Making Top Institutes ‘Eminent’ Is Great, But The Rest Cannot Be Left Behind Prakash Javadekar

The proposal to set up 20 world-class educational institutes, plainly called Institutions of Eminence, has landed at the Union Cabinet’s desk for approval, reported Anubhuti Vishnoi for the Economic Times. The broad vision of the plan entails creating the conditions for certain institutes – they’re starting with 20 – to be counted as among the best in the world.

The most significant change, if the plan gets approved, would be that the select group of institutes – 10 government-run and 10 private institutions, selected by an expert committee and approved by the Cabinet’s appointments committee – would be free from the tough regulatory regime of the University Grants Commission (UGC). In its place will come the UGC (Institutions of Eminence Deemed to be Universities) regulations, 2017.

The institutes will be given the freedom to have a merit-based process to select candidates. The syllabus and curriculum, often a subject of heated debate in the sector, will be left to the institutes to decide upon and adopt. They will also be able to set their fee structure, but there will be an emphasis on clarity and transparency. For instance, in case of grievances, students will have an Ombudsman to turn to.

Being on this list of institutes will be more of a responsibility than a privilege, though. There will be a clear set of expectations from the institutes. For instance, within 10 years, they would have to find a spot in any global ranking of top 500 institutes – and eventually enter the top 100 club. Faculty members will each have to publish one research paper per year, on average, in a peer-reviewed international journal. And there is a specific teacher-student ratio and student enrolment figures that the institutes will have to meet.

By all accounts, this plan is a great step forward for improving the quality of higher education in India. For far too long, even our very best institutes have struggled to compete with the best in the business around the world. This proposal can help change that. However, the focus on getting only India’s best institutes to get better risks leaving the majority of India’s institutes – obviously responsible for the majority of the country’s graduates – behind. While the 20 institutes will race ahead with the help of their newfound autonomy and greater access to funding, the quality gap between them and the rest will widen further. This is not a prospect to look forward to.

What the Human Resource Development (HRD) ministry therefore needs is an accompanying plan to help the rest of the institutes lift their quality levels as well. Any major overhaul of the education sector in India will not do without a significant made across the board. The reform measures cannot be limited just at the top.

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