The Indian government’s plan to select 20 universities and enable them to become world-class is a “tall order” and will require giving institutions “freedom from the overweening control of government”, one expert has warned.
Arun Jaitley, India’s finance minister, announced in his budget speech on 29 February that an “enabling regulatory architecture will be provided to 10 public and 10 private institutions to emerge as world-class teaching and research institutions”.
He added that “a detailed scheme will be formulated”.
Mr Jaitley also announced that a not-for-profit Higher Education Financing Agency would be created to “leverage funds from the market” to support infrastructure improvements in “top institutions”.
A source in India’s Ministry for Human Resource Development said that the means of selecting the 20 universities had yet to be finalised, but it was likely that the National Institution Ranking Framework (NIRF) would be used. The NIRF, launched in September 2015, covers aspects such as teaching, research, graduate outcomes and inclusivity.
Philip Altbach, research professor and founding director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College, said that while the announcement on creating world-class institutions was “encouraging”, there have been “similar goals before” and “little has come of them”.
He continued: “Of course, significant funding is required, and nothing was said about that. But money is only part of the requirement.
“Indian universities are notoriously bureaucratic and often politicised. Change in the established public universities has proved impossible over the years.”
And Professor Altbach added: “In short, a combination of resources, innovative thinking, careful planning and freedom from the overweening control of government are required. This is a tall order, and so far India has proved incapable of success.”
The move to include private universities in the plan is likely to generate controversy in India. Although private universities are officially forbidden from making profits, there may be political opposition to the prospect of state support for privately owned institutions.
But backers of the idea will argue that private institutions have more flexibility and capacity for innovation thanks to their greater autonomy.
Atul Chauhan, the chancellor of private, not-for-profit Amity University, called the announcement an “amazing step” by the government.
He added: “We have seen so many other countries have focused initiatives on creating world-class universities and seen the tremendous benefits.
“Also the fact that private universities will be included in equal numbers is extraordinary and shows the confidence the government has [in private institutions].”