|Our very own Ivy League|
|Wednesday, 05 January 2011 00:00|
Education minister Kapil Sibal’s proposal to work on setting up India’s very own Ivy League universities is more than welcome, given not just the low numbers of graduates in the country, but in terms of making graduates more employable, of getting more PhD scholars, of getting better research papers, more patents, of getting more Indian universities among the top 500 globally (just two Indian universities figure in the list versus 154 from the US and 34 from China). The problem with what Sibal said, for now, is more in the imagery he drew. “We are working on the concept of Navratna universities, or an Indian Ivy League,” he said. Anyone who has seen how Navratna PSUs function—the concept of Navratnas comes from PSUs—will shudder at the fate that awaits universities. Top navratna PSUs like ONGC and Indian Oil have been so burdened with meeting the government’s subsidy obligations, they hardly have enough money to invest. It’s difficult to reconcile this image of hand-to-mouth subsistence with that of Ivy League universities with generous endowments and complete freedom to operate.
To give a sense of what we’re battling against, the same education ministry that is talking of Indian Ivies that are free to run their lives has no problem with shackling India’s private sector schools. Under the Right to Education Act, all private schools have to reserve a fourth of their seats for the poor or socially disadvantaged (SC/ST/OBC), and this is to be monitored by the government. It’s hard to see how the ministry hopes to free the Navratna universities from such obligations—to go back to the Navratna PSUs, they have to hire socially disadvantaged groups. Indeed, while talking of foreign universities, the minister is on record saying they will also have to fulfil the same quotas that local universities have to. All top personnel of Navratna PSUs, like the directors and heads of government-funded universities, are selected by the government—will the Navratna PSUs be allowed a different dispensation? Till there’s some clarity on these issues, it’s good to keep in mind that the only ivy that the Navratnas conjure up is poison ivy.