In July, this year the University Grants Commission (UGC) picked three public and three private academic institutions and declared them as Institutions of Eminence IoE). The list includes – IIT Mumbai, IIT Delhi and IISc Bangalore from the public sector and Jio Institute, BITS Pilani and Manipal University from the private sector. They were given autonomy in their functioning. The idea of doing so, according to the Ministry for Human Resources Development (HRD) was to free the institutions from bureaucratic control. The mandate for the UGC was to find 20 IoEs, which will be developed as world-class institutions with financial support of Rs 1000 crore in the next five years reserved only for public sector institutes. The idea of freeing these institutions from bureaucratic control is to enable them to chart out their growth trajectory in the best possible manner so that these institutions would break into the top 500 in the world in a decade.
This initiative was applauded but the criteria for identifying the institutions were criticised. The HRD ministry conferred the tag on Greenfield institutions. Reliance’s Jio Institute was criticised for being a recipient of the honour as it was yet to be set up. The Ministry’s transparency in the matter was called to question. There were sharp differences of opinion on conferring the tag even within the Government itself. A particular bureaucrat’s role was considered controversial. The norms on accountability, financial matters and expertise seemed flexible. The Prime Minister’s Office favoured a liberal approach. It had the last word in most cases. However, that did not mean the PMO was dictatorial. But where there was debate, it brought in a more open approach. It stood for greater academic freedom in the chosen institutions. It went against the Finance Ministry’s argument that granting the status to Greenfield institutions would “demotivate” the higher educational ecosystem.
A former bureaucrat brought in the insider’s knowledge in framing the policy with regard to Jio. He played a biased role in conferring the tag on the Reliance institution which is still in the proposal stage and is as yet not a functioning institution. This has naturally created a furore and lent credence to the allegations that the present dispensation has done a special favour to the Ambanis. A more vigilant policy is called for and no preferential treatment should be permitted. Transparency in implementing the policy is of the utmost importance.