The Indian Express | 1 week ago | 18-03-2023 | 12:45 pm
FROM THE state that pioneered the mid-day meal scheme, comes some astounding good news regarding the effects of introducing free breakfast in schools. A recent assessment study by the School Education Department shows that in all but six of the 1,545 government primary schools where the scheme was introduced in September last year, attendance has seen an increase.The Tamil Nadu Chief Minister’s Breakfast Scheme covers 1.5 lakh students currently, with the state declaring that it will extend it to all government primary schools, benefiting 17 lakh students in total, by June this year.For the M K Stalin government, which has projected its “Dravidian model” as superior to the Centre’s, this is a great endorsement. Particularly as a proposal in the New Education Policy of the Narendra Modi government to introduce breakfast besides mid-day meals in schools, remained a non-starter after the Ministry of Finance baulked at the estimated cost of around Rs 4,000 crore.The Tamil Nadu government’s assessment study shows that in 1,086 schools of the 1,545 schools covered by the breakfast scheme, attendance was up 20%. In 22 schools, the rise was more than 40%. Across all districts, there was an increase in attendance, while in the districts of Tirupathur, Perambalur, Ariyalur and Tiruvarur, all schools where the scheme was rolled out showed the phenomenon.The DMK-led government mooted the plan based on its finding that many children who come to government schools do so without any food in the morning, either due to strained circumstances, or working parents who did not find the time to cook, or the long distance they had to cover to reach school on time.Tamil Nadu Finance Minister Palanivel Thiagarajan told The Indian Express that the gains from the scheme currently surpass those from mid-day meal, and that they too were taken by surprise by the findings. “The study shows that the breakfast scheme is proving to be more important than lunch. Though these schemes focus on improving nutrition, overall development and long-term outcomes, the government did not expect such a sudden improvement in attendance records,” he said, adding that 300-400 schools had seen more than a 10 per cent increase in attendance, while in some schools, this was as high as 200%.Crucial learnings from the mid-day meal scheme, now in place in the state for about seven decades, were applied, including the fact that two-thirds of its cost went towards non-food expenses and that quality control remained a challenge.So the breakfast scheme is run using common kitchens, or what are popularly known as cloud kitchens in urban areas, with automated machines doing the cooking, with no human interface. The meals are then dispatched on trucks to schools.In rural areas, they are run with the help of Self-help Groups (SHGs) under local bodies. Members of the SHGs are parents of children who themselves buy the ingredients and prepare the food.The amount assigned is Rs 12.75 per student currently, working out to Rs 33.56 crore in all. Of the 1,545 schools, 417 are located in cities, 163 in towns, 728 in rural and 237 in remote, hilly regions. The menu changes on a daily basis and includes items such as upma, khichdi, pongal, rava kesari, semiya kesari.When the 1956 Congress government of K Kamaraj first introduced the noon meal scheme in government schools, children were served “baby rotis”. The subsequent DMK and AIADMK governments expanded the funding and menu. In 1989, the M Karunanidhi-led DMK government added an egg a week, increased it to three in 2007 and five by 2010 (the option for non-egg eaters was banana). The AIADMK government led by Jayalalithaa introduced rice varieties to the menu.Officials point out how the mid-day meal initially did not have takers either. J Jeyaranjan, Vice-Chairman, Tamil Nadu Planning Board, says among them was Manmohan Singh, who later as Prime Minister would roll out widely appreciated welfare programmes like the MNREGA.A Planning Commissioner member at the time, Singh questioned the then M G Ramachandran’s plans to expand the noon meal programme. “He asked MGR if he planned to run schools or eateries, inviting instant objection by MGR,” recalls Jeyaranjan.The success of the breakfast scheme is also a good counterpoint for the DMK against the BJP campaign accusing Opposition governments of freebies, or revdis as Modi first dubbed them. While Tamil Nadu is ahead of most states in its politicians offering doles in the run-up to elections, the breakfast meal bolsters the Opposition’s argument that there is only a fine distinction between freebies and welfare.
With the inauguration of its permanent campus by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 12, IIT Dharwad, which started in 2016, is in the process of shifting out of its temporary campus in a phased manner. The institute’s director Venkappayya R Desai speaks to The Indian Express about his priorities with the new institute, changing academic landscapes, interdisciplinary courses, and the suicide cases at the IITs. Excerpts:Q. What are your priorities as IIT Dharwad director?Our top priority is to clear the major bottlenecks in the permanent campus. One is the main electrical station, along with the kitchen equipment for the student dining hall.We also need to get the sewage treatment plant ready, so that we are in a position to move. However, we will move in a gradual manner because we have a lot of sophisticated equipment which cannot straightway be moved from here (current campus) to the permanent campus.Secondly, we want to ensure that students and faculty are properly housed. Academically, we have seven Bachelor in Technology (BTech) programmes, one BS (Bachelor of Science) and MS (Master of Science) dual degree programme, alongside Masters in Technology (MTech) and Phd programmes.We want to introduce a BTech programme in the humanities and social sciences department as it does not have one on its own. The other nine departments have the programme in some way or the other. We are also deliberating on introducing economics probability, financial engineering, among other subjects, to make the BS and MS integrated programmes more inclusive.Additionally, we are also looking to link modern science and technology with traditional technology. We want to use historical materials from Sanskrit literature and classical Indian languages and apply it to modern science, for all branches. Even the new education policy emphasises on promoting Indian languages.Q. IIT Dharwad is among the youngest IITs in the country. Six months have passed since your appointment as the institute’s director. What milestones, in your opinion, has it achieved? What needs to be worked on?Recently, IIT Dharwad got formally announced as the Quality Improvement Programme (QIP) centre, giving scope for government, government-aided and private engineering college faculty members to enroll and improve their quality through enhancement of qualifications.The engineering college faculty members with bachelor qualifications can enroll and get a masters degree through QIP. In addition to the regular salary these faculty members get from their host institutions, they will also get subsistence allowance as these are time-bound programmes.Meanwhile, we have only one MTech programme in mechanical engineering. We need to extend this to two more departments — electrical engineering and computer science. Our priority is to serve our full capacity of 25 masters seats under QIP. Since it is a new IIT, the number of professors are less in number. We have 70 professors (including assistant professors) and around 15 visiting professors. However, the sanctioned faculty strength is 100 with a student teacher ratio of 1:10.Q. IIT Dharwad was mentored by IIT Bombay for its three batches so far. Each IIT has a unique academic culture and strengths. What do you think you have imbibed from them?IIT Bombay is the second-oldest IIT and is located in the financial capital of the country. As a result, every faculty member’s time is very precious. Things are simple and straightforward in IIT Bombay. The institute also helps us in senate meetings because we have very few full-time professors. During senate meetings, we need help from external senate members from IIT Bombay and industry experts too. We also take help from IIT Bombay professors from relevant departments in shortlisting our faculty applicants.Q. There have been many suicides in IITs in the last six months. Do you think IITs need to revisit their support systems and improve them to help prevent such deaths?Caste discrimination is a very general problem. We should make students aware of other children who are more economically and socially challenged. When we make them aware of the existing reality, the students will realise that they can still put up a smiling face and be positive compared to those children who are both economically and socially weaker. Moreover, faculty should also play a major role in enhancing student welfare activities.When Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated our new permanent campus, he suggested that we use Japanese technology to increase vegetation density around the campus. The vegetation will be planted in lines of vruksha nakshatra that will imbibe Indian traditional values and serve as a stress buster to students. If you look at the life of the student two weeks prior to the suicide, you will find them isolating from the near and dear ones. As a result, they come across negative incidents, news reports and end up in suicidal thoughts. It is equally important to have good food. Being more social will also help students. Unfortunately, some marginalised students are isolated in the initial few weeks in the dining hall sometimes – this happens across all IITs.Sometimes, ragging also is a major problem. Fortunately, at IIT Dharwad we have not come across such cases.Q. A research paper published by IIT Bombay recently found that except for Computer Science & Engineering (CSE), and to some extent for Electrical Engineering (EE), IIT Bombay students have predominantly opted for non-engineering jobs. What do you think is the reason?Things are no longer in silos. I am a civil engineer by qualification, but I have my own interest in linguistic subjects. These kind of things happen with everyone and there is nothing wrong with that. We can’t force students to take up jobs as per their qualifications. I believe in the principle of “get what you like and like what you get”. Life is all about making feasible compromises. In addition to their programmes, students should explore various opportunities in areas of one’s interest. Sometimes, their interests are partially misguided by parents also.Q. There have been consultations within the government to bring institutes of national importance within the ambit of the proposed Higher Education Commission of India. Would it be a good idea to bring IITs and IIMs within the HECI’s ambit?It is a good idea. IITs, NITs are excluded from the purview of AICTE. A newly established institution like IIT Dharwad will be deprived of the positive experience of some of the selected institutes which have a history of over 50 or 75 years. There should be good exchange of ideas and best practices. Hence, it is a welcome move to bring institutes of national importance under a regulatory purview.Q. Interdisciplinarity is among the main focus of the new education policy. How is IIT Dharwad approaching this?We have a 5 year BS-MS interdisciplinary programme. Students can either choose physics/ chemistry or mathematics/biology specialisations. There are enough electives offered by other departments like humanities and social sciences, philosophy, sociology and others.Q. Are you worried about ChatGPT and its impact on academics?I am hearing that ChatGPT will soon make Google extinct, but I think any new innovation cannot be exclusive. We need not get worried excessively because every technology evolves with time. It cannot be 100 per cent accurate and efficient. Any new thing is high on technology but low in experience. Any old thing may be low on technology. However, it is definitely tested by time.Q. Education faced a huge disruption during the pandemic. It has been over a year since students have joined physical classes. Have you noticed any changes in the learning patterns?Students are still in the pandemic or lockdown mode. Our faculty members noticed that some students are not at all seen in the campus. They have registered and are nowhere to be seen. It is high time that we as faculty bring the students back to the pre-pandemic levels. It is fine if they are taking up internships, but they should take an official permission so that it is formalised. The learning ability has taken a beating. Lab courses and experiments go on through video demonstrations. The hands-on experience in lab experiments has actually stopped after the pandemic. It is an individual and collective responsibility of every faculty member to restore the learning experience.
EVEN in West Bengal where political leaders have been jumping sides with rapid frequency to stay on the right side, this was an unusual development. Last week, a leader of the Trinamool Congress from North Bengal, Udayan Guha, came out against his own father Kamal Guha, saying that as a Forward Bloc leader and minister, the latter too “gave many jobs illegally”.Udayan, who joined the TMC before the 2016 Assembly elections, said: “He (his father) also committed corruption for the sake of the party.”The amount may not have been much, Udayan was quick to specify, but it was still corruption. “If you take Rs 5, it is not corruption, but if you take Rs 50,000 or Rs 5 lakh, that is corruption? It can’t be like that… My father also employed many people.”Trapped in a corner over mounting corruption allegations against her government, particularly over the job recruitment scam that hits the people where it hurts, TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee appeared to pull this card out of her sleeve.And it’s not the only one. As the clock starts ticking for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, Mamata is employing several tactics, from targeted wooing of her Muslim support base to fighting the corruption taint to rolling out more schemes. In 2019, the BJP had stunned the TMC by winning 18 Lok Sabha seats in the state where it was not too long ago a nobody, and the TMC knows it can leave no chinks in its armour.The re-focus on the CPI(M) as the target of its attack is also calculated, as it plays down the significance of the BJP (which has lost many of its leaders to the TMC). Plus, the TMC is still reeling from losing its Muslim-dominated stronghold of Sagardighi in a recent bypoll to a Congress candidate, backed by the CPI(M).Over the weekend, in a little-noticed but worrying sign for the TMC, the Congress and CPI(M) swept all 19 seats in a closely fought battle for the Haldia docks management committee, in Purba Medinipur district. The TMC had won all but 1 seat last time, and had held control of the committee for 13 years.The corruption battleThe 2021 Assembly poll win had been a commendable achievement for the Mamata-led TMC, bringing it to power for the third time in the state against an ascendant and aggressive BJP. However, within a year, the blows started.It began with then Industry Minister and Mamata aide, Partha Chatterjee, being arrested by the CBI and Enforcement Directorate (ED) along with his confidante Arpita Mukherjee. The case struck headlines for successive days as more than Rs 50 crore in cash turned up at Mukherjee’s flats.Hardly had this furore died down that another top TMC leader, Anubrata Mondol, along with his bodyguard Saigal Hossain, was arrested in a cattle-smuggling case. Then came the school job scam, in which many officials of the school education department and TMC leaders were arrested.Against this backdrop came Udayan Guha’s charges against the Left regime that preceded the TMC’s – a surprising turn of direction given that it has been more than a decade since the Left Front lost power and the TMC has brought this up now.After naming his father as among those who gave out jobs as quid pro quo, Udayan shared documents which he claimed show how close relatives of CPI(M) leaders got employment in government sectors without proper recruitment examinations. He named the wife of CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty, Mili, who was employed by a government college in 1987 and worked there for 34 years before retirement, and relatives of former CPI(M) minister Sushanta Ghosh as among them.“A HORRIFIC example of deceiving the public!” tweeted Udayan.Chakraborty fired back telling Udayan to submit proof if he had any. “We are ready to face an investigation. If he does not have any proof, the TMC must apologise at an open forum.”The minority voteThe bypoll to Murshidabad’s Sagardighi seat – which had been held by the TMC since 2011 — was necessitated by the death of sitting TMC MLA Subrata Saha. Stunning the ruling party, the Congress’s Bayron Biswas won the bypoll, defeating the TMC’s Debasish Banerjee by 22,986 votes. Apart from the Left Front, Biswas was backed by the ISF, or Islamic Secular Front, a rising Muslim outfit that the TMC sees as a challenger for Muslim votes.In the postmortem done after the result, the TMC is said to have zeroed in on minority votes shifting to the Left-Congress, the corruption taint attached to it, and a decline in Mamata’s popularity as among the reasons.Sagardighi was also bad news coming so close to the panchayat polls, expected to be announced anytime soon in Bengal, given the fluid party loyalties at the grassroots level.While Mamata publicly asserted that “minorities are with us, like before”, a series of steps since indicate that this confidence is shaken.Firstly, the faces in the committee set up by the TMC to introspect on the defeat in Sagardighi. It included ministers Siddiqullah Chowdhury, Sabina Yasmin, Akhrujjaman and Jakir Hossain. Chowdhury was also given the responsibility of Malda, Murshidabad and South Dinajpur districts, along with Yasmin.Chowdhury used to be a leader of the Jamiat-Ulema-e-Hind, an organisation with a strong base among Bengali-speaking Muslims of West Bengal.Alongside this, Firhad Hakim or Bobby Hakim, identified with the Urdu-speaking Muslim population of the state, saw his wings being clipped. Previously, it was Hakim who looked after the TMC organisation in Murshidabad, along with Howrah and Hoogly.The president of the TMC’s Bengal minority cell, MLA Haroa Haji Nurul, was replaced next, with another young Muslim leader, Mosaraf Hossain, the MLA of Itahar.On Monday, in yet another change, Md Ghulam Rabbani was removed from the state’s Minority Affairs Department, and moved to Horticulture. Mamata herself has taken charge of the Minority Affairs Department for now.Simultaneously, the Mamata government announced the creation of separate development boards for minorities and migrant labour. A senior Cabinet minister said, “Earlier, there was a finance corporation for minorities. Mamata Banerjee has now decided to create a Minority Development Board and a Migrant Labour Development Board.”The new schemes, financial situationAlthough the TMC government has been able to increase revenue collection in 2022-23, the state’s revenue deficit has increased to nearly Rs 7,000 crore. Simultaneously, according to the Budget proposals placed by Minister of State, Finance, Chandrima Bhattacharya in the Assembly Wednesday, the state’s outstanding debt will rise to about Rs 6.5 lakh crore by the end of the 2023-24 fiscal.The Mamata government has several popular welfare measures such as Lakshmi Bhandar, Kanyasree, Rupasree, Sabuj Sathi which require huge outflows. The Lakshmi Bhandar programme alone needs more than Rs 20,000 crore per year.Recently, state government employees held a strike – the first under the TMC tenure – demanding a hike in dearness allowance.Mamata has accused the Centre of not paying Rs 1 lakh crore as its dues, including for wages of MNREGA. On Tuesday, she said it had been a mistake on Bengal’s part to join the GST, given the outstanding money to the state. From Tuesday, she is sitting on dharna at Kolkata Esplanade for two days over the issue.A nervous partyA section of the TMC leaders admit they are not too sure if these measures will achieve their objective. A senior TMC leader said: “Everybody knows that the CPI(M) gave jobs to party workers when in power. Congress leader Ghani Khan Choudhury, our leader Mamata Banerjee, and Mukul Roy also gave jobs when they were Rail Ministers at the Centre… But they did not give jobs taking money from aspirants; that is corruption.”The leader fears that the TMC might face counter-questions such as, if it knew about these corruption allegations against the Left government, why had these not been investigated in the last 10 years. “And lastly, just because they were corrupt, does it mean we have the permission to be corrupt ourselves?”CPI(M) leader Sujan Chakraborty said, “This strategy will not work anymore, as the credibility of Mamata Banerjee is finished and she cannot fool the people further.”BJP leader Samik Bhattacharya said, “The TMC is now trying to project the CPI(M) as the Opposition. But, the people already know who the Opposition is.”He added that even the TMC’s bid to regain Muslim confidence won’t work. “We are also reaching out to them, telling them that in Mamata Banerjee’s regime, most people belonging to minority groups have been killed, and the areas inhabited by them have remained undeveloped.”With the TMC projecting the BJP as an “outsider”, Bhattacharya insisted: “Our DNA and heritage are the same, and they (the Muslims) should march with us for the development of the whole Bengal.”
A poet friend of mine, Lalsangliani Ralte, writes: “Every word in the national anthem is a challenge to my tribal tongue/that is more used to a slightly altered version of the English alphabet/than it is to the Devanagari script…./So when you get confused about my identity/and where I am from, the God I worship/the way I dress, the way I look and behave, Remember that I am just as confused/for I am alleging my loyalty to a country through an anthem/that has to be explained to me/for me to understand what it means.”This is not just the voice of one Mizo girl but of many, a shared experience of tribal communities from the northeast region of India. I still remember singing the national anthem under the scorching heat of the morning sun in our school assembly. My pronunciation of every word was slightly different from my classmates, and I did not know what the words meant. But I knew I shared the same solemnity and pride that they sang the anthem with.Through the course of 75 years since its independence, India has achieved glorious milestones in many fields while trying to uphold values of democracy, liberty, national unity and integrity as expressed in the Preamble to the Constitution. We have come a long way. But can the same be said for tribal communities in the Northeast?Thousands of young people from the Northeast flock to mainland metro cities every year, seeking jobs and higher education. With packed suitcases, a head full of dreams, and sweaty palms — we are just thinking about how to fit in. It’s always a challenging, inspiring and intimidating journey. I know this because I have been one of those hopeful dreamers and I cannot count the number of times I have been asked for my passport, or to explain the location of Mizoram on India’s map. Since middle school, one of the first things we learnt about our country is the cultural diversity and the hundreds of ethnicities that contribute to the greatness of this nation. But the ground reality has always been different from the words in our textbooks. Since Independence, the experience of people from the Northeast has been marked by racial discrimination, rape and murder, instances of public humiliation, and social ostracism.Progress is slow but not entirely absent. With the growing encounter between the Northeast and the mainland, developments have been made in certain areas. For instance, I no longer get called “chinky” while strolling through the streets of big cities. It’s only on rare occasions that I have to explain that Mizoram is not a country but a state of India. I don’t have to explain that we don’t all eat dog meat or hunt heads. Last year, I attended a literary fest in Mumbai and I was thrilled when I met many literary artists who said, “Lovely place”, “I came for a visit some years ago” and “I’d love to come again” — when I told them where I am from. For many, these small steps of progress might not be as significant as technological innovations, industrial growth and infrastructural developments. But for victims of decades of racial profiling and discrimination, gestures of acknowledgement and social acceptance are achievements that India has accomplished through the years.The region has also progressed along with the country during this time. An area that was merely written about and studied, is now writing its own stories and reflections. But as old stereotypes slowly recede, new challenges are cropping up. In one of the literary festivals I attended last year, I was asked why I didn’t write myths and folktales because that was the expectation of writers from tribal communities. I replied saying that a writer from the Northeast can also choose not to write about myths and folktales.More than 50 years have passed since Mizoram demanded independence from India because the people felt neglected and abandoned. It was 57 years ago when Aizawl was ruthlessly bombed by the Indian government. But agreements were made, and the peace accord was signed. Today, we still proudly sing the national anthem and cheer with great pride when our brothers and sisters bear the Indian flag on international platforms. Acceptance and acknowledgement can do so much for national unity. Hopefully, one day we will accept that not every Indian has well-defined round eyes and we understand what it means to call India a land of diverse ethnicities — only to be amazed at just how far the word “diverse” can stretch.Lalhlanpuii is a writer from Mizoram and Assistant Professor, English at Mizoram Christian College. This article is part of an ongoing series, which began on August 15, by women who have made a mark, across sectors
IT’S NOT just the Jio Institute, the greenfield venture, which is waiting to get Institution Of Eminence (IOE) status. In the same queue are three other private institutions — Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology (KIIT), Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT), and Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham — which were selected for the flagship initiative in higher education.According to records and interviews with officials, the readiness reports of the three institutions were approved by the Education ministry’s Empowered Expert Committee (EEC) on IOEs by July 2020. Nearly three years on, all three are waiting for the final MoUs to be signed.Former EEC chairman N Gopalaswami said the final MoUs for the three institutions, along with Jio Institute, were vetted and approved by the committee under him before its term expired in February 2021. The KIIT has since been waiting to get the IOE status for 1,121 days and counting; and, VIT and Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham for 976 days each.Records show that another private institution on the list, Jamia Hamdard, may not get the IOE tag at all due to a legal dispute, while Bharti Foundation — the second greenfield selection apart from Jio — pulled out of the process due to lack of “appropriate land”.KIIT: Records show that a 13-member expert committee set up by the EEC visited KIIT in Odisha’s Bhubaneswar on February 17-18, 2020. By July 2020, the EEC approved the readiness report submitted by the 13-member panel led by AICTE vice chairman M P Poonia.According to KIIT’s IOE coordinator Professor C K Panigrahi, the institute submitted a draft MoU to the ministry about two years ago and hasn’t received an update since.VIT: A 12-member committee led by Prof G D Yadav of Institute of Chemical Technology conducted a virtual inspection of VIT on July 13-14, 2020 and the EEC approved the readiness report.“The final version of the draft MoU was submitted to the government in November 2021. Following that we contacted the ministry several times. However, there has been no communication from the government. (We were) told verbally that the MoU will be signed after the reconstitution of the EEC,” a VIT official said.Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham: A virtual review was conducted by a 16-member committee led by Mahesh Verma, V-C of Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University in Delhi, on July 17-18, 2020 and the EEC approved the readiness report.According to Vidyapeetham’s IOE coordinator Prof Raghu Raman, the deemed university has written multiple times to the government since July 2020, asking for updates and “next steps”.Jamia Hamdard: In September 2020, the EEC recommended the removal of Jamia Hamdard from the list. The minutes of an EEC meeting on September 16, 2020, state: “The EEC selected the composite entity Jamia Hamdard consisting of medical college and university, but… the composite unit is no longer a valid entity after the family settlement approved by the SC, as the management has gone to two different bodies…”Jamia Hamdard’s V-C Prof Mohammad Afshar Alam said, “After taking charge in 2019, I took permission from our sponsoring trust and wrote to the UGC and Education ministry, requesting a visit of the expert committee to our campus. I haven’t heard from the government since.”Bharti Foundation: The other greenfield selection, apart from Jio, Bharti Foundation, withdrew its bid in October 2020 after it failed to acquire “an appropriate land parcel” in Mohali, Punjab. However, the Foundation said that it has now signed an MoU with Plaksha University in Mohali.Records show that apart from these private institutions, the fate of two — Jadavpur University in West Bengal and Anna University in Tamil Nadu — of the eight public universities on the IOE list is similar.In September 2020, the EEC recommended the removal of Jadavpur University, along with Jamia Hamdard, from the list of IOEs. Jadavpur’s bid was rejected since the West Bengal government did not commit to paying part of the plan requirements not met by the Centre.The university then submitted a revised plan with a reduced budget of Rs 606 crore, of which it proposed to raise 25 per cent. In June 2020, the Education ministry wrote to the UGC seeking the EEC’s advice on the revised budget.In an email dated September 15, 2020, the EEC stated: “The EEC is of view that… the substantial budget cut is not conducive to realising the target set for IOEs. The EEC therefore recommends to the UGC to release Jadavpur University from the list…”On July 19, 2021, the UGC forwarded this recommendation to the ministry and there has been no communication since.“We earnestly hope that the Central government will recognise the academic excellence of Jadavpur as acknowledged by the empowered committee,” Jadavpur University V-C Dr Suranjan Das said.As for Anna University, records show the Chennai-based institution’s original IOE plan was affected by lack of funding from the Tamil Nadu government, leading the university to submit a revised proposal relying on its own resources. The revised plan was approved by the EEC on the condition that the state will provide an assurance to cover any shortfall. The university, however, is yet to receive an official word from the government.“Ever since I assumed charge (in August 2021), we haven’t received any communication from the government… If we get that (IOE status), it will be a good thing and we won’t have to chase every small accreditation to prove our excellence,” Anna University V-C Dr R Velraj said.
WHILE four private institutions remain stranded on a thorny path to get the coveted status of Institution of Eminence (IOE) despite getting the all-clear from the Government’s empowered committee, it’s not exactly been a bed of roses for the other four that made the cut.On paper, these private IOEs, who don’t get any funds under the scheme unlike Government institutions, are assured of autonomy and significant regulatory relief. But in practice, they continue to be weighed down by red tape and regulatory interference, an investigation by The Indian Express, based on official records, visits to campuses across the country and interviews with several university personnel and Government officials, has revealed.Only four of the 10 private higher education institutions selected for the IOE status have received official recognition to date: Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE), BITS Pilani, OP Jindal Global University and Shiv Nadar University. Of these, Shiv Nadar is the youngest IOE, having received the status just last year.The Indian Express found that the three oldest private IOEs on many occasions had asserted their autonomy under the scheme but eventually had to toe the regulatory line.The Centre’s track record on assuring autonomy for the private IOEs is significant given that it is planning to roll out similar freedoms to foreign universities on academic, administrative and financial matters to attract them to India.Multiplicity of regulatorsFor private IOEs, the road to achieving world-class status is riddled with multiple higher education regulators.Although IOE regulations promise autonomy from the University Grants Commission, there are over 15 bodies regulating the higher education space in the country. Private IOEs say this works against multidisciplinary institutions, as they continue to face red tape, delays, and compliance demands from various regulators such as the National Medical Commission, Bar Council of India, Architecture Council of India, Nursing Council, and more.For instance, the autonomy to fix fees and decide admission procedures has been meaningless for MAHE, which also runs a medical college. The National Medical Commission insists that all medical students are admitted only through NEET, which is difficult for international students to crack. MAHE, The Indian Express learned, requested an exemption from NEET for international students, but their request was turned down.Last February, MAHE requested exclusion from NMC’s directive to charge fees equivalent to government medical colleges for half of their total approved capacity. In its letter, the institute reiterated its eminent status. However, NMC rejected the request.Private IOEs have raised concerns about the multiplicity of regulators to the government. OP Jindal Global University made a presentation in 2020 to the then Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank on the imperatives of autonomy. While the university can start new programmes and schools with just an intimation to UGC, it has to comply with the Bar Council of India’s regulations for law programmes.The presentation highlighted the need for IoEs to be autonomous and exempted from regulation by all professional bodies or councils to achieve world-class standards in all higher education disciplines.MAHE, too, confirmed that it flagged the issue to review committees sent by the Education Ministry, stating that “freedom from multiple regulators” is necessary to achieve the goals of the IOE scheme.Although BITS Pilani hasn’t written to the government on this issue yet, the university, in its response to this newspaper, said, “Bringing all regulatory bodies under one umbrella would bring uniformity and consistency in the process, making it convenient for good institutes to perform better.”UGC interferenceDespite their special status, private IOEs have found it challenging to deal with the University Grants Commission (UGC).“The private institutes are not entitled to funds like the government IOEs are. So we applied (for the IOE status) for the promise of autonomy. But we keep getting letters from UGC regarding compliances and we are expected to fall in line,” said an officer at one of the four private IOEs.Even on an issue as trivial as the name of a department, red tape kicks in. BITS Pilani’s research cell is currently called sponsored research and consultancy division, but UGC wants BITS to rename it “research development cell.” MAHE, which has already established a Directorate of Research, had received a similar letter from UGC.The UGC, sources said, had also objected to the BITS dual degree programme which allows candidates pursuing a Master’s to also pursue a bachelor’s degree. “UGC felt this was not right,” said an officer of the institute.In 2021 and last year, the UGC got all three private IOEs to refund the fee of all students who either cancelled or withdrew their admission within October 31, leading to several last-minute vacancies that could not be filled afterwards.The UGC order led to about 300 vacancies at BITS Pilani last year. “Refunding fees of students who have already spent a few months studying with an institute means those seats will remain vacant for the next four years. This is a huge revenue loss for us. We are as good as any IIT in the country. They don’t face any such interference from regulators” said an officer of BITS Pilani.In an emailed statement, BITS Pilani said, “All cases of fee refund are being dealt with in accordance with the UGC directives and as per the declared policy of the institute. It would be much easier for us to perform better if admissions related to full autonomy (including fees refund in Admissions processes) is offered to the institutes such as BITS Pilani.”OP Jindal University tried to assert its autonomy under the IOE rules that permit institutions to determine fee and admission policy, they ultimately had to refund the fee.JGU wrote in an emailed statement that “… (despite) following the UGC – (Institutions of Eminence Deemed to be Universities) Regulations 2017 (UGC – IoE Regulations 2017) and the subsequent amendments of 2021 diligently, we are still constrained to follow the UGC policies related to Fees and Refunds. Considering the aforementioned facts, we had written to the Ministry of Education requesting their guidance to fulfil the objective of creating an enabling regulatory architecture for the Institutions of Eminence Deemed to be Universities and ranked among the world’s top institutions.”MAHE, too confirmed vacancies on account of the UGC institutions. “With interest of students, MAHE did not fill those vacant seats for the year 2022 as well 2021,” the university said in its response to The Indian Express.Red tape on foreign facultyEven as the government expects the IOEs to hire more foreign teachers to boost their performance in international rankings, for the private IOEs, the litany of permissions required to finalise an appointment is a hindrance.For one, the delay in processing work visa applications for foreign teachers often acts as a disincentive. Moreover, visas are usually issued for a year and, only in rare cases for two years. “If we want to attract foreign faculty then we should be able to offer long-term employment. The obligation of renewing work visas annually is a disincentive,” said an officer at a private IOE.The delay in getting Aadhaar number for foreign nationals working in India is another irritant as it delays their PF withdrawal. “As institutions, we try to assist them but there’s nothing we can do to expedite this process or cut red tape,” said another officer of a private IOE.Both MAHE and Jindal have requested the easing of norms for foreign faculty. A spokesperson for OP Jindal University confirmed that the university has suggested to the Government a ‘Specially Expedited Institutions of Eminence Multiple Entry Employment Visa Scheme for International Faculty’. Under this, IOEs should get “preferential treatment in all Government-related approvals and visa processes to enable them to implement their faculty hiring plans in good time,” the spokesperson said. MAHE has called for easing of norms with respect to salary and benefits to international faculty.