This write-up is an attempt to understand Institutes of National Importance, Institutes of Eminence and National Education Policy 2020 together in a perspective.
The Constitution of India, Seventh Schedule; 63 says “The institutions known at the commencement of this Constitution as the Benares Hindu University, the Aligarh Muslim University and the Delhi University ; the University established in pursuance of article 371E; any other institution declared by Parliament by law to be an institution of national importance.”
The next reference to Institute of National Importance (INI) was found in the Indian Institute of Technology (Kharagpur) Act, 1956 which was repealed with the passing of the Indian Institutes of Technology Act, 1961. In both the acts, the term has been referred to without being defined.
The Institute of National Importance is a status that may be conferred on a premier public higher education institution in India by an act of Parliament of India. It is an institution which “serves as a pivotal player in developing highly skilled personnel within the specified region of the country / state “.
Section 22 of The University Grants Commission Act 1956 enables ‘Degree Granting Status’ to such INIs established by an Act of Parliament for conferring or granting degrees..
What makes an Institute of National Importance and what are the benefits and advantages given to such INIs is not mentioned in any document.
These institutions seem to operate outside the ambit of the UGC and are largely funded and supervised, if not governed, by the Government of India, mostly through Ministry of Education. Apparently these institutions also enjoy certain tax related advantages.
Ministry of Education, Department of Higher Education website which is last updated on Thursday, 24 September 2020 mentions the names of 96 Institutions of National Importance. The list includes IITs, NITs, IIITs, IISERs, National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research (NIPERs), Schools of Planning & Architecture, Indian Institutes of Statistics, NIDs, IISc., AIIMS, IISER, Academy of Scientific & Innovative Research, Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, Dakshina Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha, Tamil Nadu, Footwear Design & Development Institute, Noida, Uttar Pradesh, Rajiv Gandhi National Institute of Youth Development, Sriperumbudur, Tamil Nadu, Indian Institute of Petroleum and Energy (IIPE), Andhra Pradesh, Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Petroleum Technology, Rae Bareli, Uttar Pradesh.
One feels sad to note that not only the list is not complete but the names of Institutes are not mentioned correctly. For example the name mentioned at serial number 35 is mentioned as Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai, Maharashtra which should have been mentioned as Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, Mumbai, Maharashtra. Similarly at serial number 54 the name of Indian Institute of Technology Madras is not mentioned correctly. Then there are other mistakes. Banaras Hindu University, Aligarh Muslim University and Delhi University are conspicuous by their absence.
The Union Cabinet had approved the of setting up 20 new IIITs in Public Private Partnership (IIT PPP) mode in November 2010. Among them, 15 IIITs were covered under the IIIT (PPP) Act, 2017. The IIIT Laws Amendment Bill 2020 seeks to declare five IIITs in Public Private Partnership (PPP) mode – IIIT Bhopal, IIIT Agartala, IIIT Surat, IIIT Bhagalpur and IIIT Raichur as Institutions of National importance.
This in itself is a departure from original intent of granting this privilege only to Public Institutions.
Many of these institutions are ranked high under various categories under National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF): India Rankings 2020 and few of them have found place in global rankings.
Internationally, the Ivy League in USA is similar to other groups of universities in other nations such as Oxbridge in the United Kingdom, the C9 League in China, and the Imperial Universities in Japan. Ivy League universities, eight in number, have very large university financial endowments, allowing the universities to provide abundant resources for their academic programs, financial aid, and research endeavors. Harvard University endowment stood at $38.3 billion in 2018, the largest for any educational institution in the world. As against Ivy League private universities of USA, German Universities Excellence Initiative, by German Council of Science and Humanities and German Research Foundation, aims to strengthen some select public universities to enhance their international visibility. Many countries in the world grant special status to some of their universities to meet certain requirements leading to excellence.
In the budget speech of 2016, the then Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley promised to provide “an enabling regulatory architecture” so that “10 public and 10 private institutions” would emerge “as world-class teaching and research institutions”. This led to the establishment of Institutions of Eminence (IoEs)
The University Grants Commission on August 2, 2020 unveiled the latest list of 14 institutions just over a year after the first six Institutes of Eminence were named, bringing the total number of institutions to be part of the elite group to 20.Ten public and ten private institutions have been declared to emerge as world-class Teaching and Research Institutions under the Institutions of Eminence (IoE) scheme. 10 Public Institutions are IISc Bangalore, IIT Delhi, IIT Bombay, IIT Madras, IIT Kharagpur, University of Hyderabad, Banaras Hindu University, University of Delhi, Jadavpur University and Anna University. 10 Private institutions are BITS Pilani Rajasthan, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Karnataka, Jio Institute, Amrita Vishwavidyapeetham, Tamil Nadu, Vellore Institute of Technology, Tamil Nadu, Jamia Hamdard, New Delhi, Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology, Bhubaneswar, Odisha, O. P. Jindal Global University, Haryana, Bharti Institute, Satya Bharti Foundation, Mohali, Punjab and Shiv Nadar University, Greater Noida, Uttar Pradesh.
Under National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF): India Rankings 2020: University; BHU is ranked number 3, Amrita Vishwavidyapeetham number 4, Jadavpur University number 5, University of Hyderabad number 6, Manipal Academy of Higher Education at number 8, University of Delhi number 11, Anna University 12, BITS Pilani 15, Vellore Institute of Technology 16, Jamia Hamdard number 21, Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology number 24, and Shiv Nadar University at number 56.
Institutes of Eminence (IoE) is a recognition scheme for higher education institutes in India, set by the University Grants Commission in 2017. Recognized institutes are to be granted more autonomy, both administratively, like setting fees, and academically, and will enjoy better collaboration opportunities with global universities. Each Public institute (IoE) will be eligible to receive Rs. 1000 crore during next 5 years. No funding is awarded to private institutions.
University Grants Commission notified regulations and guidelines in 2017. It also made objectives of the scheme and expectations from the Institutions of Eminence explicit. What intrigues is the name of Jio Institute, a Not Yet Physically Existing institution, having been included in the first list of six institutions declared. How can an Institution being labeled as Eminent which does not even exist? All kinds of explanations followed and this was later covered up by including the name of another institution namely Bharti Institute in the next list of 14 institutions declared in September 2020.
One of the major recommendations of National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, approved by the Union Cabinet and announced on July 31, 2020 relates to restructuring of Higher Education Institutions in India.
AS per NEP “A university will mean a multidisciplinary institution of higher learning that offers undergraduate and graduate programmes, with high quality teaching, research, and community engagement. There shall be only three kinds of universities, i.e, Research-intensive Universities, Teaching-intensive Universities and Autonomous degree-granting Colleges (AC).
The present complex nomenclature of HEIs in the country such as ‘deemed to be university’, ‘affiliating university’, ‘affiliating technical university’, ‘unitary university’ shall be replaced simply by ‘university’ on fulfilling the criteria as per norms.
NEP 2020 stipulates that the Board of Governors, BoG, of an institution will be empowered to govern the institution free of any external interference, make all appointments including that of head of the institution, and take all decisions regarding governance. There shall be overarching legislation that will supersede any contravening provisions of other earlier legislation and would provide for constitution, appointment, modalities of functioning, rules and regulations, and the roles and responsibilities of the BoG. New members of the Board shall be identified by an expert committee appointed by the Board; and the selection of new members shall be carried out by the BoG itself. Equity considerations will also be taken care of while selecting the members. It is envisaged that all HEIs will be incentivized, supported, and mentored during this process, and shall aim to become autonomous and have such an empowered BoG by 2035. The BoG shall be responsible and accountable to the stakeholders through transparent self-disclosures of all relevant records. It will be responsible for meeting all regulatory guidelines mandated by HECI through the National Higher Education Regulatory Council (NHERC).
It is interesting to note that intent declared in 2016 has taken more than four years to convert into the very first action of identifying 10 public and 10 private institutions. This declaration has come after the announcement of NEP 2020. Another interesting fact is, that, five institutions, namely, IISc Bangalore, IIT Delhi, IIT Bombay, IIT Madras, IIT Kharagpur are common in both the lists i.e., Institutes of National Importance and Institutions of Eminence.
Most of the Institutes of National Importance have evolved over last many decades as a result of visionary leadership, well-conceived structure and system, financial, academic and administrative autonomy, funding and most importantly direct support from Government of India. Over a period of time most of these institutes have acquired their distinct identity and a certain level of reputation. Some like IITs have become global brands.
Most of these institutions are governed by Board of Governors but the overall arching body is the all India Council. For example in case of IITs it is Council of Indian Institutes of Technology which takes policy decisions common for all IITs and the Council is headed by Minister of Education. Council of National Institutes of Technology, Science Education and Research (NITSER) is the supreme governing body of India’s 31 National Institute of Technology (NITs), Indian Institute of Engineering Science and Technology (IIEST), Shibpur (West Bangal) and Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISERs) as per provisions under Section 30 of the NITSER Act, 2007, modeled very much similar to Council of IITs. From 2019 Schools of Architecture and Planning have also an all India Council. Council of Indian Institutes of Technology has facilitated direct link between Ministry of Education and the concerned IIT through its Board of Governor’s Chairman and Director. This model of governance set by Council of Indian Institutes of Technology has benefitted many other Institutes of National Importance later.
NEP 2020 allows only three kinds of universities which are required to meet all regulatory guidelines mandated by Higher Education Council of India (HECI) through the National Higher Education Regulatory Council (NHERC).
This poses a major challenge; will there be a change in National Education Policy 2020 to allow INIs to continue without making any changes in their existing systems and structures or these INIs will be required to follow the same norms as other Higher Education Institutions (HEIs). If the latter happens, it shall affect the brand value, reputation and ranking of these institutes.
Apart from major challenges of governance and funding there are issues of conversion to multi-disciplinary university. While it will be easy for old established IITs and NITs, which are largely residential, to convert into a multi-disciplinary research intensive universities and some others to become teaching intensive multi-disciplinary universities it could be a major challenge for institutions like Academy of Scientific & Innovative Research, Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, Dakshina Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha, Tamil Nadu and Footwear Design & Development Institute, Noida, Uttar Pradesh for completely different reasons. Another challenge will be with regard to INIs which are not part of Ministry of Education like NIPERs, Schools of Planning & Architecture, AIIMS, Academy of Scientific & Innovative Research, Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, Dakshina Bharat Hindi Prachar Sabha, Tamil Nadu, Footwear Design & Development Institute, Rajiv Gandhi National Institute of Youth Development, Indian Institute of Petroleum and Energy, and Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Petroleum Technology etc. These institutions have a completely different governing system aligned to their line ministries.
Sooner the issues, at least in principle, are resolved better and easier it shall be for NEP 2020 to be modified, if required, and implemented.
Likewise, the vision of Institutions of Eminence needs to be integrated with the NEP implementation plan, and IoEs need to be empowered with more freedom, flexibility, autonomy and resources. IoEs in their current scheme of UGC need to be converted into Deemed-to-be Universities which is not possible under NEP 2020.
I will close by quoting the comment of senior Professor J. K. Mitra of Delhi University “What you said is clear and known but as a senior academic what you didnt say about meaningless overlap, fragmented approach, unintelligible parameters for categorization, and loads of platitudes dished out over the years are also very clear by sheer inference!”