Does Smriti Irani’s HRD ministry have plans to regulate private IIT coaching centres?

For some reason, news related to the HRD ministry often gets reported in a not-so-factual manner. Take for example last month, where Minister Irani herself had to take to twitter to call out false news being peddled by The Hindu. This time, we have another news story doing the rounds. This relates to IITs, which come under the purview of HRD ministry and are in a fair bit of controversy for various reasons.

First the news being reported:

Economic Times said: “HRD Ministry….plans to check influence of (IIT) coaching centres”

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A similar news item was in TheNewsMinute.com: “Government could now regulate fees in IIT JEE coaching centres “ .To be fair to them, they merely aggregated a news-report from The Hindustan Times

The Hindustan Times also said: “If the human resource ministry (HRD) ministry has its way students may have to shell out much less for JEE coaching.

Although the above lines gave the impression that the Government was planning such a move, all the stories in their opening lines itself clarified that this “move” was suggested by a panel set -up by the HRD ministry. So the assertion made my media, that the Government or HRD ministry is doing something like regulating coaching classes is misleading. Further, these are only recommendations by a panel, which have been made public for widespread consultation and feedback. So jumping the gun and saying the HRD ministry is planning something is too far off the mark.

The panel itself is made up of very eminent people including 2 chairpersons of Board of Governors of 2 IITs. So the panel, its credibility, its apolitical nature, should not be a matter of debate.

Committee of Eminent Persons

The problem with this “suggestion” of the panel, to regulate coaching classes and their fees is the fact that it goes starkly against the principle of free markets. The Government has no role regulating how much private businesses charge a student. A free market dictates that such decisions be left to the market. So the question arises, why does the Government have to ask a panel to give “recommendation” on such issues?

This is where there is a twist in the tale. If one looks at the Report of the committee, which is available in public domain, it clearly says that the panel was formed for “to review the current JEE system for admission into IITs“. Going into the exact terms of reference:

The terms of reference of Committee of Eminent Persons review the current JEE system for admission into IITs is as under:

  1. To recommend structure of a single exam that tests the understanding, conceptual clarity, and innovative thinking of students for admission to IITs and NITs.
  2. To find means in the exam structure that would reduce the pressure on students and reduce dependence of students on the coaching centres, without diluting the quality of testing.
  3. To appreciably reduce the time taken from conduct of the entrance exam to declaration results, from the current 3 months.
  4. To review and recommend reforms if any needed in the common counseling process so that admissions in IITs, NITs, IISERs are completed without any difficulty.

As can be seen, the Terms of Reference state that the panel was set up to give recommendations related to exams and admission processes. Nowhere does it mention that it was asked to give “suggestions” on regulating fees at private coaching institutions. Then why did this panel “recommend” something which it was never asked for? Did it even recommend something like this?

If we scroll down to the end of the report, we see a section titled “Recommendations”:

Untitled
Recommendations of the panel

As can be seen, all the recommendations are only in the field of examinations and there is not a single clause which talks about “regulating fees of coaching institutions”. Even the press release issued by PIB, lists out the recommendations and again has no mention of the “regulation fees of coaching institutions”. So from where did this “recommendation” come?

A deep dive into the report takes us to the section titled “Deliberations on reducing the effect of Coaching Institutions”. It is from here that all the quotes on coaching industry have been picked up. The terms picked by media: “ lucrative ‘industry’”, ” not always mindless profit”, “regulatory body for the coaching institutions“, are all picked from this section. The specific paragraph under this “Deliberations” part which talks about regulation is:

3. It is suggested that it would be helpful if there is a regulatory body for the coaching institutions. As an example, An All India Council for Coaching for Entrance Examinations (AICCEE) maybe established with the demand that Coaching Institutes are well equipped and maintain healthy and best practices as well as charge regulated fees.

This is where there is a slight confusion. Although the paragraph starts with “It is suggested”, the paragraph itself is in the “Deliberations” part of the document and such a topic does not find even a remote mention in the “recommendations” part. So is it fair to say these are “recommendations”? Considering the fact that as the terms of reference state, it was never within the scope of the panel to opine on anything related to this?

So to sum up, deciding on regulation of fees of private coaching institutions was not part of the mandate of the panel. The panel, made up of experts, deliberated on this, but explicitly left this out of their recommendations. The PIB release, which summarised the recommendations did not mention this as a recommendation. Even if someone were to take a stand that it was a recommendation, it is only that, just a recommendation, which is kept open for public consultation. And in-spite of all this, some sections of the media reported that the Government plans to do something like this!

P.S. As of now, since the suggestion to regulate coaching classes is neither a part of recommendations, nor a part of the scope of the committee, nor considered as a recommendation by the Government in its press release, it is far too premature to bring up this issue. But if in the future any such action is taken, it needs serious thought.


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