Can granting the Institute of Eminence status make a difference?

Photo: KVS Giri   | Photo Credit: Photo: KVS Giri

Recently, the Human Resource Development (HRD) Ministry awarded the Institute of Eminence (IoE) status to five public institutions of higher education (IIT-Madras, the IIT-Kharagpur, Delhi University, Banaras Hindu University, and the University of Hyderabad) and issued Letters of Intent to five private institutions (Vellore Institute of Technology, Amrita Vishwas Vidyapeetham, Jamia Hamdard University, Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology, and Airtel’s Bharti Institute) to grant them the status. It is said that once the state governments of Tamil Nadu and West Bengal express their willingness and sign an agreement to contribute 50% of the fund to Anna University and Jadavpur University respectively, these two universities will also be granted IoE status.

Under the scheme, Public Institutions of Eminence are eligible for a grant of ₹1,000 crore from the government and no funds will be given to Private Institutions of Eminence. The IoEs will enjoy complete academic and administrative freedom.

A year ago, the IoE status was awarded to three public institutions — IIT-Delhi, IIT-Bombay, and the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), and to two private institutions — Manipal Academy of Higher Education and BITS Pilani. The Jio Institute was given the tag in the Greenfield category. The controversial decision to grant the IoE status to Jio Institute has been discussed in the mainstream and social media for quite some time.

The Empowered Expert Committee (EEC) chaired by former Chief Election Commissioner, N. Gopalasamy, recommended a list of 30 institutions (15 public and 15 private institutions) for the consideration of the IoE status, but it is said that the government was not pleased with the list and a new list of 20 universities was prepared based on certain parameters. The criterion was the institutions should have been placed in the top 500 of global rankings or top 50 of the NIRF rankings.

The main objective of the HRD Ministry is to provide support and prepare the IoEs to become world-class institutions and the ultimate aim of the scheme is to make them secure top global rankings.

Global rankings

Contrary to its objective, in the recent Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings, not a single Indian university has figured in the list of top 300 universities. Only the Indian Institute of Sciences (IISc), Bengaluru, figures in the 301-350 grouping. The rankings are based on 13 calibrated performance indicators that measure an institution’s performance across teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook.

Commenting on the poor performance of our well-known universities in the THE ranking, All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) chairman AD Sahasrabudhe said that the results of the annual ranking were unsuited for India, as the rankings gave more weightage to the presence of Nobel laureates, and foreign students and faculty members. It is not true because many universities that figure in the list of top 300 universities do not have the presence of Nobel laureates. It is quite surprising why the AICTE chairman looked at the THE ranking negatively. If these parameters are not suited for India, in what areas are we going to focus on, to make our institutions globally well-known?

Critical look

It is important to look at the granting of IoE status to select universities critically. Is IoE really needed in India? Have right institutions been chosen for the IoE status? Will the status really improve the quality of higher education in the country? Will it motivate other institutions to perform better in the future and thus aim at becoming IoEs?

Every year, when the THE World University Rankings and QS World University Rankings publish their rankings of world’s top universities, scores of news reports and articles appear in mainstream media asking why India’s top universities do not figure in the list of top 200 universities in the world. Academics make statements saying the quality of higher education in the country is not of international standard and policy makers and bureaucrats justify saying that such rankings are not suited to the country. There is no doubt that we need to improve the quality of our higher education and we should adapt and adopt the best practices followed by real ‘world-class’ institutions across the globe. It is the responsibility of top public universities which get government funding to do justice to the people of the nation by providing quality education on par with top universities in the world. The IoE status can help the select universities to achieve the goal, provided all stakeholders are committed to the cause and passionate about their institutions’ vision and mission.

Have right institutions been chosen for the IoE status? Though the EEC and the HRD Ministry say that they have chosen institutions based on certain criteria, a few ethical questions need to be answered. Why was the reputed Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) which has figured in international rankings and produced many well-known public intellectuals not considered for the IoE award? The HRD Ministry is morally bound to explain to the nation why JNU was left out.

Will private institutions that are run with a commercial motive be able to provide quality education? Will the granting of IoE status to such institutions not encourage the commercialisation of education? Can these institutions be called world-class institutions even if they can provide quality education?

Will the IoE status really improve the quality of higher education in the country? The answer to the question depends on two factors — academic freedom and administrative independence. It is said that the universities with the IoE status will be given academic and administrative freedom. Academic freedom is important for academic excellence. Administrative freedom is essential for smooth functioning. Will the institutions be allowed to enjoy such freedom and be free from government and bureaucratic interference?

If IoEs want to be really competitive globally, they should internationalise higher education. It implies that these institutions should give importance to “enhanced international cooperation and capacity building”. It is also important for the institutions to have constant exposure to international standards. Research and innovation should be the focus of such institutions and funds should be utilised for these purposes. They should lead the way in all aspects including teaching, research and innovation and inspire other institutions of higher education.

Ethical and critical view

Looking at it ethically, we should ask whether these institutions have produced citizens who are socially conscious and are willing to work in the interest of the society. Will these IoEs be able to motivate the students to work in India and use their knowledge and skills for the benefit of the people of the country?

Looking at it critically, every IoE should have a few public (critical) intellectuals who critically look at various issues, engage with the public and “strengthen the concepts of democratic dissent and civic questioning”. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is proud of its Professor Emeritus Noam Chomsky, professor of linguistics, philosopher, author, media critic and activist. Our own Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) has had a few well-known public intellectuals like Romilla Thapar. How many of the institutions which have been awarded the IoE status can proudly state they have academics who are public intellectuals?

The writer is an academic, columnist and freelance writer.

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2021 9:23:00 AM |

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