For India’s engineering colleges, the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) is a lot like the Eye of Sauron—an all-seeing, all-powerful eye in the sky. It is the statutory body governing India’s technical institutes; nothing happens in the country’s technical education space without the AICTE’s monitoring and approval.

On the face of it, this is great. The AICTE oversees institutions like management schools, as well as engineering and pharmacy colleges. Of course, these need careful monitoring. Until one realises just how pedantic the AICTE can be.

From starting a college to adding a course to moving to a co-education system or simply admitting more students, you need the AICTE’s green light for everything. And this requires a team from the body to physically visit and manually inspect institutes.  

In better times, these visits could take up to a month from the date a college applies for approval. Actual approval takes even longer. But in the midst of a pandemic that has crippled travel and made physical verification a nightmare, the AICTE finally blinked.

In May, it decided to do away with physical inspections altogether. Instead, approval would largely rely on self-disclosure by institutes, with an online inspection replacing physical scrutiny. Anil D Sahasrabudhe, chairman of the AICTE, hailed the move as a milestone. This would speed up the approval process and help avoid complaints of corrupt corrupt The Telegraph College inspections go online Read more  inspection teams that have troubled the physical inspection process, he claimed.

Institutes, too, welcomed the move. Akshay Munjal, director of Gurugram-based BML Munjal University, termed the AICTE’s previous approach as “outdated”.

The AICTE isn’t just abdicating its role as gatekeeper, though. Even before it decided to step back from physical verifications, it was grooming its replacement—accreditation. In September 2019, it decreed decreed Deccan Herald AICTE not to approve yet-to-be-accredited institutes Read more  that it would not extend its approval for technical institutes that do not have all their courses certified by the National Board of Accreditation (NBA) by 2022. 

Unlike the AICTE, which is more focussed on quantitative measures like availability of infrastructure, faculty, and financials, the NBA’s focus is qualitative, accrediting individual programmes instead. The shift from AICTE to NBA is something India’s higher education space has needed for years, plagued, as it is, by a lack of quality rather than quantity. India has no dearth of technical institutes. 

In fact, the AICTE has previously enforced a freeze on approvals for new engineering and pharmacy colleges because there were more seats than students.

AUTHOR

Shreedhar Manek

Based in Bangalore, Shreedhar is a Staff Writer for The Ken. He writes on technology, education, human resources and urban mobility. He has a BTech in Computer Science and an MS in Urban Sociology from IIIT Hyderabad.

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