Expert Speak India Matters
Published on Jul 13, 2018
Race for excellence: Higher education in India needs urgent assessment for quality

On 9 July, the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) declared six institutes as ‘Institutes of Eminence’ (IoE) under the much-awaited and ambitious scheme of the Government of India for quality higher education. Under this scheme, 10 public and 10 private institutes were to be offered supreme autonomy to work towards featuring in top 500 of the World University Rankings within 10 years. Soon after HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar’s tweet on this on Monday, various articles and opinion pieces criticised several aspects of the selection, but there was unanimity among all of them regarding the downsizing of the number selected to six from the initially targeted 20.

According to a press release by the MHRD, the government received 100 applications for the proposed 20 places. Under public sector category, 10 central universities, 25 state universities, six deemed-to-be-universities, 20 Institutions of National Importance and six standalone institutions applied; whereas under the private category, nine universities, 16 deemed-to-be-universities under brownfield category and eight institutions applied under green-field category. An expert committee, headed by former Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswami could, however, come up with only 11 names after due diligence.  These included IISc Bangalore, IIT-Bombay, IIT-Delhi, IIT-Kharagpur, IIT-Madras, Delhi University, Jadavpur University and Anna University under the public category and BITS Pilani, Manipal Academy and Jio Institute under the private category.

The MHRD, however, declared only six making us wonder why we couldn’t give IoE tag to at least all the 11 institutes proposed by the expert committee.


To begin with, application from more than 100 institutes for 20 positions is an indicator that Indian institutes are desperate to break free from the stifling regulations imposed on them. The fact that these 100 institutions felt that they were eligible to apply for the said places is another indicator that the MHRD needs to pay attention to. It needs to consider reviewing and supporting their plans for themselves to break into international rankings, if not in 10 years, then a little longer. It is time that the government deliberate on offering autonomy to many such institutes. Recently, the government proposed to scrap the University Grants Commission and floated the Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) Act, 2018, which in its present form will not be able to ensure autonomy to the institutes under it. It is especially difficult for state public universities to bag the IoE tag owing to minimal academic and financial autonomy under various regulators and state governments.

The expert committee has recommended the tag of Special Institutions for some institutes, such as IIM Ahmedabad, IIM Kolkata, ICAR Delhi, Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana, Indian Statistical Institute Kolkata, TIFR Mumbai and TISS Mumbai, according to a news report. These are also the ones that could not make it to the IoE final list but found a special mention due to exemplary work in their respective fields.

To be ambitious enough to get 20 Indian universities in the global rankings in 10 years, it would be sensible to support many more universities so as to easily achieve the target. For instance, China launched its Project 211 in 1995 and supported about 100 institutes to become world class. Subsequently, in 1998, they launched Project 985 to support 49 institutes. Last year, they released names of 42 universities to be supported under the World Class 2.0 scheme. However, in 2018, there are only about 22 Chinese institutes that made it to top 500 of the QS World University Rankings.

Given that the annual budget already earmarked Rs 1,000 crore for each of the 10 public IoEs, it is only fair to support more public universities to help them prepare for excellence and eventually, global rankings.


Similarly, for private institutes, since the government does not have to make any financial commitments, it needs to come up with certain special guidelines to support and encourage a few able private institutes to also come into the said league.

Having said this, it is also important to ponder over the fact that an empowered committee could not find 20 institutes from a pool of more than 800 universities in the country, which is a matter of grave concern. International standards of assessing institutes are based on parameters such as academic reputation, employer reputation, citations per paper and papers per faculty, staff with PhD, proportion of international faculty and students and proportion of inbound and outbound exchange of students. These are the parameters that the Indian institutes are expected to fulfill if they achieve the IoE tag. These are also some of the basic qualities that an institution needs to possess to deliver quality education. Which brings us back to the state of higher education in the country that needs immediate and urgent attention to help India compete at the global level.

Like every other scheme in the country, IoE is again meant only for the already top performing institutes that will do well in any given situation. The ones that need the real hand holding and financial backing are the state public universities that accommodate more than 90 percent of the student population and are way under-funded to even perform basic functions.

If we only keep promoting the elite institutions with schemes such as IoE, state public universities might never be able to join the ranks of top universities due to paucity of support from the government.


Finally, the declaration of IoE institutes has made it imperative to deliberate on our proposed education policies, including the HECI Act, to make them more inclusive and conducive to maintaining the autonomy and health of our institutes – which are clearly substandard at the moment. The MHRD needs to come up with a viable funding instrument post the declaration of HECI Act, so that our institutes don’t fall prey to politics and are funded sufficiently to eventually have a fair chance to participate in the race for excellence.

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Priyanshu Agarwal

Priyanshu Agarwal

Priyanshu Agarwal Student Member Centre for Law and Society Gujarat National Law University

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