THE union minister of human resources development introduced in the Lok Sabha the ‘Universities for Research and Innovation Bill, 2012’ on May 21, 2012. According to the statement of objects and reasons of the Bill, “if India has to achieve a leadership role in the future global knowledge economy, mere public expenditure on higher education is not going to be sufficient and a substantial part of the funding must flow into the education sector through not-for-profit private participation.” Therefore, these universities for research and innovation will be either fully public funded or fully private funded or in public-private partnership.
These universities are (supposedly) intended to make India the global knowledge hub and will set benchmarks for excellence for other central and state universities. These universities will be based on different themes, focussing on “one area or problem of significance to India and build an ecosystem of research and teaching around different related disciplines.”
These universities will be set up not through acts of parliament or state legislatures, but through notifications. The central government will issue notifications establishing universities for innovation, specifying their names and location of their headquarters. The universities for innovation will have all-India jurisdictions with freedom to establish campuses and study centres anywhere in India and foreign countries.
These notifications will be based on memoranda of agreement (MoA) between the central government and the promoters of such universities. The definition of promoters includes companies, trusts and societies, registered under Indian laws, which are “organisations of repute” having “financial capability and expertise” and devoting themselves to “proven innovation in research.” It also includes foreign universities established outside India for at least fifty years and recognised as “universities of repute” through “internationally accepted standards.” It also includes Indian universities established for at least twenty five years and recognised as “universities of repute” through accreditation.
The promoters of these universities shall submit to the central government a vision plan, a memorandum of agreement and a project report. These shall include the objects of such proposed universities, their names and locations, capital investment plans, sources of financing the capital investment, infrastructure, standards of higher education, programmes of study, and constitution of the board of governors and their qualifications, etc. The promoter shall also include in the MoA, (i) the financial contribution, if any, expected from the central government, and (ii) the availability of land and the expected support from the central government in obtaining land for the establishment of such proposed university.
The government shall display the memorandum of agreement for 60 days for suggestions from the public. It shall constitute a committee of experts for advice on the competency and expertise of the promoter and vision plan. The application shall be either approved or rejected within six months, as far as practicable. If the government accepts the application, the memorandum of agreement shall need the approval of parliament. The central government will publish every memorandum of agreement in the official gazette to take effect.
It is expected that these universities will provide teaching, research facilities and innovation experience of standards comparable or “surpass the needs of global competitiveness of the education system in various fields of knowledge.” These universities will enjoy unfettered freedom in financial administration, academic and other matters.
They will be free to evolve their own admission criteria, determine the nomenclature of their degrees and other academic distinctions awarded by them irrespective of the provisions of the UGC Act, decide their own fee structure and other charges, appoint teachers, and determine their salaries and service conditions. They will also be free to appoint faculty by invitation and give them differential salaries and perks. At least half of the students admitted to these universities will have to be Indian citizens and the rest could be foreign. Thus the cap of additional 15 per cent of seats for foreign students set by the University Grants Commission (UGC) will not be applicable to these universities.
The universities for innovation shall be exempt from reservation policy. It will be applicable only to public funded universities for innovation and that too in accordance with the presence of only Indian students.
Each university for innovation will establish a university endowment fund with such initial corpus as provided in the MoA. Therefore, different universities will have different initial corpus funds. These so called not-for-profit legal entities will not be under the purview of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG). They will appoint their own auditors. They will have all financial powers for acquiring and disposing properties. The surplus in the revenue of these universities, after meeting all expenditures, can only be invested in their growth and development. Given the freedom to establish campuses and study centres in foreign countries which will function “in accordance with provisions of the laws of such foreign country,” the promoters will be able to appropriate the surplus in revenue. These provisions give indication that these universities will actually be profit-making entities.
ALL POWERS TO
BOARD OF GOVERNORS
The universities for innovation would enjoy complete autonomy in the constitution of the board of governors, the members of which will be appointed or nominated or sponsored by the promoters as provided in the MoA. There will be no nominee of the government on the board of governors despite the fact that the central government will be funding them. However, at least one-third of its members will be from teachers or officers of the concerned university for innovation. Not less than half the members will be independent persons and innovators and industry leaders. One-half of such independent persons will be women.
Apart from other functions, the board of governors will decide the annual budget estimates, qualifications and other eligibility criteria and the processes for appointment to the posts of vice chancellor, professors emeritus, professors, associate professors, assistant professors and other officers. The chancellor of each university for innovation will be appointed by the promoter. The board of governors will choose the vice chancellor on the recommendation of search-cum-selection committee who could even be a foreign academician. The board of governors will have freedom to appoint academic boards, schools of studies, etc. The board of governors shall be responsible for all policies, management affairs and exercise all powers.
The board of governors of any university for innovation shall have the autonomy to enact, by statutes, its own policy to attract the highly qualified and talented academics having sufficient teaching or research experience from any part of the country or abroad, and to offer them emoluments and perks commensurate with their standing. This will include appointment by invitation of any person to accept the post of professor or associate professor and appointment by invitation of any graduating student with high academic distinction demonstrating exceptional talent for research as assistant professor on any terms and conditions.
While enjoying full autonomy — academic, management and financial — these universities will have no accountability. They will have full freedom to determine and receive payment of fees and other charges for instruction and other services provided by them. The standards of teaching and research are expected to be higher than the minimum standards determined by the statutory regulatory body in the relevant field. Where no standards have been determined, the standards have to be equivalent or higher than the standards of the best international universities, about which nothing is provided in the bill.
Giving all information about standards and fee etc on the website is enough for their accountability. If any dispute arises between such a university and the statutory regulatory authority with regard to the standards etc, it will be referred to a committee of three persons and not even to the much trumpeted educational tribunals. Such a committee will include one person each nominated by the concerned innovation university and statutory regulatory authority while the third person will be nominated by another innovation university. Thus the representatives from the innovation universities will be in a majority. The decision of the committee will be final and binding. However, if there is any violation of its declared standards, no punishment penalty has been prescribed in the bill as has been provided in other recently introduced education related bills like foreign educational institutions bill.
FINANCED BY CENTRE
The central government will give grants to each university for funding research and the promotion and development of higher education. It will also give grants to support fellowships or scholarships instituted by it, including fellowships or scholarships for the socially and educationally backward students. The central government’s public funding will be in the form of land, contributions to capital investment, grants for supporting research, and the promotion and development of higher education. The funding of universities of innovation by the central government will be the part of the MoA, as pointed out above.
These universities will be known as the institutions of national importance with full autonomy in all respects. These will be private universities financed by the central government. The central government will have neither general nor social control over them. The promoters will have their own agenda and vision, without any importance to national concerns. These universities will be for the elite and middle class of the country squeezing the requirements of higher education system in general and students in particular.
Each university will disclose to the central government about the new research leading to an intellectual property and apply for its protection. The government will pass on all profits or royalty earned to the university from such intellectual property, and it will be shared with the creator of the property. However, the central government may acquire the title of such intellectual property and restrict its publication or communication, which is considered as prejudicial to the interests of the security of India. It includes the intellectual property for making a product which relates to fissionable material, arms, ammunition, implements of war, etc. Thus all profits made through intellectual property, created by using public funds, will go to the coffers of the private university of innovation.
These universities will give their annual reports to the board of governors only and not to the central government. There is no provision in the bill under which the central government can inspect the affairs and functioning of these universities.
However, each university for innovation shall constitute a committee of experts after fifteen years of its establishment, and thereafter every ten years, for evaluating the functioning of the university.
The wide-ranging freedom available to these universities, like differential salaries to teachers and fee and other charges etc, will set an example for all other institutions of higher education in the country to demand such freedom. Such freedom will only help private promoters, companies and foreign universities seeking to take advantage of the provisions of this bill.
There are no provisions in the bill for regulation of its admission process, courses, fees, examinations, service conditions and appointments of the teaching and non-teaching staffs. There is no provision under which the central government or any regulatory authority can inspect the affairs of these universities. Thus the central government will have neither general nor social control over these universities.
These universities will be outside the jurisdiction of the CAG. There will be no member of the central government on the board of governors. Any dispute between the statutory regulatory authority and the university of innovation in relation to standards will be referred only to a committee, not even to the proposed tribunals, the decision of which will be final and binding. There is no remedy proposed in the bill in relation to the disputes between students, teachers and other staff on the one hand and the universities of innovation on the other. This bill is most suited to private players in education and will give a fillip to commercialisation of higher education in the country. This bill will gravely affect our public funded system of higher education.
The ministry of human resources development (MHRD) has forgotten that great universities are not established; they grow to greatness. All universities are institutions for innovation. The government could only make some norms for world-class universities which could not be established overnight but evolve over time.
With the aforesaid unfettered freedom, complete autonomy to the board of governors and no control of the central government over universities for innovation, this bill provides an alternative route of the Foreign Educational Institutions (FEI) Bill 2010 to foreign universities and private players for establishing their campuses in India. They will not be required to acquire the (discredited) deemed universities status. This alternative route is going to give them greater power, freedom and prestige, with the removal of most of the restrictions that are proposed in the foreign educational institutions bill. Only the predatory elements will benefit from this bill, not the people of India.