HRD ministry to focus on three key budget announcements

Setting up 20 world-class universities, a higher education finance agency and digital academic repository is being monitored almost on a fortnightly basis

Union HRD minister Smriti Irani. Photo: Raj K Raj/HT
Union HRD minister Smriti Irani. Photo: Raj K Raj/HT

New Delhi: With no education bills in the pipeline, the human resource development (HRD) ministry has a new task at hand—to work on three key budget announcements on a priority basis.

Progress on the three announcements—setting up 20 world-class universities, a higher education finance agency and digital academic repository—is being monitored almost on a fortnightly basis. Ministry officials said that there is a “clear direction from the top to deliver on these announcements within a stipulated time frame”.

The time frame to wrap up the projects is the next six months— well ahead of the next annual budget, two government officials said requesting anonymity.

“The ministry is readying to spend Rs.5,000 crore on creating 10 world-class universities at the government level,” said the first official.

The ministry will soon approach the expenditure finance committee “for obtaining approval of Rs.5,000 crore and it is expected to be ready by May-end”, the second official added.

In his budget speech on 29 February, finance minister Arun Jaitley said that the government will provide “enabling regulatory architecture” to 10 private and 10 public institutions “to emerge as world-class teaching and research institutions.”

India has been faring poorly in various global rankings of educational institutions. Just two of its higher educational institutions are in the top 200 QS World University Rankings in 2015-16 as against 48 in the US and 30 in the UK.

“This is a new priority for the HRD ministry. Before the second anniversary of the National Democratic Alliance government (on 26 May), the HRD ministry looks to make some real progress in terms of getting final nod from the cabinet and the expenditure finance committee of the government,” said the second official.

The University Grants Commission (UGC) has been asked to make separate regulations applicable to a new class of educational institutions, which would form the distinct category—“world class institutions”, an internal note of the HRD ministry said.

Besides, UGC has been asked to make regulations for central government-funded and -owned deemed universities that can be converted into world-class institutions. “The UGC has formed a committee for the above purpose and draft regulations are expected to be ready by the end of this month,” the ministry note underlined.

“Internal consultations are also made with regard to enabling regulatory structure for 10 public educational institutions like central universities, IIT (Indian Institute of technology), IIM (Indian Institute of Management), IIIT (Indian Institute of Information Technology) and IISER (Indian Institute of Science Education and Research) etc. to emerge as world-class teaching research institutions,” the note underlined.

This means that while some of the existing government institutions will be supported to become world class, in the private space both green field and brown field institutions will be allowed to apply and compete to get that tag.

Rupamanjari Ghosh, vice-chancellor of Shiv Nadar University (SNU) in Uttar Pradesh, said that her institution supports the move, and that SNU will be one of the young institutions to “compete” for the distinction in the private space.

Ghosh, however, said authorities need to carefully draft the regulatory requirements to make them “learner centric faculty driven” institutions. She said five key factors—a contemporary curricula, faculty profile, research grants, diversity and placement of students—will be key to achieving the goal.

Similarly, the implementation of the proposal for setting up a Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA), has been fast tracked. As per the ministry note, a draft expenditure finance committee note has already been circulated among different ministries for views before the HRD ministry moves the cabinet for a formal approval.

HEFA will be a quasi-sovereign body which will tap bond markets and then lend the proceeds to educational institutions to fund future expansion and upgrade plans. HEFA has been allocated an initial amount of Rs.1,000 crore in the budget.

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