Monday, October 04, 2010

Ivy League-type universities by year-end

A plan to create a network of elite universities modelled on the Ivy League in the U.S. has moved a step forward, with a panel formed by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) finalizing the criteria for such institutions. The so-called "navratna" universities, which will have greater autonomy than other institutions as well as access to more funding, will be chosen from among a total of 504 varsities, and their names will be announced by the end of the fiscal year.

Teaching excellence, research orientation and output, the ability to attract foreign students, international rankings and the use of information communication technology will be among the criteria that will be used to select the "navratnas", which literally means nine gems, according to a report prepared by the committee. A copy of the report was seen by Mint.

The proposal to form a network of higher education institutes styled on the Ivy League was made in March, followed by the formation of a committee headed by Seyed E. Hasnain, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Hyderabad, to follow up on it.

In the U.S., the Ivy League comprises institutions of higher learning, namely Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, and Yale University, with common interests in promoting excellence in scholarship and athletics. Through usage, the term Ivy League has also come to signify elitism; it doesn't include the universities on the U.S. west coast such as the University of California at Berkeley, and Stanford.

The MHRD proposal entails setting up similar institutions with the intent of promoting academic excellence, research, ability to attract foreign students, and enable a better international ranking that will be eligible for special funding. HRD minister Kapil Sibal said on the sidelines of a conference of vice-chancellors on Saturday that the Indian effort is aimed at promoting excellence in higher education "and create a benchmark for other universities in the country".

According to the committee's report, "the aim of this exercise is to create an instrument and mechanism to support a few Indian universities, with documented evidence of extraordinary academic performance, to enable them to receive special funding so that they can move to higher orbits of global excellence". This extra funding will not come from the existing funding mechanism, "ensuring that other universities don't suffer any budget cuts." The universities categorized as "navratnas" will be reviewed every three-five years to ensure that stand five years to ensure standards are maintained.

"The universities with this tag will get financial and administrative autonomy in several matters. The HRD minister is open and proactive. I believe, we will be ready by the end of this financial year," said Hasnain. "We have already crossed a fair distance and put in place a report detailing the stringent measures to be followed. The next meeting will take place within two months and then the selection process will kick-start," he added.

At present, no Indian university figures in the top 100 worldwide. In fact, according to the QS World University Rankings 2010 published from the UK, the Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay, at 187 was the only institution from India to figure among the world's top 200 institutes.

"This effort will put us in a different league," Hasnain said. "While social inclusion is important, we cannot forget the role of excellence in education. Selection of students, teachers' qualification, international exposure, faculty's ability to attract sponsored research from industry and government departments will all be part of the criteria for getting selected to the Indian Ivy League."

Universities in the Indian Ivy League will be given freedom to hire and designate faculty, flexibility in offering positions and financial incentives to teachers. They will have the autonomy to "re-appropriate the budget without getting approval from the funding agencies."

Hasnain said all universities, including the 40 Central universities, will be in contention for a place in the Ivy League. "But let me make it clear that, during periodic review, those who fail the test, will be dropped from the list," he said.
"This will guard against complacency."

Source: Mint, October 4, 2010
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