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Jio : UGC removes EEC report from website

NEW DELHI : The Statesman reported on July 30 that the University Grants Commission (UGC) has removed the report of the Empowered Expert Committee (EEC) on the selection of Institutions of Eminence (IoEs) from its website. The UGC resolution on the EEC’s report has also been mysteriously taken off the UGC’s website.

They were apparently uploaded on the UGC website on July 11 -- two days after the Union HRD Ministry announced that the central government has shortlisted six IoEs -- 3 from the public sector and 3 from the private sector, including the non-existent Jio Institute of the Reliance Foundation -- based on the EEC’s report and recommendation.

The link to both these documents now throws up a cryptic statement on the UGC website, stating that “We will be back shortly, we are undergoing maintenance !!! The requested page or resource was not found. We apologize for inconvenience.” The point that other parts of the UGC website have continued to function normally raises suspicion besides putting a question mark over this move.

Even other online references to these documents did not yield any results. When The Statesman reached the HRD ministry’s higher education secretary R Subrahmanyam for a comment, he said, “It was displayed for a month. UGC routinely removes old documents.”

Strangely, the UGC website displays reports going back to 1975. The government’s decision to announce the Jio Institute among six declared IoEs sparked a controversy which has been raging, with a number of Opposition parties continuing to question it within and outside Parliament.

In its report, the EEC recommended 11 educational institutions as IoEs, of which the UGC/government approved only 6 -- IISc Bangalore, IIT Bombay, and IIT Delhi from the public sector; and Jio Institute (Reliance Foundation), Pune in “greenfield category”, Birla Institute of Technology & Sciences, Pilani, and Manipal Academy of Higher Education from the private sector -- which was announced by the HRD ministry in a release issued on 9 July.

At two places in this statement, however, the HRD ministry’s release claimed that the EEC in its report “recommended selection of only 6 institutions (3 from public sector and 3 from private sector) as IoEs”, which is factually incorrect.

With Jio’s inclusion among the IoEs continuing to be at the centre of a row, the HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar has repeatedly tried to give explanations in both Houses of Parliament, maintaining that the proposed Jio Institute has not been given the status of IoE but only a “letter of intent” under the greenfield category.

Clarifying in the Rajya Sabha on 26 July, Javadekar said that Jio Institute has been offered just a “letter of intent”, which is “conditional”. The same issue was again raised in the Lok Sabha today. The HRD minister echoed his claims in the Lower House too.

“They (Jio) have been only issued letter of intent with a clear guideline of what they should do for three years, complete the process and then only they will be granted (IoE) status after verification and inspection,” said Javadekar in reply to a question from Prasun Banerji, a Trinamul MP from Howrah.

Javadekar added that altogether 114 institutions had applied for getting the tag of IoEs in which various universities from West Bengal were also included.

The HRD ministry officials have claimed that the EEC is working independently to select more IoEs in both the public and private sectors, with the Centre planning to have ultimately a total of 20 ~ 10 each from the public and private sectors ~ IoEs. Jio Institute is to be set up by the Reliance Foundation Institution of Education and Research.

To a query on whether the HRD Ministry would reconsider the decision with regard to Jio Institute, Javadekar said it has “nothing to do with the government”. He said LoIs have been issued to Jio Institute and Manipal Academy of Higher Education with the condition that the they would submit a report to the HRD Ministry.
 

 

 A farce in three acts - The Statesman report

Mukesh & Nita Ambani; Prakash Javadekar

ACT 1 | A POLICY TAILOR MADE FOR JIO INSTITUTE
 

Statesman News Service

NEW DELHI  August 1, 2018 :
There are two ways in which Governments can be made to bend to individual will. The first is to persuade those in power to flout policy to favour a person or an institution. This route can open governments to criticism because the deviation is easily established.

The other is to get Government to write policy that fits the needs of a beneficiary. The Institution of Eminence scheme formulated by the Government last year appears to be an example of the latter, tailored as the Gazette notification of 29 August 2017 was to favour the proposed Jio Institute of the Reliance Foundation run by Mukesh and Nita Ambani. But the devil is in the details.

To begin with, the Gazette notification entitled UGC (Institutions of Excellence Deemed to be Universities), Regulations 2017, lists the following parameters that the Committee of Experts constituted to identify Institutions of Eminence should seek in an applicant:

It should preferably be multi-disciplinary or interdisciplinary and have both teaching and research focus of an exceptionally high quality.

It should offer interdisciplinary courses, including in areas of emerging technology and interest as well as those of relevance to the development concerns of countries like India and also award degrees, diplomas and other academic distinctions in such interdisciplinary areas.

It should have a good proportion of foreign or foreign qualified faculty. Foreign / foreign qualified faculty means: a. Any faculty of non-Indian citizenship, or b. Any Indian citizen who has spent considerable time in academics in a foreign country, with his academic qualification/experience from top 500 Institutions figuring in a reputed world ranking.

There should be a reasonably good mix of lndian and foreign students.

There should be a transparent merit-based selection in admissions, so that the focus remains on getting meritorious students.

The admission process should be need-blind – so that once a student gets admission purely on merit, such a meritorious student should not be turned away for lack of financial ability.

The faculty student ratio should be not be less than 1:20 at the time of notification issued declaring an Institution as an Institution of Eminence and should increase over time so as not to be less than 1: 10 after five years of this date. The faculty for this purpose includes the regular faculty, adjunct faculty, and long-term faculty (for at least three years). Part time faculty shall not be counted for the purpose.

There should be laboratory facilities to undertake cutting-edge scientific research for those Institutions of Eminence Deemed to be Universities doing scientific research. In case of humanities, social science and other interdisciplinary areas, the faculty should be engaged in research and field work in frontier areas using the latest methodologies.

The Institution of Eminence Deemed to be University should strive to achieve social impact by engaging in applied research and innovation in issues of concern to developing societies.

The Institution of Eminence Deemed to be University should develop teaching and research collaborations with a reasonable number of global universities figuring in the most reputed global rankings.

Even a cursory glance at these parameters, unexceptional except for the use of delightfully vague phrases such as “exceptionally high quality” and “most reputed global rankings”, would suggest that they can only be met by existing institutions, and not those proposed to be set up. For instance, how can an institution that has not been set up have a reasonable mix of Indian and foreign students, or a faculty student ratio of 1:20? How indeed could it have laboratory facilities of any quality, leave aside those capable of cutting-edge research?

But if this isn’t enough, the notification goes on to list further requirements for an Institution of Eminence, which clearly can’t be met by an institution that has not been set up:

The Institution of Eminence Deemed to be University should be known for promoting a culture where faculty are encouraged to publish regularly in peerreviewed journals and engage academically with the issues of concern to the society. It should have a record of research publications at the mean rate of at least one per faculty member each year in reputed peer reviewed international journals based on publication made by top 100 global Universities in these journals.

The Institution of Eminence Deemed to be University should have a worldclass library with subscriptions to reputed journals in the areas of courses it is offering.

The Institution of Eminence Deemed to be University should have student amenities comparable with that of globally reputed institutions.

The Institution should be accredited by National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) or an alternative version of NAAC which conforms to UGC (Institutions of Eminence Deemed to be Universities) Regulations, 2017 or its amendments and also be assessed by at least one reputed international accreditation agency, one whose ratings are a credible and widely accepted global benchmark.

So how did the Government do away with all these requirements to favour the Jio Institute? Quite simply by adding a few pertinent clauses to the notification.

Clause 4.2.11 (i) (b) of the notification says that a “yet to be established institution” should have “an initial corpus fund of Rs 60 crore which would be increased at an annual uniform annual rate to Rs 150 crore in ten years’ time and guaranteed pipeline of Rs 500 crore, along with a credible plan for additional Rs 1,000 crore.”

Clause 6.1 (iii) says: “The Sponsoring organization for greenfield institutions should have members whose total net worth is at least Rs five thousand crore collectively.”

Clause 6.1 (iv) says: “The Sponsoring organizations should have at least some members whose credentials, as borne out by their record and to the satisfaction of the Empowered Experts committee, indicate that they are committed to the objectives laid out…”

So, there we have it. An applicant with big money and a statement of intent and a bushel of promises would qualify under criteria that existing institutions would find exacting. Who better to do so than Asia’s richest man? And thus, Jio Institute was able to satisfy the Empowered Experts Committee that it would be able to meet all the requirements listed in the Gazette notification without a brick having been laid. So impressed were the experts that they noted in their report to the Government that only Jio Institute met the four criteria they had identified for inclusion – (i) Availability of land for construction of the institution; (ii) Putting in place a core team with very high qualification and wide experience; (iii) Funding for the institution and (iv) A strategic vision plan with clear annual milestones and vision plan.

Act II: Policy makers and protagonists

August 2, 2018 : It is now well known that the presentation made by the Reliance Foundation’s Jio Institute was led by Mr Mukesh Ambani andMr Vinay Sheel Oberoi his Adviser, Mr Vinay Sheel Oberoi, an IAS officer of the 1979 batch who had retired in 2017 as Secretary in the Ministry of Human Resource Development, the wing of government under which the University Grants Commission operates and the one that appointed the Empowered Experts Committee which selected the Institutions of Eminence.

According to reports, the presentation was ambiguous enough to raise questions on how the Empowered Experts Committee could possibly have reached the conclusion it did about Jio Institute’s suitability for inclusion. Jio’s presentation, according to Republic TV’s website, www.republicworld.com, was made up of in all of five brief slides that made the following claims:

o Promoters’ commitment of Rs 9,500 crore towards capital expenditure, gap funding and scholarships;

o Plan to recruit faculty from top 500 global institutions

o Merit-based admissions

o Fully residential, self-contained and inclusive campus

o Interdisciplinary research and world-class research infrastructure

o Multidisciplinary from the start

The same report on its first page gives the composition of UGC in 2016-17 and lists Mr Oberoi as a Member up to February 2017 in his capacity as Secretary, Ministry of HRD.

Mr Oberoi’s involvement with Government and the HRD ministry did not end with his retirement. In April 2018, he was appointed by the HRD ministry as Chairman of a seven-member high-power committee to examine the system of Class X and XII examinations conducted by the Central Board of Secondary Education.

In February 2018, Mr Oberoi was appointed Chairman of the Raksha Mantri’s Advisory Committee on Ministry of Defence Capital Projects to review ongoing capital acquisition projects of over Rs 5 billion.

With the matter having been handled thus, it is little surprise that those who are meant to be impressed by the Institutions of Eminence Scheme are less than sanguine about its prospects.

The Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings are considered one of three top global university indexes, the other two are by Quacquarelli Symonds and by the Shanghai Jiao Tao University respectively.

In a scathing report published on 31 May, Times Higher Education said, “But since the initial announcement, things have not progressed quite as planned. The UGC invited a select number of leading universities to submit their applications by 12 December. About 100 did so. Prakash Javadekar, the minister of human resource development – who looks after education – initially expressed great satisfaction. But a few weeks later, in late January, the UGC announced an extension of the deadline to 22 February. In a country where irregularities of all kinds are commonplace, it came to be rumoured that the extension was to enable select private universities, which had missed the first deadline or were unable to make up their mind earlier, to apply. It did not help that the names of the 100 universities that had applied initially were not made public.”

The report added: “Most higher education experts believe that the institutions of eminence initiative is a good one. Many point to the success of China in building highly ranked universities over the past two decades and hope that India can emulate it. However, the entire process so far has been amateurish. The guidelines issued by the UGC in September 2017 are poorly written and often lack clarity. The decision to extend the deadline several weeks after the first deadline passed was strange. So is the secrecy about the applicant institutions. And the confusion over the criteria the EEC is permitted to use is just embarrassing. Supporters of India’s higher education can only hope that the government, the UGC and the EEC get their act together. So far, the opacity and coordination problems are just feeding the idea that, as it has with many other big initiatives in other sectors, the Indian government will make a hash of the institutions of eminence initiative.”

The questions raised by Times Higher Education are pertinent. The University Grants Commission was dogged in its refusal to name the universities that had applied for the Institution of Eminence tag immediately after the first deadline ended on 13 December.

A query under the Right to Information Act filed on 13 December was disposed of with the remark that it did not pertain to a particular section. An appeal was similarly dismissed.

What were the UGC and the HRD Ministry hiding? When contacted, the Secretary, HRD told The Statesman on 12 July that a 23-day extension was granted at the request of some persons but refused to specify who they were.

Detailed questionnaires sent to the HRD Minister, Mr Prakash Javadekar at his official e-mail address, to Mr Mukesh Ambani through his authorised corporate communications official and to Mrs Nita Ambani through the official e-mail address of the Reliance Foundation, too did not elicit a response.

These questionnaires had among other things pointedly asked when Jio Institute had applied for inclusion in the scheme – before the first deadline or the extended one. None of them chose to answer.

Act III: Letters of inexplicable intent

August 3, 2018 : 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.

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.

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.”

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.”

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.”

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)
(Courtesy : The Statesman)

 

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