Over 100 HE institutions bid for ‘world-class’ upgrade

A total of 100 of India’s top universities and colleges are vying to be named 'institutions of eminence’ as part of the country’s higher education reforms to upgrade around 20 institutions into ‘world-class’ universities within the next 10 years.

Seven Indian Institutes of Technology or IITs, Delhi University, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Punjab University, the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru, Jadavpur University in Kolkata, Goa University and Mangalore University, along with some of the Indian Institutes of Management and many central and state universities have joined the race for the 'institution of eminence’ tag, which will bring them greater financial and academic autonomy, according to a statement last week from the Human Resource Development Ministry.

OP Jindal Global University, Ashoka University, Manipal University and Amity University have applied from the private sector, out of six private institutions that applied by the 12 December deadline set by the ministry.

The selected 20 institutions – 10 public and 10 private – likely to be finalised by March 2018 on the advice of an 'empowered expert committee', will have administrative, academic and financial freedom to decide their own fees structure and start new courses without the normal University Grants Commission or UGC controls, to match international standards of higher education.

They will be able to hire foreign faculty, admit foreign students and affiliate with foreign universities without needing government permission.

Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javadekar told reporters in New Delhi: “The response is overwhelming. This is how world-class institutions were established in various countries. The same thing will happen in India.”

Under the scheme, first proposed in the 2016 budget, the selected 'institutions of excellence', as they were then called, in the public sector will receive a government grant of INR10 billion (about US$156 million) for a period of five years. Private sector institutions will enjoy the same benefits but they will not be eligible to receive government grants.

Top institutions

Many of the public institutions are among the top 50 in the country’s own domestic higher education rankings.

The Indian Institute of Technology Delhi or IIT Delhi Director V Ramgopal Rao said: “We have applied for the 'institution of eminence' tag.”

An associate professor at IIT Delhi who wished not to be named said that once accorded eminence status the institute will be totally free of regulatory shackles and enjoy the autonomy to choose its own path to become an institution of global repute.

“We will then work on the plan to improve our ranking to be among the top 100 in the world in next 10 years,” the professor added.

Goa University is also in the race for the eminence tag. A lecturer at the university, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said after getting eminence status the university can chart its path to become globally competitive “with a focus on high-quality research and global best practices”.

“Besides, it can form tie-ups with the world’s top institutions and shall have enough funds to attain global standards,” he added.

PG Sankaran, pro-vice-chancellor of Cochin University of Science and Technology in the southern state of Kerala, said under the 15-year vision plan that each institution is required to submit to become ‘world class’, the university aims to bolster research in marine sciences as a key focus area with specialties in industrial fisheries, fisheries science and marine biology.

Other focus areas include climate modelling, environment modelling, genetics, bio-informatics, and scientific computing, he added.

New institutions are required to have a plan to become one of the top 500 universities globally within 15 years while institutions already in the top 500 were required to have a plan to improve their ranking to be among the top 100 in a decade. However, the UGC guidelines for the 'institutions of eminence’ tag do not include the eligibility criteria for the 'world-class' tag.

Professor Yashawantha Dongre, director of planning at the University of Mysore, which is one of seven leading institutions to apply for the 'institution of eminence’ tag in the southern state of Karnataka, said: “We have the potential to emerge a world-standard university. Our strong research base is our strength.”

Additional loans

A number of IITs and the National Institute of Technology Karnataka have been given loans, in addition to their government grants, to upgrade infrastructure and for research, from a finance company established by the government as part of its ‘world-class’ plan.

The Higher Education Funding Agency set up last year, which raises funds through the financial markets, announced its first loans in late November. Officials said it would speed up the process of investing in infrastructure as the funds are disbursed faster than government grants.

A number of institutions said they needed to upgrade accommodation and facilities, including laboratories, in order to attract faculty and students from overseas.