Press Trust of India|Apr 26, 2022
‘Nation building’: IITs, IIMs, NLUs have started public policy programmes
A host of institutions, even IITs, NLUs, have launched postgraduate (PG) programmes in public policy programmes.
NEW DELHI: Baksheesh Sachar, a first-year student of Master’s in Public Policy at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay believes a need for better governance is behind the spurt of policy courses across institutions. “The course enables students to either research policies or become policy practitioners at the intersection of technology, policy, law and governance,” he said.
IIT Bombay launched its postgraduate degree programme in public policy in 2019. The National Law School of India University (NLSIU) Bengaluru already offered the Masters in Public Policy. In 2021, IIT Delhi launched the Masters in Public Policy under its School of Public Policy. Public policy as an academic discipline was introduced in public and private business schools first with MDI Gurgaon and Indian Institute of Management Bangalore (IIM B) as some of the first. Standalone private institutions have followed, including the Indian School of Public Policy in Delhi and the Kautilya School of Public Policy in Hyderabad.
Just like the mushrooming of management schools post-liberalisation, this is a similar moment in the pandemic times for policy education, said Shishir Jha, head, Centre of Policy Studies (CPS), IIT Bombay. The post-liberalisation era has seen private organisations enter many areas of public service and governance including nutrition, sanitation. This has only grown and in consequence, there are new complexities in public policy.
Soumya Agarwal, a former student of Masters in Public Policy from Xavier’s College thinks “public policy courses are the next big thing”.
Public policy training
The rise in public policy training in India has followed radical changes in governance strategies, especially with increased participation of the private sector.
“Earlier market or private roles in public welfare were limited. But due to the increase of market role in public welfare areas, there is a need to understand the role of markets and state. For instance in terms of food allocation of resources for the public good or data protection, or increase in public-private partnerships, smart cities where private players have a big role, and several others. Such problems cannot be solved through a traditional MBA approach. There is a requirement of solving public issues wisely,” explained Sony Pellissery, professor and director, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy (CSSEIP) at the National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Bengaluru. “The old ways of approaching issues sometimes seem to not solve real-world problems. For instance, earlier, the planning commission had a bunch of economists. Actions through a disciplinary approach worked sometimes as it was a simpler world. But now, … there is a requirement of trained professionals to solve complex issues.”
Kautilya School of Public Policy, a new entrant in the field, will induct its second cohort this year. For co-founder Prateek Kanwal, specialised training in public policy is about efficient nation building.
“The Indian population is asking for more accountability and services related to healthcare, urban governance, rural development, etc. …Further, the service delivery mechanism of the government needs more hands and brains due to increasing problems of the nations, which cannot happen through a few bureaucrats and ministers. They will need young professionals to step up who know policy, law, and network for smart nation-building to serve the country better,” says Kanwal.
Law and governance
Prabhu Vishnu Poruthiyil, assistant professor, CPS, IIT Bombay said: “Policy as a field of study goes beyond the law. Policy is everything that the government decides to do or not do with a dominance of law, economists, sociologists, philosophers, who have influenced the academic field of policy.”
Historically, public policy as a field of education started in the latter part of the 19th century in the US. Countries wanted a set of trained professionals in advising governments. Several leading institutes like Columbia University, Harvard University started courses in public administration. In the 1960s, the narrative changed from public administration to policy in general.
In India, interest in public policy is rising now. “The specific focus on public policy courses in the last five to six years is due to the increase in general interest in what the government is doing and politics. Hence, students would like to learn about politics, running nations, etc. There is a spurt of opportunities in political consultancies, CSR related opportunities, which corroborated the demand of policy education,” noted Pellissery.
The curriculum of IIT Bombay’s programme is fundamentally interdisciplinary covering digital societies, structural inequalities, technology and society, markets and governance processes, and environment, energy and natural resources.
“The legal aspect is not as pronounced as it is in other institutes. We try to make it as diverse as possible with faculties coming from different departments and each set bringing their expertise including philosophy, political science, etc. However, students have the choice to take different electives in law, gender and development and several others. But the core of the MPP course is focused on two main points: policy processes and policy history. We focus on developing historical perspectives on policy and society and also an interest in how policies are being made. Policymaking studies not just its impact but also includes the work of lobbying, think tanks, vote banks. These are the central pillars of the curriculum,” added Poruthiyil.
“For instance, [the course covers] how different water-related policies were formulated, how the process has been inside policy-making space and outside as well,” said Sachar. “This is taught through core courses and electives whereas electives help us relate with what is taught in theory. The core subjects make us aware of different political ideologies in terms of several schools of thought like positivism, conservatism, liberalism and neoliberalism to help us understand the political scenario of making a policy,” he adds.
Further, CPS as a department is at an early stage. “We are discovering things that can be improved and changed. Hence, we expect to go for a curriculum change in the next one year by applying what we have learnt in the last three years,” said Jha.
Iznallah, who doesn't use his last name and is currently pursuing a PhD in Public Policy from CPS, IITB, pointed out that every institute offering public policy courses has focus areas that are influenced by the institution’s primary academic interests. “NLSIU [a law school] has a legal bent including constitutionalism, legal methods, introduction to law and technology and a couple more courses on intellectual property rights by top-notch people in the field which gives a nuanced understanding on the technical aspect. And in IIT B, there are several core areas but due to its environment, there is more technology,” he said.
About 60-60% of NLSIU’s public policy is from diverse backgrounds like political science, engineering, economics, even medicine. “Our main challenge and focus is to have a balance between law and economics and this can be achieved through approaching policy questions through a political lens. There is a big connection between law and politics. Social and constitutional values through technical approaches, technology or regulatory aspects but primarily constitutional values should come up. Public policy courses are way different from MBAs or engineering as these are job-giving profit giving courses. In public policy all students come with a passion to make an impact and difference in society. …In the pre-pandemic times, we used to give them a social understanding by sending them to live in villages as 60% of the population of India lives in villages,” said Pellissery. “Students have to look at problems like how technology can improve sanitation, what kind of an economy is required, how social norms shaping it; how a politician sees a sanitation programme for a larger good, etc.”
Kautilya’s programme covers foundational knowledge in public policy in the Indian context including public administration, introduction to ethics of policy-making, understanding the constitution of India and its history. “At Kautilya, we have a full package with five specializations including, government and business, human rights law and advocacy, development and economics, governance and society and international relations. After you have done your foundation and core, a student has to choose a specialization, amongst these five. To ensure a rigorous two-year masters course, there is an internship to implement whatever you have learnt in your core which is an opportunity to try in the field and helps students make an informed decision to choose their specialisation. Further, there is a capstone which will cap your entire journey,” says Kanwal. A host of certificate courses on artificial intelligence, campaign management, consulting for SDGs, media for advocacy and business, government and society offer practical training.
Agarwal from Xavier’s College said the course she studied covered rural development, media policy, law and policy among others.
Challenges, jobs, future
As public policy education is still at a nascent stage, several institutes are facing challenges.
“The early-stage challenge for CPS is to thrive in the BTech ecosystem which is the tech-oriented approach. The second is placements. For the master's programme, there are several areas our students can go towards including research organisations that deal with policy advocacy, think-tanks, CSR [corporate social responsibility] oriented organisations, etc with diverse focus areas. Hence, in the next few years we will get a sense of where our students can go towards,” says Poruthiyil.
“The ecosystem around the policy is yet not developed and is still developing in India,” said Jha. “The MPP course makes the students deeply understand policy history and conceptual understanding of policy-making wherein we try engaging a host of stakeholders who have influenced the policy-making process including parliamentarians, experts, etc other people who are engaged to the state. Policy research will be our strong forte but policy advocacy is a challenging institution and we are preparing students to be prepared for it.”
As the policy aspect is still emerging in India, a balance between constitutional values, the legal system in the country is taught in public policy courses. Indian public policy schools will emerge but it will take some time, explained Pellissery.
To get in touch, write to us at email@example.com.