AFTER THREE years of virtual standstill, the project to set up India’s first railway university is finally ready with a road map. The Cabinet is likely to clear its first milestone this week, and the first batch of students is set to start classes in June next year.
A brainchild of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the project did not see much headway since being promised in the NDA government’s first Railway Budget in 2014.
Modi and the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) have been pushing the Railways to draw up a road map and start the project, but the Railways Ministry’s progress has been slow at best. In the last three months, the Railways Minister Piyush Goyal and Railway Board chairman Ashwani Lohani have taken it up.
In the next meeting scheduled on December 7, the Cabinet is likely to clear the setting up of the not-for-profit company under Section 8 of Companies Act, 2013 — tentatively named Indian Railway Education Foundation (IREF), this will be the holding entity for the deemed university, sources have confirmed to The Indian Express.
Indian Railways will float the company, as opposed to an earlier plan of getting one of its PSUs to do it.
Internally named National Rail Transport University (NRTU), the proposed institution will have its base at the National Academy of Indian Railways (NAIR) in Vadodara, Gujarat.
It will offer courses on all transport-related streams.
Pramath Sinha — founding-dean of Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, and co-founder of Ashoka University — has been drafted in to advise the government on how to set up the university, and what shape it should take to be a future-ready centre for excellence in transport-infrastructure engineering.
Private players may also be roped in to partner with the running of the university at a later stage, sources said.
The plan is to start the university with a batch of 50 fresh postgraduate students in MTech course. The ministry is also exploring the option to see whether undergraduate courses can also start around that time.
A team of officials from the PMO is advising the ministry, keeping the Cabinet Secretariat in loop, in creating a clear road map for the proposed university.
To begin with, sources said, all 300 training institutes under the Railways Ministry will be integrated with the new university, giving the training centres a much-needed upgrade.
Sources said the Railways is also looking at a model wherein the university certifies specialised industry-specific training courses for the market, with world-class teaching content and instructions available online.
In 2014, Modi had announced that a railway university was needed for research and modernisation of the country’s archaic railway system in particular, and transport infrastructure in general.
He had announced the decision to start the university on the NAIR campus in Vadodara in 2016.
The university project has been on the PMO’s wishlist for Railways for the past three years.