The higher education landscape is in for a major change with Innovation Universities that will set the benchmarks in academics and research, and an Indian Ivy League.

A university is a place where new ideas germinate, strike roots and grow tall and sturdy. It is a unique space, which covers the entire universe of knowledge. It is a place where creative minds converge, interact with each other and construct visions of new realities. Established notions of truth are challenged in the pursuit of knowledge… There is a serious threat to the very idea of the university and its values of knowledge generation in our society today. — Yashpal Committee on renovation and rejuvenation of higher education (June 2009).

It is, perhaps, this factor that has compelled Union Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal to outline, what he called at the inauguration of 98th Indian Science Congress in Chennai last week, two concrete proposals and his vision of India as an innovation hot spot. The main challenge in the field of higher education is that human capital and social capital have to be developed properly, enabling youth to work and compete globally.

One of the proposals pertains to the establishment of 14 ‘Innovation Universities'. According to the Minister, the proposed universities will set benchmarks in academics and more importantly, in research in areas such as hunger, water, poverty and diseases. These benchmarks will be comparable to the best in the world.

There will also be emphasis on liberal arts and social sciences. The universities will be innovative in their governance, in their financial structure, in their academic and research structure, in their content and in every other way.

M. Ananadakrishnan, chairperson of Indian Institute of Technology-Kanpur and whose advice is often sought by the Union government on matters concerning higher education, says that the text of the draft Bill on Innovation Universities is getting ready. The institutions, which will be brand new universities, may be established through the model of public-private partnership or exclusively by the private sector or through collaboration with foreign players.

Another idea floated by the Union Minister pertains to transforming select universities into constituents of an Indian Ivy League. On the lines of adoption of the concept of Navratnas for public sector undertakings, these universities will be given generous financial support, freedom in accessing external funding and total autonomy to free them from the shackles of government control.

Dr. Anandakrishnan says that the criteria for selection of universities under this scheme are being developed, taking into account the conditions prevalent in India.

Unveiling the agenda to realise the vision of the country as an innovation hot spot, Mr Sibal said that there had to be long-term academia-industry collaborative relationships with open access to resources free of intellectual property entanglements. Better integration of the corporate sector higher educational and research institutions would be required to create a pipeline for skills that would support growth industries. Multidisciplinary collaboration among business, government, academia and R&D (research and development) institutions should be encouraged. This would result in the creation of an environment that would support technological development, aligned with and driven by industry needs. The contribution of young researchers to the vitality and quality of the research system should be recognised.

Mr Sibal's proposals and agenda are impressive enough. But, what educationists are particular is that they should become a reality in foreseeable future.