Sunday, January 18, 2009

What do you get when policies don't survive a change in government?

I don't know what kind of inputs Prof. C.N.R. Rao gave to the government before it announced the launch of eight new IITs. And I don't know why he keeps going on and on about how the government -- his own government! -- has mucked them up through poor / non-existent planning. But I do want to point out one (possible) reason behind the alacrity with which three states -- Gujarat, Punjab and Orissa -- chose to start 'their' new IITs within six months from the announcement: lack of policy continuity.

I'll give two examples.

  • There was this curious case of "upgrading" a bunch of engineering colleges into IITs. During the NDA regime, four such colleges were identified. Under the UPA government, however, this list changed; it now had seven colleges. And only IT-BHU was common to both the lists.

    Oh, there was something else that was common to both the lists: the committee that chose these colleges! Bizarre, no?

  • Similarly, in 2003, the NDA government announced the setting up of National Institutes of Science at four places: Allahabad, Bhubaneswar, Chennai and Kolkata; acting on it, the UGC had initiated some steps (see this, for example). After the General Elections, the new UPA regime scrapped this proposal, and announced that two IISERs were to be set up in Kolkata and Chennai (Mohali, Bhopal and Thiruvananthapuram were added later). The letters -- NIS as opposed to IISER -- might be different, but I don't think anybody would dispute that the spirit behind these initiatives was the same.

    Press reports at that time (see this, for example) noted that the UPA government's move was meant to snub the previous government's HRD Minister, Mr. M.M. Joshi. I don't know what Joshi felt about this snub, but this change led to severe heartburn in Orissa, since that state lost 'its' NIS [check out this site].

May be it's worth pointing out that in the second example, Prof. C.N.R. Rao's role was -- I have to choose my words carefully here! -- not insignificant.

So, let's see what we get out of this little exercise:

  1. There is clearly a deep uncertainty about whether a stated policy will survive a change of government.

  2. When the UPA government announced its proposal for five new IITs in 2008 (the other three in AP, Bihar and Rajasthan were announced in 2007), it was just about a year from the next General Elections.

Given the prestige associated with 'getting' an IIT, is it surprising that the Gujarat, Punjab and Orissa governments jumped at the opportunity to get 'their' IITs going?

Is it surprising, then, that the new institutions would need to scramble to get their academic programs going -- within three months after their creation?

* * *

Here's a great op-ed by Prof. T. Jayaraman covering some of this stuff (and more).


  1. Rahul Siddharthan said...

    By your standards, the post is a bit sloppy. In the first sentence, it's CNR Rao, not CN Rao (there are CN Raos, and a very eminent CR Rao, so it's all rather confusing...) Bhubaneswar has a NISER which is functionally intended to be pretty much the same as IISER, but operates under DAE rather than MHRD (which could mean more money). Currently it operates from the IOP campus but will move to its own campus. I heard it said that the acronym was deliberately chosen, to assuage Bhubaneswar by giving them something "nicer". The blog you linked to mentions this, and hasn't been updated since 2006.

  2. Abi said...

    Rahul: Thanks for flagging that error. It *is* C.N.R. Rao.

    As for the bit about NISER, that Orissa got it after losing IISER (NISc's later avatar) later doesn't change the main point of this post in any way, does it? Isn't it still the case that a policy announced by a government was changed (without giving any reasons whatsoever) by its successor?

    Yes, this NIS/IISER-for-Orissa story is over three years old; the blog I linked to -- started for the purpose of arguing Orissa's case for 'its' IISER -- stopped getting updated probably because of the arrival of NISER.

  3. Rahul Siddharthan said...

    Abi - true, your point is valid: these things should not be politicised to this extent, and when a government changes its predecessor's decisions, valid reasons should be given. But to quote the history of this example without mentioning the current situation is a bit misleading in my opinion.

    (By the way, what became of IISER Chennai?)

  4. chitta said...

    Yes, we freezed the NIS/IISER blog after the PM announced NISER.

  5. chitta said...

    When we freezed the blog, we did not change the title and other details of the blog to keep a historical record of how blogs/emails/media/writings/parliament/courts/etc. were used to fight an injustice and overcome it.

  6. Anonymous said...

    Reg. Jayaraman's op-ed -

    doubt abt. quality of students entering the research/post-graduate education clearly indicates that school and undergraduate education needs an overhaul. just as established iits are expected to mentor new iits/technical instis. what do the prof. in good instis do wrt to outreach activities in schools and ugs in their own city or neighbouring towns ?
    the lack of future opportunities for an expanding base of scientists is because most S&T research is still a single-PI university based research centered in metros and mostly theoretical/computational. You can absorb those expanding number of scientists if you expand experimental research programs in national labs, universities and defense including big science/tech projects. This can also benefit in terms of new opportunities for more theoretical and computational research.
    The second stage of planning has to proceed from comparing just number of Ph.D. students/instis. to the entire research portfolios and infrastructure of western countries.

  7. Anonymous said...

    Well, IISERs have to be called successful because CRRao's son-in-law is the director of the Pune branch

  8. Anonymous said...

    was calcutta in the list of NISER-e ? it popped up in the IISER list, following which orissa protested. i found the following link -
    following protests, NISER was allotted.

    an unrelated issue - the UPA govt has recently ordered the formation of 12 new central universities. is there any need of more universities ? why shouldn´t attempts be made to revive the defunct universities. already, we have done enough disservice by shifting research from universities to institutes. now, we have more institutes (iit-s and iiser-s) to cut the bonds even more.