The Prime Minister on Monday reiterated his government’s intention to set up 20 world-class universities this year. The idea is to bring about qualitative improvement in the standards of education — currently India has virtually no representation in international rankings of educational institutions.
So what’s the plan?
The government will identify 10 government and 10 private universities and help them achieve “world-class standards”. According to the HRD Ministry’s concept note submitted to the Prime Minister’s Office, these universities will have
* A corpus of at least Rs 1,000 crore
* A place in the top 500 in any renowned ranking system
* Accreditation by a reputed international agency
* Faculty-student ratio not less than 1:10 over 3 years of establishment
* Excellent laboratory facilities and cutting edge research
* A good mix of domestic and foreign students
* A good proportion of foreign or foreign-qualified faculty
* Teaching and research collaborations with reputed international universities
* At least two publications in each discipline in a reputed peer-reviewed journal every year
Is all of this new?
Not really. The proposal is quite similar to UPA’s Universities for Research and Innovation Bill, 2012, which too sought to create a separate category of universities with autonomy to determine their own standards and decide on matters like faculty hiring and salaries, curriculum, fees, etc.
How will the universities be chosen?
Aspirant institutions will submit a detailed 15-year plan of how they would meet laid-down requirements of world-class universities. A committee of experts set up by the UGC will evaluate the plans and pick the universities for upgradation. Applicants in the government category should figure in the top 25 of the National Institution Ranking Framework. Those in the private category can be both greenfield and brownfield institutions. Brownfields must be deemed universities with an ‘A’ from NAAC; greenfields must have a corpus of Rs 750 crore.
How will the government help?
The institutions will be able to:
* Charge fees from foreign students without restriction, and determine fee for domestic students, provided no meritorious candidate is turned away for want of money. There should be adequate scholarships.
* Offer courses and degrees in new areas without consulting regulatory institutions.
* Initiate academic collaborations with foreign educational institutions without need for government approvals.
* Hire foreign faculty with relaxed salary restrictions.
* Hire industry experts even if they don’t have requisite academic qualification.
* Spend resources with full financial autonomy.
* Government world-class universities will get additional assistance of Rs 500 crore over 5 years.
Are there any problems?
Details of the proposal are not public, and have not been analysed threadbare. Allowing private players to set up entirely new institutions as world-class universities could be seen as an attempt to give big private interests easy passage into the education sector with little monitoring, and without the obligation of adhering to government regulations. The proposal is silent on whether foreign education providers can use this route to enter India and set up campuses here.
What happens now?
A law can be brought by Parliament, or such institutions can be declared deemed universities. Should the HRD Ministry choose the deemed university route, the University Grants Commission will have to amend its deemed university regulations.