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Monday, July 9, 2018

Institutes of Eminence

So, finally, the first chapter of this saga has been written. But we are promised that there are more chapters to be written still. For we wanted to select 20 institutions of eminence and in the first round, only 6 have been selected, leaving 14 slots to be filled in future.

Congratulations to IISc Bangalore, IIT Bombay, IIT Delhi, BITS Pilani, Manipal, and Jio University (yet to be set up, but with Reliance behind it, one hopes it would really be transformational).

I have been a supporter of IoE scheme, but the result is rather disappointing. I supported this for the following reason. I assumed that in the Government sector, most of the institutions selected would be those who already have a huge amount of autonomy, and what they really get is some small change to try and improve further. In fact, in multiple IITs, there were discussions whether it is worth applying for, since the fear was that the autonomy would be less under IoE scheme than what we currently enjoy. To me, the real game changer was the selection of 10 private universities.

I have been a strong votary of giving huge autonomy to every university in the country. But most people remain skeptical of it. I felt that if 10 universities get as much autonomy as was being promised, it would surely lead to all of them becoming much better than what they are already and that would happen in a relatively short period of time, say, 5 years. If academicians, administrators, politicians, all of them see that 10 universities have improved so much in such a short period of time, and the only change is autonomy, they will all think of removing all shackles of other universities, and this will lead to the golden period of India.

But now, with only 3 private universities being given that autonomy, and one of them being a new university (which means that we cannot compare pre-autonomy and post-autonomy period of this university), the impact of this experiment in five years would be so much less. Less number of people will be convinced about giving autonomy to every university based on this experiment, and hence the announcement has been a huge disappointment.

Of course, the minister has said that this is only the first list. So there is hope of more lists. But I guess it would be difficult to do this process again very soon, and then there are elections. So the next list is at least a year away.

If media can be trusted, apparently there is no dearth of good government institutions, but they could only find three private institutions. So, if they can select a 4th private institution, they would immediately announce 4th government one as well.

I am disappointed that Ashoka University is not in the list.

I am also disappointed by some statements in media attributed to the Chairman of the committee, Mr. Gopalaswami. He said, "Where we saw an institute had not improved its accreditation and ranking scores in three cycles, it does not inspire trust that it will be able to meet this goal" [of breaking into top 500 ranks in 10 years].

Accreditation happens in 3 to 5 years, and hardly anyone has gone for three cycles. So I would assume he is talking about ranking and in particular, NIRF, since private sector rankings cannot be trusted. Now, NIRF is still a work in progress. In three years, there have been significant changes in its methodology and in the level of participation. To use such a ranking for denying someone Institute of Eminence status is exactly what a babu is trained to do. Babus cannot do subjective quality evaluation. They need objective numbers to support them. I expected better from this committee. Of course, I understand that this is not the only thing they have looked at. But even pointing this out means that this was definitely an important enough criteria. That this was not the only criteria is proven by the fact that Amritha which has improved rank every year and has had an excellent rank in all three years is not in the list. They were 14th in 2016, 9th in 2017, and 8th in 2018 in the universities ranking.

But overall, a small step forward. Hope this small step leads to bigger steps forward in due course.

Added on 9th July:
After posting this, the maximum comments (not here, but on other social media sites) have asked if Manipal is better than IIT Kanpur. Well, the straight answer is that in the disciplines IIT Kanpur operates (Engineering and Science, mainly), IITK is better. But there are many disciplines that Manipal has (like Medicine) in which obviously there can be no comparison. If the reports saying that the committee had actually decided on a list of 8 government and 3 private universities, but government took a policy decision to have an equal number of government and private, are true, then I believe that government would do us a great favor if it admits to this. That way all government institutions can claim that they are those 5 unannounced ones. I am convinced IITK would be in that list of 8, and hence even by this metric, not worse than Manipal. Of course, I must add that Manipal has been continually working to improve its teaching and research. They have improved their NIRF rank every year and since the goal was to find private institutions who will be in top 500 in 10 years, they were always a serious contender.

Second most common comment is about Jio University. Should a greenfield university be named as an Institute of Eminence. Well, it is too late to ask. The call for proposals clearly mentioned that greenfield universities are welcome and that they will be evaluated on the basis of plans that they have for the university (and the financial strength and commitment of promoters to carry out those plans). If people did not protest then, they shouldn't protest now. The best comment I received in this regard is from Dr. Bijoy Panigrahi (IIIT Naya Raipur) who suggested that we should have had three categories - government, private and greenfield. I fully agree (and new IITs could be considered in the 3rd category), but it is too late to suggest. I wish this suggestion was given in 2016. So as of now, let us hope that they will start soon, and have great plans and a great team to materialize those plans.


Unknown said...

Inclusion of Reliance Jio institute is difficult to understand. Can an Institution be granted this status without a track record? It somehow seems that Jio Institute and Manipal are riding piggyback on the good name of a few IITs and BITS Pilani. Another statement by Mr. Gopalaswamy is a little strange. He has stated that if an Institute is unable to appoint the required number of faculty then that's a failure. So filling up posts of faculty, even if sub-standard candidates are appointed, is a better thing according to Mr. Gopalaswamy.

freedom said...

obviously they the used the global ranking criterion. if they stuck to nirf then iit madras should have got the IoE tag since they did a hat trick on the nirf. since there was too much of skepticism in the open about nirf they probably dropped the nirf criterion.

Unknown said...

IIIT-H should have been selected as well. It's coding culture is known to all and even the IIT alumnus appreciate the institute's academics. It was disheartening to not see the name of this institute in the list.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Unknown, There is no narrowly focused, small institute in the list. It is indeed difficult for such institutes to reach top 500 ranking in the world. They will do well in any CS/IT based ranking, but not in "general" ranking.

Rahul Agrawal said...

IoE is a good head start. Autonomy and funds are the two main obstacles, which Indian Universities hit more than often. I see autonomy being addressed quite well in recent past. But the issue of funds still persists. Though we have HEFA, but it is still very limited in terms of participating institutes (same is with IoE). What we need is system something similar to 'Endowment Funds', to address our long term funding issues. A proper policy for endowment funds would be more general and applicable to all educational institutes unlike HEFA, IoE, INI etc. which are institute specific.

iitmsriram said...

@RahulAgarwal, do you expect that the tax payer will shell out these "endowment" funds? I don't know of any institution in the world where the tax payer hands out such endowments (other than land). Institutions have to raise their own endowments if they want to reduce dependance on tax payer money. IITM has been working on this for some years, but there is still a very long way to go. And, I am not sure what is the policy part that is lacking on this front. Of course, with Indian governments, there is always the fear that one fine day the government will announce that the funds actually belong to the government and not to the Institutions - this has actually happened in the past, more than once; so we have to convince donors that this is unlikely to happen and any move in this direction will be resisted stoutly. Right now, there is little incentive to build endowments.

@freedom, I believe the IoE committee did have fairly clear guidelines on what to look for and it was surely not NIRF ranking. The objective of IoE is to have globally ranking institutions, so, of course, global rankings parameters will be used, no surprise there. The chairman of the committee has also made clear statements to this effect.

Unknown said...

Dear Sir,

I would recommend you look at the track record of Manipal before calling it out for piggy backing on supposed bigger names. It is the first deemed to be private university and the only one that has ranked in the 450-500 Mark in the QS Rankings. The Medicine, Dentistry, Pharmacy, Hotel Management, Culinary Arts and Allied Health Schools constantly rank in the top 5 in the country. I would request you to not give flak for the University solely under false impressions

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Unknown, first of all have courage to write comments in your name. Second, please read it carefully. I am only saying that Manipal is not as good as IIT Kanpur in Engineering and Science. If you believe this statement to be false, we can agree to disagree. Besides this statement I have only said positive things about Manipal.

Rahul Agrawal said...

Sir, endowments are not taxpayers money, but a corpus fund where in principal amount is invested, so that certain income is generated. The principal amount is fully secured. Yes, institutes have to raise their own endowments, many do so like Yale, MIT, Cambridge etc. primarily by means of donations. With policy part I mean, government should lay down rules of how these funds should be managed? How they will be regulated by SEBI or any market regulator? And so on. These are essential because we do not want our faculties to turn fund managers. I could not find a policy for such educational endowment funds in India, if one exists please let me know. After all we want Tata, Birla, Ambani etc. to donate generously to our institutes as well.

iitmsriram said...

@RahulAgarwal, MHRD allows the Boards of the Institutes to decide how to invest and utilise any available corpus funds. IITM has been sort of leading on this front and currently the institutional corpus funds + endowments add up to about Rs. 300 crores. This does not include non-institutional holdings like with the independent "foundations" that most of the old IITs have. Today, these endowments may provide an income of the order of 5% of the annual expenditure of the IITs. I am (was) a member of the faculty committee that selected the investment advising agency a couple of years ago (before that, the funds were managed by the accounts section of the institute). This is why I replied "I am not sure what is the policy part that is lacking on this front." Besides, why would Ambani donate to IITs when he can set up his own Jio Institute of Eminence? Cant really compare with the Yales and Cambridges, those endowments are in the 10s of billions in USD, we are just now nudging towards 10s of millions of USD. Even with PPP, there is still a very long way to go.