After getting into a tussle with the University Grants Commission (UGC), there’s more rough weather ahead for the prestigious Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR).
The Ministry of Human Resource Development has disapproved of a proposal moved by the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) to invest close to Rs 1,200 crore in research to be conducted by TIFR’s Hyderabad centre. The DAE, by virtue of being the parent body of TIFR, had circulated a note last month seeking the Cabinet’s sanction for the same.
The HRD ministry, in its comments to the Cabinet note, has drawn attention to the illegality of the off-campus centre in Hyderabad, implying that it would be inappropriate to spend government funds on a campus that doesn’t have the approval of the UGC, the apex higher education regulator.
According to sources, DAE received HRD’s comments this week.
Speaking to The Indian Express on the objective of the DAE proposal, the director of TIFR’s Hyderabad centre Sriram Ramaswamy said, “The Hyderabad campus is planned to be like a full-fledged research institute with all areas (of science) represented. The eventual plan, in the very long run well beyond 2020, is to have about 250 faculty members and a couple of thousand PhD students and post-doctoral fellows. This proposal is for the first phase of that project and the funds requested are for many different sub-areas of research within a big proposal.”
HRD Ministry spokesperson Ghanshyam Goel did not respond to questions emailed by the newspaper. Although the Union Cabinet will decide the fate of the research proposal, the HRD Ministry’s observations could influence the final decision.
The research institute’s troubles started when the UGC shot off a notice to 10 institutions on November 9 asking them to shut down their off-campus centres as they had been established in violation of the deemed university regulations of 2010. As per rules, all deemed universities have to seek prior approval of the government before setting up another centre. TIFR’s new campus in Hyderabad and BITS Pilani’s centres in Goa and Hyderabad were among those put on notice.
TIFR, in an emailed response to The Indian Express, said that it has replied to the UGC notice clarifying that it is an autonomous institution and the research activities at Hyderabad were “started with the clear approval of DAE and AEC (Atomic Energy Commission)” and “the foundation stone of the Hyderabad campus was laid by the Prime Minister in 2010”. Hence, its research activities do not come under the purview of UGC.
It added, “TIFR acknowledges that for awarding degrees to the doctoral students in Hyderabad, it will need the UGC approval. TIFR is already in the process of doing the necessary paperwork for this.”
TIFR was founded by Homi Jehangir Bhabha, the father of the Indian nuclear programme, with support from the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, in 1945. While its main campus is in Mumbai, it also has additional centres in Pune, Bangalore and Hyderabad. Currently, the Hyderabad centre has 20 faculty members and over 70 research scholars and post-doctoral fellows. It started with a Centre for Interdisciplinary Sciences (TCIS) from a temporary location and covers diverse topics, including condensed matter physics, material science, fluid dynamics, optics, lasers, chemistry and biology.