The purpose for formation of new central institutes

'Economics in one lesson' is one of the first books that I read on economics, long back while in college. One argument in this book struck me hard - 'You build bridges because there is a need for the bridges, not because you want to create employment'. Though this reasoning looks simple and obvious, it is not, and often the opposite happens in reality. The case of sprouting IITs, IIMs, AIIMS and Central Universities is a great example.

It is one thing to say 'we need good colleges in the country, and hence we are establishing these' but it is another to say 'xyz region is backward, so let's give them an IIT/IIM/AIIMS/Central University'. These institutions are being treated as venues for generating employment, proxy for development of a region, and gradually have become one of the tools of negotiation to settle political unrest. Establishing one of these institutions has become the first instinct of the governments, whenever someone expresses concern over lack of development in their region.

Similar reasoning is also followed in deciding the location of the institutes, even within the regions for which they are announced for. Instead of deciding the place which is best for the institute in terms of accessibility, feasibility and other issues, the location is being decided based on political equations; the standard one being, let us establish it in the backward place.

Educational institutes aren't like industries, the purpose of which is to generate employment. The reasoning applied to deciding the location of industries shouldn't be extended to setting up of educational institutes. While a local economy gets built around these colleges, that shouldn't be the primary reason for setting up these institutions, if they are union/all India institutes. The primary reason should be 'education'. If the very foundational reason behind establishing these is flawed, then we can hardly expect something good to be built. They will be always seen as candies to be given to a crying child, not as a food to provide nutrition to the child.

May be the principle of building bridges only because of need and not for employment is not universal, and at times one may have to do things to provide stimulus, as the prominent debates go in macroeconomics, but there is a difference. Educational institutions aren't bridges. Construction of bridge is a one time affair but the building up of an educational institution is a continuous process. Thus, bridges once constructed may not cause any harm in future, but an improper educational institution affects students throughout.

Note: This isn't about the debate of, whether we should set up new institutions or not. It is about the approach being taken while these institutions are being set up.

1 comment:

  1. Feels like a 'chicken-and-egg' problem to me. Should the appropriate ecosystem already exist at a place before one opens a premier higher education institution there? Or would the opening of the institution drive the creation of a suitable ecosystem? I feel that it is closer to the latter, where the ecosystem creation process should be driven by the Government. A proposal to set up an IIT/IIM must be accompanied with an elaborate plan to fill in the existing gaps. To begin with, the practice of starting a premier institution in a makeshift temporary campus must be discontinued.