The announcement on 9 July by the Ministry of Human Resource Development that the yet-to-be-launched Jio Institute of the Reliance Foundation had been chosen as an Institution of Eminence was greeted with anger and derision.

Since that day, the Government has sought to convey an impression that it is back-pedaling. Now, it has come up with the facile defence that the Jio Institute has not in fact been recognised as an Institution of Eminence but has been issued a Letter of Intent that will translate into the eminence tag only if the institution delivers on everything it has promised.

This defence has been offered by the Minister, Mr Prakash Javadekar, even in Parliament to suggest that the non-existent Jio Institute and the long-running five other institutions of distinction have been treated differently.

Facts, unfortunately, come in the way of this tortured re-alignment of the narrative by the HRD Minister and his officials.

The first announcement of the six Institutions of Eminence chosen by the Government came through a series of tweets by the Minister, Mr Prakash Javadekar.

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o “Yet another landmark quality initiative of @narendraModi Government. The #Institute of Eminence are selected by the Experts Panel and today we are releasing list of 6 universities – 3 each in public and private sector”.

o “The #Institute of Eminence are important for our country. We have 800 univ, but not a single university in top 100 or even 200 in the world ranking. Today’s decision will help achieve this.”

o “Improving ranking needs sustained planning, complete freedom and public institutes getting public funding. This is the commitment of @narendramodi govt to not to interfere but to allow institutes to grow the way they should grow.”

There is nothing in these tweets to suggest that one of the six institutes – the only one that has not yet seen light of day – would get only a Letter of Intent.

Tweets, however, are a constrained form of communication and it might not have been possible for Mr Javadekar to tell the complete story via social media. But there were no space restrictions on the press release issued by the Press Information Bureau of the Government at 8.23 p.m. on 9 July.

The release was headlined “Government declares 6 educational ‘Institutions of Eminence’; 3 Institutions from Public Sector and 3 from Private Sector shortlisted” and had a sub-head that read “Each ‘Public Institution’ selected as ‘Institution of Eminence’ will get financial assistance up to Rs. 1000 Crore over a period of five years. The landmark decision will help the selected Institutions to become World Class Educational Institutions: Shri Prakash Javadekar.”

The text of the release was equally unambiguous in that it made no distinction between the yet-to-be-built Jio Institute and the five other institutions – the IITs at Delhi and Mumbai, the Indian Institute of Science, BITS Pilani and Manipal Academy of Higher Education – insofar as this recognition was concerned.

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The release said: “The Government has shortlisted Six Institutions of Eminence (IoEs) including 3 from Public Sector and 3 from Private Sector. An Empowered Expert Committee (EEC) in its report recommended selection of 6 institutions (3 from public sector and 3 from private sector) as Institutions of Eminence. The details of these Institutions are as under:

“Public Sector: (i) Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, Karnataka; (ii) Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, Maharashtra; and (iii) Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi.

“Private Sector: (i) Jio Institute (Reliance Foundation), Pune under Green Field Category; (ii) Birla Institute of Technology & Sciences, Pilani, Rajasthan; and (iii) Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal, Karnataka.

“The HRD Minister, Shri Prakash Javadekar has said that this is a landmark decision and goes far beyond graded autonomy. It will ensure complete autonomy to the selected institutions and facilitate them to grow more rapidly.

At the same time, they will get more opportunity to scale up their operations with more skills and quality improvement so that they become World Class Institutions in the field of education, the Minister added.

“It is expected that the above selected Institutions will come up in top 500 of the world ranking in 10 years and in top 100 of the world ranking eventually overtime. To achieve the top world ranking, these Institutions shall be provided with greater autonomy to admit foreign students up to 30% of admitted students; to recruit foreign faculty upto 25% of faculty strength; to offer online courses upto 20% of its programmes; to enter into academic collaboration with top 500 in the world ranking Institutions without permission of UGC; free to fix and charge fees from foreign students without restriction; flexibility of course structure in terms of number of credit hours and years to take a degree; complete flexibility in fixing of curriculum and syllabus, among others.”

READ | Jio-IoE row: UGC axes EEC report from its website

There was thus in the press release of 9 July no hair-splitting between declaration as an Institution of Eminence (in effect, a current-dated instrument) and issue of a Letter of Intent to Jio Institute (a post-dated one).

That only came later, and after a storm had broken over the oxymoronic naming of a non-existent university as an institution of eminence.

Mr. Javadekar informed Parliament on 30 July: “Letter of Intent has been issued to only one institution, namely Jio Institute, under greenfield category for setting up ‘Institution of Eminence Deemed to be University’ in the next three years.” Similar statements were made by the Secretary of the department to suggest that Jio Institute had not actually been recognised as an Institution of Eminence.

There is one problem with this narrative, and that is the Gazette notification of 29 August 2017 which under Clause 8.4 lays down the procedure for “Selection of Institutions of Eminence Deemed to be Universities”.

This clause states: “After the receipt of application, a two-stage approval process would be followed – issue of Letter of Intent (LOI) initially and finally issue of order for declaration as an lnstitution of Eminence Deemed to be University.”

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In other words, all selected institutions, and not just the Jio Institute, would be issued Letters of Intent.

Clause 8.4 (d) states: “The recommendations of the Empowered Expert Committee shall be submitted to the Commission, which shall forward it to Ministry of Human Resource Development within fifteen days of receipts of the recommendations.”

Clause 8.4 {e) states: “The Ministry of HRD will issue a Letter of lntent (LOI), or otherwise, within two weeks of receipt of the recommendations under Regulation 8.4(d).”

Clause 8.4 (f) states: “The EEC will conduct yearly review of the progress made by the Institutions to whom LoI has been issued, to ascertain whether the progress made by the institute is commensurate with time considering that Institute has to be ready for commencing the academic operations within the time stipulated in LOI. In case EEC is satisfied that the progress of any institute is not commensurate, it will ask the Institution to rectify the situation within a time frame prescribed by EEC and if still not rectified by the end of the time period given, the EEC may recommend withdrawal of LOI of that institute.”

Clause 8.4 (g) removes all ambiguities when it says: “The Sponsoring Organization in case of new Institution or the University, in case of existing Institution, will set up or upgrade, as the case may be, the institution and indicate its readiness for commencing academic operations, as per the plan within three years of issue of Letter of Intent. For extension of this period for a maximum six months, it will have to apply to the Ministry of Human Resource Development specifically for the same giving the reasons for delay.”

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In other words, the scheme as gazetted provides that all selected institutions – and not just a greenfield institution – would be (a) given Letters of Intent and (b) begin to function as projected in their presentations to the Empowered Experts Committee within three years.

In law, in fact and in terms of its own notification, the non-existent Jio Institute would in the eyes of the Government thus appear to be on the same footing as the Indian Institute of Science, the two IITs, BITS, Pilani and Manipal Academy of Higher Education.

In conclusion, three assertions must be made:

* It is to the credit of this government that it was able to take the enormously cumbersome World Class Universities Bill of its predecessor and create a workable model that could over time give the country at least a handful of institutions to rank with the best in the world.

* The Ministry of Human Resource Development under Mr Javadekar and his bureaucrats allowed a good scheme to be submerged in shame and opprobrium by the manner of its implementation, whereby they seemed to go overboard to please an individual and convey the impression that the government can be made subservient to him.

* Mr Mukesh Ambani has through means that have been well chronicled acquired the wealth to become Asia’s richest man. Today, he has the power to do for the country that created him a world of good in the field of education.

But this cannot be done by the assertion – as appears to have been the case here – that he is bigger than the country and a government seeking transformation, or that he can blithely proceed from conclusion to premise.

Institutions, even those promoted by Mr Ambani, must work towards eminence, not claim the attribute as a birth-right. India after all is a democracy, not a plutocracy.

(Concluded)