On July 8, the Ministry of Human Resources announced six universities, three each in the public and private sector as an ‘Institute of Eminence’. In a series of tweets, Prakash Javedkar said that India has around 800 Universities and none of them make it to the top 100 in the world rankings. He further tweeted that the decision is a landmark decision by the government because it is new and has not been tried before, and also because it will ensure full autonomy to the institutes so that they can take their own decisions. At the same time, to make sure that nobody is denied equal opportunity in education, the government plans on providing scholarships and fee waivers.
However, the decision sparked controversy when the names of the ‘Institutes of Eminence’ were announced. Amongst the public institutes, on which the government plans to spend 1000 crore in the next five years, are IIT Delhi, Bombay and IISc Bengaluru. While Jio Institute, which is yet to have a campus or a website, featured on the list of private institutes along with BITS Pilani and Manipal Academy of Higher Education.
Jio institute has been trending on Twitter ever since, with many users tagging Prakesh Javedkar in their tweets asking him about the credentials and location of the University. Soon Congress attacked the government over the decision and tweeted: “The BJP Govt. favours Mukesh & Nita Ambani yet again. The illusionary JIO Institute which is yet to see the light of day has been declared as an ’eminent’ institute. The Govt needs to clarify the basis of classification for granting such a status. #SuitBo…”
Sensing the tension build, the Ministry of HRD came up with its defence in a tweet and clarified that, “clause 6.1 of the UGC (Institutions of Eminence Deemed to be Universities) Regulation, 2017 provides for a completely new proposal to establish an institution to be considered under this project.” It further stated that Jio institute fulfilled all the four stated parameters of Greenfield Project and thus has been awarded the title.
The parameters have themselves raised voices of displeasure and incertitude in the academic fraternity. Former Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) Vice-Chancellor and eminent scientist S.K. Sopory said the very idea of a future institution being seen as an ‘Institution of Eminence’ did not make sense. “The most surprising is Jio Institute. It hasn’t even come up, which means there is no way of it proving itself.” In a conversation with The Hindu, he mentioned that eminence requires a reputation an institution has earned.
The very idea of including a greenfield project in the list of institutes of eminence is problematic because the aim of ‘Institutes of Eminence’ is to feature in the world’s top universities. It should be taken into consideration that most world-class universities are old and well established, which is a major reason for their inclusion. Furthermore, the criteria put forward by the government makes academic excellence take a back seat as focus is diverted on infrastructure and resources. It’s for time to tell whether Jio institute builds up to the expectation of the government. Meanwhile, it is important for us to wonder, to which section of the society would such wannabe “world class institutes” be accessible to.
It’s rather eye-opening to know that only a mere 10% of the Indian population has access to university education in India, so maybe before competing for a place in the world, we should provide opportunities for students who can’t afford university education.
Maybe, we will one day achieve the goal of standing at par with world class universities by commercialising education with the underprivileged at the receiving end. Maybe a world rank will add a feather to India’s cap by sweeping under the carpet the wide scale inequalities in the Indian education system. While India may benefit from its promised soon to be achieved world ranking, it will be interesting to note how far would this ‘landmark’ decision be able to ‘revolutionise’ the Indian education system.