Do we need special education zones?
Address legality of for-profit education
The Economic Times , December 25 2006
A serious discussion of the idea of special education zones represents a fundamental shift in the mindset of the country. The monumental challenge of assuring quality education is now seen as a momentous opportunity for private investment. Instead of waiting for the government to do it all, it recognises that we need to harness all the energies and initiatives, whether non-profit or for-profit, to fill the skill gap and to benefit from the demographic dividend.
Special zone means special treatment, typically tax benefits and regulatory relief. If we give tax benefits to export chappals, then it stands to reason that education should get even better tax treatment. Regulations are actually a far major hurdle to private initiatives in education, including technical education. The licence raj is pervasive in education. The accreditation system of AICTE is archaic and corrupt. Delicensing, deregulation and decentralisation are most critical to any success of private initiatives. NIIT and Aptech have been successful because they are not regulated by the AICTE, and have the necessary flexibility in designing and offering courses to meet the changing requirements of the industry.
In addition to the licence raj, we have the judicial raj in education. Judicial dicta regulate almost every aspect of education. Courts have guidelines for fee structures, admission criteria and allocation of seats between local and outside students, merit and management quota students, and so on. Often the orders of high courts on these matters are contradictory.
The legality of for-profit education must also be addressed. In the reading of the courts, our Constitution prohibits 'commercialisation of education'. Most educationists and social elites share that view.If special education zones are good for addressing IT-sector talent crunch, then what about the skill gaps in other sectors of the economy? Would we have special IT education zone, special biotechnology education zone, special air transport education zone? And how about the primary, secondary, and regular college education? Hopefully, when the season of the Santa Claus ends, the demands for special favours would be reassessed and we would think about a uniform investment climate for all levels and types of education and training.