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Director’s Message – FOREprints (Volume No. 6, Issue No.4) January 2018.


20th February 2018, Director’s Message – FOREprints (Volume No. 6, Issue No.4) January 2018.

 

 

The drive to attain the label 'world-class institution' is becoming stronger by the day in India, particularly as a credibility measure considering the poor image of Indian institutions abroad. The active presence of international accreditation agencies in India is an indication of this. Addressing the centenary celebrations at Patna University recently the Prime Minister Modi had said it was a blot that no Indian University figures among the top few hundred of the world, while in the past, the Nalanda and Taxila Universities attracted students from all over the world. In line with this, as a new initiative to ensure “greater excellence and innovation” in higher education institutions the Government of India has announced a corpus of Rs. 10,000 crore for five years to ten private and ten government university to be chosen by the government. Further, these twenty institutions will be free from the constraints of government rules and regulations in order to facilitate them to emerge as world class universities.

 

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' as a India wide policy, may not be able to achieve the India objective owing to it being a miniscule number in a global context. 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 fund but they, for sure, would want a full autonomy must be on an auto mode, that is, milestone based, to increase the prospect of success from India perspective. The Hyderabad based ISB getting top rank among all Indian business schools, including that of the famous IIMA, in a recent Financial Times 2018 world ranking is a case in point. ISB is not governed by any Indian academic regulator and does not take Indian government funds. The regulators turning a blind eye to ISB must be made official under a policy framework.  

 

This initiative seems incomplete though, as it leaves out all those who may want to do it without the government funding. It cannot be considered appropriate for a country like India to invest huge amount of tax payers money to fund the effort of only a few university to attain global ranking precluding others who also may have intent. As a nation all options to make fund utilization optimal must be explored. For example, to encourage fund flow into higher education - a non-profit activity - government may do well to incentivize private fund flow through tax exemption. This would ensure, at current corporate tax rates, about three times the tax forgone by the government into higher education. Thus, if government forgoes Rs 2000 crores as tax revenue adjusted against the corpus then about Rs 6000 crores can flow into higher education from private sources. Thus at the same Rs 10,000 crores fund outlay the total fund mobilized would be about Rs 14,000 crores. 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 redefinition will broaden the scope of institutions wanting to push their boundary and, thus improve chance of success in meeting objectives. This fund allocation in its current form, therefore, appears inefficient and of skewed priority.

 

It must also be understood that the bygone era Nalanda and Taxila university received grants from kings and thereafter the kings neither asked questions on fund utilization nor were there any audit! These universities did with funds what they considered best. In the current Indian context the impact of the questions that may be asked by the government agencies on fund utilization by private universities, in particular, can be a matter of a debate. Milestone based parity in opportunity for raising or utilization of funds, autonomy, competition and government monitoring in equal measure for all - government or private - higher educational institutions as the guiding principle must be considered the only way to fast track higher education reform in India.

 

Dr. Jitendra Das

 
 
 
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