The ‘Institutes of Eminence’ falls woefully short of what India needs

As a country, we failed to seize the opportunity to invest in excellence despite the stated aim.

The Institute of Eminence charade played out has harmed Indian education more than its collective gains. It has exposed the importance that India lays on excellence in education and research. Because a paltry Rs 600-crore annual investment from the fastest growing economy for its dream to create a world class university is an embarrassment of epic proportions. Here is why this is short in many ways:

The committee tasked with recommending Institutes of Eminence (IoE) wanted eight public universities and three private ones to get the tag. This was from a total of 114 universities that applied for the IoE status and scrutinised by a four-member committee. These universities included 74 public, 29 private (brown field) and 11 private (green field) universities. However, the government, which is more into sloganeering than action mysteriously sanctioned only three public universities. The deserving public ones that missed out are IIT Madras, IIT Kharagpur, Delhi University, Jadhavpur University and Anna University. Of these the most surprising is the omission of IIT Madras, ranked second under NIRF.

While the prime considerations for the tag were financial sustainability, revenue diversification, research excellence and independent governance, JNU and HCU, the poster boys for leftist groups, were not even recommended. On a lighter vein, maybe even the committee believed that under the current regime both do not enjoy independent governance.

The deserving private green field university applicants that did not make the cut include ISB (Hyderabad), KREA (Raghuram Rajan) and Vedanta. The deserving private universities that did not make the cut include Ashoka University and Amrita university. The committee also recommended some instructions for a special category including IIM(A), IIM(K), IICT, TISS, TIFR, ISI(K), Punjab agricultural university and ICAR but with no IoE tag.

The government will give Rs 1,000 crore over five years to each of the three selected public universities. That is a budgetary outlay of Rs 600 crores per year for all the pomp and show. If we believe we can create world class universities by spending Rs 200 crores per university per year, we are living in a fool’s paradise. The top 10 universities in the world spend annually an average of Rs 5,800 crore each on research alone. They pay annually Rs 1.32 crore as salary for each full time professor and charge about Rs 2.3 crore as fees from a four year Under Graduate student.

The total endowment funds of top 10 universities on an average should be Rs 1,24,000 crore each. Harvard with an endowment fund of $ 34.54 billion leads the pack. In India, for an IoE tag, private universities were asked for a financial commitment of Rs 3,000 crore for brownfield universities and Rs 5,000 crore for green field universities. See this for context: In 2009, King Abdulla University of Science and Technology was incubated with an initial endowment of $10 billion. Currently, it has a total endowment of about $20 billion.

We are woefully short. What was a promise of 10 universities was brought down to eight by the committee. But the tragic thing is that government accepted only three public universities without giving any reason why the other five were denied despite the recommendation. This decision demoralises the entire academic community as there is no justification for denying the other five public universities. Similarly, there is no justification to deny a few other private universities when there is no financial commitment. India could have easily given wings to the aspirations of many well intended private universities.

We failed in our investments in public universities. We failed to fund excellence. We failed to include more private universities even when there is no financial commitment. The urge for control won over the dream to create world class universities. The story is in the exclusion than the inclusions. And so, as a country, we failed to seize the opportunity to invest in excellence despite the stated aim.

And so, we failed our youth, our future and we failed India, again.

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