The highest ranked university in the country is the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, founded by Jamsetji Tata over 100 years ago. It was created to build the new India and has been a shining example of what a university can do to change and build a country. Although India had universities in the 19th century too, none of them rank today in the top 200 despite being torch-bearers for the colonised world at one point of time.
Since Independence, the government followed a policy of creating the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and other universities in the state sector, though actively discouraging universities in the private sector. Today, 67 years after Independence, barring the IISc, we do not have a truly world-class university which is based on research and creation of knowledge. Almost all of our universities have become teaching universities, which is not bad at all, producing a large number of educated graduates. However, the focus on original research, innovation and breakthroughs in science has been lost.
India, therefore, needs a new breed of universities to be set up to enable the country become a truly global power.
For instance, the greatest strength of the US, the one truly global power, has been her universities. They are the best in the world, substantially in the private sector, are autonomous, are at the forefront of research and discovery, and are global in their reach. Moreover, these institutions also act as a global forum for exchange of ideas and information and for conducting collaborative research and development with several partnering nations and institutions around the world.
India should now set in place a policy for encouraging the creation of at least 10 universities which can aspire for global status over the next 25 years. To be truly autonomous, they need to be free of direct funding by the government, and free of all conditionalities except the pursuit of excellence, having faculty from all parts of the globe as also students. India has come out with the concept of ‘innovation universities’ which are largely sought to be built in the public sector. An equal number of universities should be set up in the private sector so that there is a liberal educational ecosystem.
Jamsetji Tata set up the IISc in response to the need for a new India. We today have more than 50 billionaires and truly global business leaders. They too need to be invited to set up at least 10 universities in various fields, global in reach and aspiration.
Therefore, it is suggested that Prime Minister Narendra Modi invite 10 leading businessmen and committed citizens of India to set up these universities as part of their public service to India. The Prime Minister’s request will have great value and ensure the right spirit—as this will be by invitation only—so as to ensure quality and create the right aspiration. It will also ensure that they get true autonomy and do not become subject to unnecessary controls. The invitation could carry the following framework:
They should be ready to fund a university which aspires to be world-class and agree to invest at least R500 crore in cash, in a corpus as a not-for-profit foundation, with R250 crore for infrastructure and at least R250 crore in an investible corpus.
They will be granted full autonomy—from academic to financial to administrative—as is available to, say, a Harvard or an MIT.
They can have multinational faculty on their staff, chosen on merit and paid on a competitive basis, and will have full freedom on compensation and terms to faculty.
Admission to these universities should be on merit through open competition and also open to students from other countries.
They should have a large research agenda and should be discovery-based and innovation-driven.
They must have a roadmap to reach a global standing over the next 25 years.
The framework should be simple without conditionalities. They should have full freedom of operation.
There are many global leaders who could be interested for this ultimate act of public service. Some of the leading names that come to our mind are NR Narayana Murthy, Mukesh Ambani, Azim Premji, Ratan Tata, Sunil Bharti Mittal, Brijmohan Lall Munjal, Kumar Mangalam Birla, Anand Mahindra, Venu Srinivasan, Anil Agrawal, Dr Ramdas Pai, Adi Godrej, Gautam Adani and Shiv Nadar. These are leaders of exceptional ability who can make this dream come true.
TV Mohandas Pai is chairman, Aarin Capital Partners, and Girish Srivastava is an independent policy & strategy consultant and formerly with NASSCOM. Views are personal