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Misplaced Ban

Today's TOI editorial :

Despite India having made giant strides since pre-liberalisation days some areas still remain havens for licence raj junkies — higher education is a good example. Government bodies regulating higher education, like UGC and AICTE, stifle new initiative and contribute to a critical skills shortage that could hobble the country's future growth. Their overweening powers over higher education, or so one is told, are all to prevent 'fly-by-night operators' from duping poor students.

The globally recognised CFA Institute operates in 134 countries and has been around since 1947, but that didn't prevent it from being banned by AICTE — leaving an estimated 6,800 students who were about to take its exams in the lurch. The institute trains fund managers and equity researchers, and got into a legal spat recently with the Hyderabad-based Institute of Chartered Financial Analysts of India (ICFAI) over the latter's use of the trademark 'CFA' in its name. ICFAI then filed a case in the Gauhati high court, to the effect that CFA Institute hadn't obtained required approvals from AICTE. That's how AICTE's moguls got into the act, promptly banning CFA.

It's not even clear that CFA is a technical institute that comes within the AICTE's jurisdiction, since the latter's charter covers engineering, pharmacy, town planning and the like, but not financial analysis. CFA, therefore, cannot be faulted for not seeking approval from AICTE. It's a wholly above-board institution that's been operating in the country since 1993, without attracting the notice of authorities.

But it may have been a victim of the paranoia about foreign educators that's reflected in the Foreign Education Providers Bill, now before Parliament. The Bill proposes that the UGC determine fees and supervise admission procedures, including setting aside caste quotas, for foreign educators setting up in India. Such onerous conditions amount, in effect, to telling everyone to keep out; only fly-by-night operators need apply.

Pulling the plug on foreign educators sets up a dualistic system. If the ban on CFA is sustained, then those rich enough to travel to neighbouring countries to take the exam can have a shot at the much-coveted certification. The rest have no recourse. The effects of the uncommon zeal displayed by AICTE — which extends to policing Indian private technical institutions as well — is evident from a report endorsed by the HRD ministry itself. It projects that within four years Indian technical institutes will be short of 1.32 lakh teachers. That's a stunning number. Instead of playing educational cops-and-robbers, AICTE should be working hard to promote the growth of professional skills in India.

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