The drive to attain the label of ‘world-class institution’ is becoming stronger by the day, particularly as a credibility measure, considering the relatively poor image of Indian institutions in the international arena.
The drive to attain the label of ‘world-class institution’ is becoming stronger by the day, particularly as a credibility measure, considering the relatively poor image of Indian institutions in the international arena. The active presence of international accreditation agencies in India is an indication of this. Addressing the centenary celebrations at the Patna University last year, PM Narendra Modi had said it is a blot that no Indian university figures among the top few in the world, while in the past universities such as Nalanda and Taxila attracted students from across the globe. In line with this, to ensure ‘greater excellence and innovation’ in higher education, the government had announced a corpus of Rs 10,000 crore for five years to 10 private and 10 government universities to be chosen by the government. Further, these 20 institutions would be free from the constraints of government rules and regulations in order to facilitate them to emerge as world-class institutions. While this initiative is welcome, the exclusive pursuit of status and ranks by a few chosen universities, rather than by all institutions who meet a certain milestone to become the ‘chosen one’, may not be able to achieve the objective. The desire and ability of institutions who wish to push their frontiers to achieve this must be given a chance.
The identification of these ‘chosen ones’ who may not want government funding but they, for sure, would want full autonomy must be on an auto mode, i.e. milestone-based, to increase the prospect of success from India perspective. The Hyderabad-based Indian School of Business (ISB) getting one of the top global ranks in a recent Financial Times ranking is a case in point. The ISB is not governed by any Indian academic regulator and does not take government funds. It is not appropriate for a country like India to invest a huge amount of taxpayer money to fund the effort of only a few universities to attain global rankings, precluding others who also may have intent. All options to make fund utilisation optimal must be explored. For example, to encourage fund flow into higher education—a non-profit activity—the government may do well to incentivise private fund flow through tax exemption. This would ensure, at current corporate tax rates, three times the tax forgone by the government into higher education. If the government forgoes Rs 2,000 crore as tax revenue adjusted against the corpus, then about Rs 6,000 crore can flow into higher education from private sources.
Add this to the Rs 10,000 crore fund outlay, and the total fund mobilised would be Rs 14,000 crore. To further strengthen fund flow, the mandatory corporate CSR activity can be aligned with higher education in line with the Companies (Amendment) Bill, 2016. Such a redefinition will broaden the scope of institutions wanting to push their boundaries and, thus, improve the chance of success in meeting the objectives. The fund allocation in its current form appears inefficient and of skewed priority. It must also be understood that the bygone era Nalanda and Taxila universities received grants from the kings and thereafter the kings neither asked questions on fund utilisation nor were there any audits. These universities did with funds what they considered the best. In the current Indian context, the impact of questions that may be asked by government agencies on fund utilisation by private universities, in particular, can be a matter of a debate. Milestone-based parity in raising or utilisation of funds, autonomy, competition and government monitoring in equal measure for all educational institutions must be the only way to fast-track higher education reform in India.