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All you wanted to know about Institution of Eminence

Anand Kalyanaraman | Updated on July 23, 2018

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About a fortnight ago, our jolly folks in the social media had a field day doing what they do best —lampooning the high and mighty through memes and jokes. Their target this time? The Jio Institute that was selected as an ‘Institution of Eminence’, and the government that conferred upon the yet-to-be-born institute this hallowed status.

What is it?

“We don’t need no education,” crooned Pink Floyd decades ago. The Government of India eminently disagrees. It wants us and our coming generations to imbibe world class education — from ‘Institutions of Eminence’. Miffed that even the best Indian academic institutions did not make it to the lists of top ranked global universities and did not produce enough cutting-edge research, the government decided that something needed to be done. The answer: Institutions of Eminence. The hunt began last year with the University Grants Commission tasked with selecting 10 government universities and 10 private ones that would be a cut above the rest. These Institutions of Eminence would be given significant autonomy in operations — from setting their curriculum and recruiting foreign faculty to entering academic tie-ups. The selected government institutions would also be given up to ₹1,000 crore over five years to help them become world-class. The ultimate objective is for these Institutions of Eminence to acquire global standing in a few years.

Institutes that found a place among the top 50 in the National Institute Ranking Framework rankings or those figuring in the top 500 in certain reputed international ratings were eligible to apply. Many threw their hats in the ring. But eventually only six institutions were selected — three public (Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, IIT Bombay and IIT Delhi) and three private (BITS Pilani, Manipal Academy of Higher Education and the proposed Jio Institute).

It was the selection of the last that generated furore and mirth. Furore because several reputed institutions such as IIT Madras had been passed over. Mirth because, as one smart aleck put it, it is like granting a fat bonus for exceptional performance to an employee who hasn’t joined yet. The government has been accused of trying too hard to accommodate the Jio Institute being set up by the Reliance Foundation backed by Mukesh Ambani. In its defence, the government says that the Jio Institute was chosen under the ‘greenfield’ category, it has been issued a ‘letter of intent’ and that the Institution of Eminence status will only be given on evaluation of performance after three years. The selection parameters were land, funding, core team and strategic vision.

Why is it important?

Academic institutions that can impart highest quality education, generate cutting edge research, and attract the best and the brightest from across the globe can have multiplier beneficial effects for the country. So the idea of elevating the best in a sector to an eminent status by granting autonomy is a good one. But to maintain credibility, the process and the selection of these institutions should be above reproach.

Why should I care?

India has been facing a persistent brain drain due to the belief that Indian institutions cannot hold a candle to foreign ones. The number of Indian students flying off to the US, Europe and Australia for their post graduate, and lately even undergraduate, degrees has risen sharply. Foreign degrees cost a packet and are funded by high-cost loans. If India had home-grown Institutions of Eminence, there would be no need to fly abroad for fancy degrees.

Bottomline

Some achieve eminence and apparently, some have eminence thrust upon them.

The weekly column that puts the fun into learning.

Published on July 23, 2018

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