A private consortium has offered to take over India's five elite institutes of technology. The consortium has written to prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee suggesting that the future of the institutes lies in handing them over to entrepreneurs.
The government would get a golden handshake in exchange for the institutes' physical and intellectual assets. According to the consortium, which includes a number of institute alumni, the institutes suffer from too much bureaucracy to realise their full potential.
Amid the general decline in higher education institutions in India, the institutes have remained a cut above the rest, though in recent years financial constraints have started to affect them.
One particular weakness has been their "failure" to establish viable links with industry, particularly in applied research and development.
The institutes in Delhi, Mumbai (Bombay), Chennai, Kanpur and Kharagpur were set up as centres of excellence in the late 1950s, with financial aid and know-how from a number of western countries, including Britain. Some of India's leading engineers have graduated from the institutes, which have become a hunting ground for talent. They also contribute heavily to the brain drain.
The move has brought an angry reaction from institute staff and students, who have urged the government not to be tempted by the "predatory" offer. Shailesh Gandhi, an alumnus of IIT Mumbai and managing director of Alphacon Containers, said: "Institutions like these are a precious heritage of India and cannot be allowed to be taken over."
The solution, it is argued, is to make them financially more independent and to give them more academic autonomy rather than selling them to the private sector.