The Government’s decision to give Institute of Eminence (IoE) status to Reliance’s proposed Jio Institute was taken in the face of a string of objections raised — and put on record — by two of the key Ministries involved, HRD and Finance, over picking non-existent institutes.
In fact, the HRD Ministry had been warned against picking a non-existent, or greenfield, institute at least a year before the Government found itself in the line of fire over its choice in the first list of six IoEs.
Official records, accessed by The Indian Express under the Right To Information (RTI) Act, reveal that strong objections were raised by the Finance Ministry but to no avail, on selecting an IoE “only based on intentions and a plan”.
Reacting to the greenfield category mentioned in the Expenditure Finance Committee (EFC) note moved by the HRD Ministry early last year, the Department of Expenditure (DoE) wrote back on February 23, 2017: “…for the private institutions which are yet to be established, granting of the status of Institutions of Eminence based on future plans is beyond rationale and is not supported. The laid down criteria in this regard is highly subjective.”
The DoE’s five-page note is clear: “This methodology will give an edge to an institution which is not even established yet by improving its brand value and positioning it above the already established government and private institutions. This will be demotivational and therefore, detrimental to higher education ecosystem. Grading an institution as ‘Institutions of Eminence’ only based on intentions and a plan defies all logic. Hence the same should be revised.”
Objections pertaining to the greenfield category in the UGC (Institutions of Eminence Deemed to be Universities) Regulations, 2017, however, were not limited to the Finance Ministry.
A close scrutiny of file notings and official correspondence reveals that doubts were expressed within the HRD Ministry, too, six months before Finance came into picture.
On July 27, 2016, the Department of Higher Education under the HRD Ministry circulated an internal note seeking comments from five division heads on whether the draft IoE regulations violate any laws pertaining to centrally-funded education institutions.
Responding to this note, the technical education division, which looks after IITs, NITs, IIITs and AICTE, wrote on July 20, 2016: “Considering that established global reputation of the alumni and research are crucial factors in these ratings (international rankings), new institutions cannot make this grade in a five-year period. The focus should therefore be on institutions which currently exist and are already in the global ranking scenario.”
Another division, which looks after international collaboration in the education sector, wrote on August 8, 2016: “In order to correctly evaluate the institutions based on their past performance, there should be at least 5-6 batches who have graduated from the institution and, therefore, the institution should be in existence for about 8 to 10 years”.
Despite doubts and objections, the Union Cabinet approved UGC’s ‘Institutions of Eminence Deemed to be Universities Regulations’, in August, 2017.
RTI documents reveal that the HRD Ministry is open to choosing another six non-existent private institutes as IoEs. “It is expected that of the 20 institutions, around one third (seven) may be greenfield and the balance 13 shall be brownfield with average student strength of 9,000,” states HRD Ministry’s EFC note on IoEs. This means that seven out of the 10 private IoEs could be greenfield institutes.
The regulations are aimed at creating an enabling architecture for 10 public and 10 private institutions to emerge as world-class institutions, since the country has little representation in the international ranking of educational institutions.
The private IoEs can also come up as greenfield ventures, provided the sponsoring organisation submits a convincing perspective plan for 15 years.
Out of the three public and three private IoEs announced last month, Reliance Foundation’s proposed Jio Institute was the only one chosen under the greenfield category. IIT-Bombay, IIT-Delhi, IISc-Bangalore, Birla Institute of Science and Technology and Manipal Academy of Higher Education were the others selected for the eminence status.
Incidentally, the Empowered Expert Committee (EEC), which was entrusted with the responsibility of finding 20 IoEs, had acknowledged in its report the difficulty of selecting institutions of eminence from applicants with no track record.
The report submitted by the EEC states: “Since this category of institutions is ‘proposed’, there are no ‘achievements’ to assess their performance, which made the work of the EEC exceedingly difficult. EEC had to assess the potential of the proposed institution on information relating to the promoter group, their financial standing, commitment of finances and infrastructure for the ‘new’ project, their reputation as leaders or doers in their respective field of activity and, based on these, arrive at an understanding of the soundness of the proposal and the chances of it achieving the desired IoE goals.”
On Tuesday, The Indian Express reported that much before the IoE list was released, on July 9 this year, there was a strong difference of opinion between the HRD Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) over autonomy, finance and academic norms for such institutions. The PMO, which pushed for a liberalised regime, prevailed on most points.
Apart from Reliance Foundation’s Jio Institute, there were 10 other applicants under the greenfield category, namely Vedanta’s proposed university in Odisha, Indian School of Business (ISB) in Hyderabad, Satya Bharti Foundation, Indian Institute of Human Settlement in Bengaluru, Indian Institute of Public Health in Gandhinagar, Maharashtra Institute of Technology in Pune, KREA University in Chennai, DICE Knowledge Foundation, Acharya Institutes in Bengaluru and Indus Tech University in Delhi.
Tomorrow: Part III – The curious case of the secretary