Breaking free of conventional higher education concepts, the Manmohan Singh government has taken the first step towards implementing its proposal for creating 14 ‘Innovation Universities' by circulating draft legislation for comment by various stakeholders.

The Innovation Universities are aimed at making India a global knowledge hub. Each one to be built around a theme or subject, these unique universities will enjoy total autonomy with regard to appointments, collaborations, resource generation and nomenclature of degrees awarded by it.

These will be open to all irrespective of nationality, gender, ethnicity and disability, provided at least half the students admitted to pursue any programme are Indians. There is, however, no mention of caste-based reservation.

Endowment Fund

As per the first draft of the Bill circulated by the Union Human Resource Development Ministry to the heads of all higher educational institutions like Central universities, Indian Institutes of Management and Indian Institutes of Technology, and members of the task force on the National Commission for Higher Education and Research, each University for Innovation will have to establish a University Endowment Fund but will have the freedom to receive donations, contributions from alumni and other incomes as long as 80 per cent of annual income is used for development of research infrastructure. Each university will be a not-for-profit legal entity and no part of the surplus revenue will be invested for any other purpose except growth and development of the university.

Welcoming autonomy for these institutions, one academic joked that while autonomy lies at the heart of innovation, many existing universities could be truly innovative if only the autonomy in the draft Bill had been extended to existing universities.

Other academics are critical of the lack of clarity on reservation.

The Innovation Universities are primarily intended to be private institutions. However, the HRD Ministry can also make grants to develop them, in which case the President would be the Visitor and the government would have a larger role to play in their functioning.

Each university will have an independent Board of Governors that will be empowered to discharge all functions by enacting statutes to provide for its administration, management and operations. The Board will delegate its powers to the Academic Board headed by the Vice-Chancellor that will perform financial, management and administrative functions including appointments and collaborations, the Board of Studies that will specify programmes of study to be offered, Faculty of Knowledge Manpower Assessment to study and assess through research trends in emerging fields of knowledge of relevance, and the Research Council that will interface with the research funding organisations, industry and civil society.

Intellectual property

In the case of a publicly-funded university, any new knowledge created from research that leads to an intellectual property will have to be reported to the government for retaining title. The Centre may refuse title on the grounds of public interest or exceptional circumstances, or national security. The Central government will protect, maintain and utilise the publicly funded intellectual property for which the title vests with it and it can give directions for prohibiting or restricting the publication of information to any person or entity which it considers necessary in the interest of the country. The income or royalties arising out of publicly funded intellectual property will be shared by the University for Innovation with the intellectual property creator in accordance with the provision.

The establishment of 14 Universities for Innovation is expected to set benchmarks for excellence for other institutions of higher learning through “path-breaking research and promoting synergies between teaching and research.” Each such university will stand for “humanism, tolerance, reason and adventure of ideas and search for truth.” It is expected to attempt to provide a path for humankind free from deprivation and seek to understand and appreciate nature and its laws for the well-being of the people. Further, these institutions will seek to “provide society with competent men and women to meet the knowledge needs of the country and perform service to the nation and to humanity and cultivating the right moral and intellectual values.”

Keywords: HRD Ministry

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