The Union Human Resource Development (HRD) Ministry clarified on Tuesday that the awarding of the ‘Institute of Eminence’ tag to the Jio Institute by Reliance Foundation was purely conditional and that no more than a “letter of intent” is presently on the cards. The clarification came after controversies escalated over the coveted tag for the yet-to-start Jio Institute. The government’s move to grant the ‘Institute of Eminence’ status evoked sharp criticism from different quarters, with questions being raised about the process of selection and the motive behind it.
No Website, No Campus, Yet Far Ahead of Most IITs
On Monday, July 9, the government had declared that the coveted status of ‘Institute of Eminence’ was being accorded to IIT-Bombay, IIT-Delhi and Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru in the public sector, and BITS Pilani, Manipal Academy of Higher Education and Jio Institute in the private sector. The move was part of an initiative by the HRD Ministry to recognize and empower 20 IoEs, with complete administrative and academic autonomy. However, the Empowered Expert Committee (EEC), headed by N Gopalaswami, former Chief Election Commissioner, picked six institutions that, according to the panel, displayed the potential to rank among the top 500 higher education institutions globally. The IoE tag will bring with it the funding of Rs. 1,000 crore to the three public sector institutions over the next five years.
The featuring of the yet-to-begin Jio Institute and the absence of many of the elite IITs had drawn widespread criticism from the academic community. “It doesn’t have a campus, a website or any alumni and it has left behind prominent IITs as well as private players like Ashoka University and OP Jindal Global University. It is yet to be established but will already be marketed as a world-class institution by the government. Can’t we see the conflict of interest,” JNU professor Ayesha Kidwai said while reacting to the move. “Institutional reputation is not built in a day. It takes years, in fact decades, to build great institutions of higher education. Hence, Jio Institute’s designation as an Institution of Eminence is arbitrary and makes a mockery of this exercise,” said Vivek Choudhary, senior faculty at the University of Delhi.
The topic was trending on twitter and the crux of the matter was captured in a tweet by a professor from IISc Bengaluru, who tweeted, “How did @PrakashJavdekar evaluate this Jio Institute to decide it was better than IIT M or IIT KGP or so many other Institutions? How can an Institution that is in the process of being set up be declared an Institution of Eminence? What are we missing here?”
HRD Ministry Defends the Move
The HRD Ministry, which came under fire because of the widely ridiculed move to accord the ‘Institute of Eminence’ tag to Jio Institute came out on a defensive note but stood by the decision. “These (Greenfield) institutions are not there right now. But where well-meaning responsible private investment wants to bring global standards to the country, they should be welcomed. Right now, the institute (Jio) will not get the IoE tag; they will just get a letter of intent. If they are able to establish themselves in three years and meet the expectations of the expert committee, then they will get the IoE status. The expert panel will have the authority to withdraw the tag if the institution is not found to be performing up to the mark,” said R Subrahmanyam, HRD secretary (higher education), in a statement.
The HRD Ministry explained that its panel of experts felt that only the Jio Institute, out of 11 applicants in the ‘Greenfield category’ i.e. proposed institutes yet to come into existence, fulfilled all four specifications — highly qualified and experienced core team, land availability, strategic vision with ‘clear milestones and action plan’ and funding.
“Jio Institute has no record of academic or socially relevant accomplishments; one would be hard put to establish details about its faculty, campus infrastructure and courses. The inclusion of clauses, which allow paper proposals to qualify as an eminent institution is an academic corruption of highest order,” said Rajeeb Ray, president of the Federation of Central Universities Teachers Association, in response to the statement by the HRD Ministry.
Reporting by Team edInbox Delhi