New Delhi: Under pressure from the prime minister’s office, the human resource development ministry has expedited the plan to create world class universities and further relaxed the rules to encourage more private and public institutions bid for the tag.

Months after it floated draft rules, the ministry has now changed several of them, according to two government officials who spoke on condition of anonymity and documents seen by Mint.

First, institutions such as the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) will have the liberty to apply for the “world class" tag and the extra fund without having to become a university. The IIMs are also not required to expand their student base to 15,000 over the next 10 years. IIMs believed that doing so would dilute their brand value. Instead, they may be required to have between 2000 to 5000 students over a 10-year period.

In February 2016, the Union government announced a plan to establish 20 world class universities in India—10 each in the private and public space in February 2016. While a select group of existing public institutions will be upgraded to the world class status, both existing and upcoming private institutions can bid for the tag. The tag, which has been changed from “world class university" to “institute of eminence" will provide academic and financial autonomy and the University Grants Commission will have little say in the functioning of such institutions. Public institutions will get financial support from the human resource development ministry.

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Though the HRD ministry has already received approval from the finance ministry to spend Rs10,000 crore for the 10 public institutions that will be selected for the scheme, it is unlikely to give them the full amount.

The ministry is of the view that institutions should not depend on free government money alone. It will encourage selected institutions to bring between 25% and 50% of the amount, said the first government official. “Instead of giving Rs1,000 crore to each of the 10 public institutions, the HRD ministry is set to give between 50% to 75% of the amount over a period of five years. Rest (between Rs250 crore to 500 crore) the institutions will have to pump in," he said.

The third important change concerns the “letter of intent", a written affidavit that promoters of private institutions will have to furnish. In the letter, the promoter will have to declare that the new institution will be operational within three years. If that doesn’t happen, the institution will lose the institute of eminence tag.

The ministry has added a caveat to this—if a new institutions fails to make enough progress in the first 18 to 20 months, then it will cancel its candidature. And it will replace the disqualified institution from a reserve list of institutions.

The private institutions under the project will enjoy two key freedoms: one, they can offer as much salary as they want to their teaching staff; and two, the course fee can be completely market linked. The government institutions, however, will have to follow the UGC scale of pay for permanent employees. For contractual staff including professors on contract, they too can pay as much as they wish.

The government will monitor the progress of these institutions for 15 years. Under pressure from the PMO, the scheme is expected to be approved by the cabinet before 26 May when the NDA government completes three years in office.

Pankaj Chandra, vice-chancellor and chairman, board of management, Ahmedabad University, said that the plan will help top institutions provide quality education without many regulations.

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