedented in history. The Planning Commission's Vision 2020 document envisages employment opportunities for an additional 500 million people by the year 2020. If it succeeds, this will be the largest transformation in human history. India will become the third largest economy in the world, and, with a workforce of 800 million people, the world's workshop and services centre for enterprises way, way beyond the IT and BPO sectors. Seers are remarking on signs of this spread even as you read these words.

What are the likely show-stoppers?

Two of them. First, such an upheaval needs careful nurturing and management, if the revolution is not to turn on its own. This calls for leadership, vision, foresight, entrepreneurship and systematic operations management. The catch is that the circumstances dictate high scale and rapid pace, or quickly getting vast numbers of people to pull together in the same direction. It's a challenge in any environment. Here, in addition to the management and leadership skills, effectiveness needs strong cultural sensitivity, something only Indian residents can bring to bear.

The second possible block, following from the first, is the demands on our educational system. We already face a crippling shortage of trained managers, but this is nothing compared to the demands ahead of us. We genuinely need those thousands of MBAs envisaged by the good doctor. Plus, the implementation of Vision 2020 will need constant induction of new disciplines to deliver recurrent retraining of the existing workforce as well as creation of new specialists.

So, the demands on the educational infrastructure are going to be far beyond anything planned or under implementation. Do we provide for these resources ourselves, or post-WTO do we meekly surrender to the influx of foreign universities with the knowledge bases and the consequent dollar prices? Prices that will make the current debate a cruel joke, Nero fiddling while Rome burned?

Let's go back to fundamentals.

Let's backtrack from higher education, or even school education, to the very first step, namely literacy. Let's note also that Vision 2020 hinges on full literacy, hardly an area of strength today. And when we tout our English skills as a powerful comparative advantage for the services business, let us also admit that English has been actively discouraged for years. Nor is it being actively promoted in today's educational system. It needs to be built in at the mass level, just as China is doing in a determined bid to compete with us.

Do we have any counter to these threats?

Do we have realistic plans to seize the opportunities? Doubtless the good doctor has outlined them in red in his daily list of things to do. For these are his responsibilities, and just because he does not publicise them we should not assume he is devoid of the knowledge or insensitive to it. Have confidence in him, he will definitely be as dynamic about it as he has been about the fees for those 1,200 IIM students, and will go public on it as soon as he has completed his 5-year analysis (how time flies!) of the plans and implementation and resourcing and the other trivia it entails.

Trust the good Doctor to know there is life beyond the elections. Trust him to know that literacy is basic, that primary education is fundamental to continued Shining, that we need to produce managers and specialists by the hundreds of millions. That we have to value our precious few role models and aspiration ideals, instead of destroying them on the altar of short-term political gimmickry.

Trust him to appreciate the power and bounty that come from success and plenty, rather than from shortage and rationing. Trust him to realize that Shining brings Visibility and Competition and Detractors, and prevailing against them needs the finest professional managers any country can produce.

Trust him to be visionary rather than atavistic, to be a pioneer rather than a helpless victim of circumstance. Trust him to understand that we have a short window of opportunity, one we can all too easily surrender by default.

Trust him to be a statesman. The alternative is too bleak to countenance.

Arun Dang is an IIMC alumnus.

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