The Prime Minister’s pet education scheme, Institutions of Eminence, has been hamstrung by the government’s tardiness in reconstituting a key panel meant to oversee the implementation of the programme.
The term of the Empowered Expert Committee (EEC), a panel of three to five eminent people, expired in February 2021.
This has kept four private institutions, including Reliance Foundation’s Jio Institute, waiting for the official grant of the Institution of Eminence status, a scheme started in 2018. These four institutions were selected for the status in 2018 and 2019 after their proposals were approved by the EEC.
Following this, they were given three years to prepare a readiness report which, if approved by the EEC, was to lead to the government signing memorandums of understanding with them, granting them the Institution of Eminence tag.
All four – Jio, the Vellore Institute of Technology, Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology (Bhubaneswar) and Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham (Coimbatore) --- sent their MoUs and readiness reports to the education ministry just before or after the expiry of the EEC’s term.
With the EEC defunct, their report cannot be approved and the ministry cannot sign the MoUs.
The then human resource development ministry --- now education ministry --- had launched the scheme under the guidance of the Prime Minister’s Office.
Ten public and 10 private institutions were to be awarded the status, which allows significant leeway from the University Grants Commission’s rules on faculty hiring, student admission and the establishment of offshore campuses. The Centre committed up to Rs 1,000 crore to each public institution granted the Institute of Eminence tag.
The parliamentary standing committee on education, headed by BJP Rajya Sabha member Vivek Thakur, has in its report on the action taken by the government on its various recommendations flagged how the delay in reconstituting the EEC is hurting the scheme.
“Further, the MoUs, received from four private institutions have been forwarded to the UGC for necessary vetting by the EEC. However, the term of the erstwhile EEC has already been completed on 18.02.2021 and a new EEC is required to be constituted,” the committee’s report, tabled in Parliament in August, said.
Higher education secretary Sanjay Murthy has not yet responded to two emails sent by this newspaper in September, seeking the ministry’s comments on the delay in reconstituting the EEC.
The EEC was set up in February 2018 with the approval of the cabinet appointments committee, headed by the Prime Minister. The panel was helmed by former chief election commissioner N. Gopalaswami.
Of the 20 institutions selected in 2018 and 2019, eight central government institutions and four private ones have already been awarded the Institute of Eminence status.
The state-run Jadavpur University in Bengal and Anna University in Tamil Nadu have been denied the status after selection because their state governments refused to fork out the extra money they wanted beyond the Centre’s Rs 1,000.
Among the private institutions, the proposed Bharti Institute withdrew from the scheme while Jamia Hamdard’s selection was cancelled after its founding body split.
The education ministry has told the parliamentary panel that Jadavpur University will not get the Institute of Eminence tag. The proposal for the tag for Anna University too has been withdrawn.