Mukesh Ambani, chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries Ltd. | Dawson/Bloomberg
Mukesh Ambani, chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries Ltd. | Photo: Dawson | Bloomberg
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One would not be surprised if those criticising the Jio Institute are also working on their CVs to be forwarded its new chancellor.

Narendra Modi can never do anything without creating a controversy. Add Mukesh Ambani to the mix and you have double bonanza for the detractors. Assigning the Institute of Eminence status to the proposed Ambani higher education venture, Jio Institute, has raised predictable brouhaha in political and intellectual circles.

I don’t hold any brief for Reliance or for the government, but there is no financial scam here, now that early rumours about the Rs 1000 crore grant have been nipped in the bud. It is an out of turn favour that could spoil an already uneven playing field. But, it is hardly an insurmountable advantage that other existing or potential players cannot overcome. There are many examples, both good and bad, of private educational enterprises thriving in different states despite the policy anomalies.

First, those criticising the choice were not present on the panel. Second, it is doubtful if they even have the full idea of the criterion applied and who else were in the fray. That raises questions about the motives of those who are most vociferous and makes one wonder if there are any underlying prejudices driving their outrage.

A step in right direction 

First, let us ask if the problem is with the concept of “greenfield” recognition or that it has gone to Reliance? Would the objections be as virulent if some of the other institutes that are being mentioned, such as the Raghuram Rajan-backed KREA University near Chennai, also qualified? Going by the discourse one hears on social media and op-ed columns of newspapers, the answer is no.

It is being asked how a non-existent university can get an accreditation. It might appear odd at first, but if one is able to cut through the chicken and egg conundrum, the idea of providing pre-certification to “greenfield” proposals has much to commend itself.

Education is big business today in India. As noted earlier, there are several examples of mega private investments in the education sector. Unfortunately, many of them are degree factories of dubious credentials or simply large-scale rackets. So, common sense suggests that any system of rigorous quality control right from the time of conception should indeed be welcome.

The state cannot be expected to multiply IITs, IIMs and Institute of Science. The state university system is too broken and mired in politics to be revived by greater injection of funds alone. Hence, the real benefit of such a scheme would lie in enticing the big boys of industry to join the club “edupreneurs”, creating an enabling environment for rapid scale-up, attracting talent, and facilitating international collaboration. Across the world many iconic institutions of higher learning have been built by private funding.

BJP’s academic acumen

In India, historically, business barons have been less than generous with philanthropy. It is only now that some gen-next industrialists and corporate billionaires have begun to look at social enterprise. Many of them, educated abroad and exposed to Ivy-league schools, recognise the potential for top-notch universities of global standards in India. But, even they would be wary of the maze of red tape and bureaucratic roadblocks. Hence, predictability and transparency in policy are imperative preconditions of such an initiative.

Seen objectively, such a policy vehicle would be ideal for getting “untainted money” into higher education. It will build in safeguards to ensure both academic independence and institutional autonomy. Any system of “post-certification” might be too risky for genuine investors to put money on the block in a nascent environment.

Had another government introduced it, the same critics may even have hailed it as the most innovative scheme. They might have seen in it the potential to transform India’s education landscape, putting it firmly on the international map as a destination for higher learning. But, our intellectuals are not so indulgent towards the BJP’s academic acumen.

Having thrived in the era of Licence-Permit-Quota Raj, Indian business houses are genetically coded to jump the queue. Organisations like Reliance have perfected it as an art form. So, had Reliance pipped one of its peers at the post in getting the early nod for a business venture, people would have dismissed it with a wink and a smile. But, Reliance’s foray into liberal arts and sciences education has stirred the proverbial hornets’ nest.

Gate-crashing the sacred preserve

Of late, the left liberal intellectual community began to see the emergence of privately funded independent educational shops as the new bastion of professional intellectuals and sinecures for retired academics of state universities (much like AIIMS’ doctors finding post retirement appointments at private hospitals). Liberal not just in their curriculum but also in faculty remuneration, these premier private universities were reducing their dependence on the international lecture circuit.

But Reliance gate-crashing this sacred preserve of the intellectual high priests with the patronage of the Modi government strikes at the foundation of this august congregation.

There is a sudden realisation that nothing is out of bounds for the new political dispensation in its quest to create an alternate ecosystem. The level of insecurity is apparent in the speculation over the choice of a potential chancellor of the university, which is yet to be founded. This potential chancellor is already seen as being “not (or no longer) one of us”.

But there is no stopping an idea for which the time has come. So, one would not be surprised if some of those who are writing the op-eds criticising the Jio Institute are also silently working on their own CVs to be forwarded to the new chancellor.

Sandip Ghose is a marketing executive and blogger on current affairs. He tweets @SandipGhose

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21 Comments Share Your Views

21 COMMENTS

  1. Has Ambani paid a hefty fee to
    the author of this write up or the
    management of the Print ? Looks
    very obvious……………….!!!.It is very ridiculous and equally shameful on part of the HRD Ministry that the so called but
    non existent Jio University has
    been granted the status of an
    institute of eminence. What for ?
    How have the qualifying parameters been applied for its
    infrastructural and academic
    achievements ? Is it an overt
    gameplan of advance marketing
    to oblige the beneficiary and
    ensure smooth flow of intended
    benefits from the public exchequer ? Whatever the case,
    it can happen only in India and
    moreso under the present dispensation.!!!

  2. It has become a fashion object to whatever Modi govt. implements.Without much thought and preparation at this eleventh hour of election they won’t bring forth anything nascent. For the upkeep of eminence they will look into all the parameters to be accomplished. So Bharath will get in true spirit eminence in education sector.

  3. The author has no knowledge of the past contributions of India industrialists donating handsomely to the spread of higher education. The best example is the Indian institute of Science in Bengaluru. In fact, some of the great institutes and universities in India are the result of individual efforts like A. M. U and J. M. I.

  4. To answer the basic question.
    YES. If the Raghuram Rajan backed KREA institute had been given this tag, then also I would have opposed it because it too has no track record.
    BUT
    Lets focus on a few other important issues.
    (1) What are the norms the government panel has adopted in the classification. AFAIK, this has not been published. So cleverly it can be changed after the event.
    (2) Will these institutes have a social service norm in staff recruitment, student admissions and CSR?
    (3) Will the syllabus and educational qualifications churned out be recognised world wide?

    So many more points too.

    OK

  5. Frankly, I did not find a single coherent & logical argument in favour of the status given to Jio University which is non-existent. Everyone from right wing & left wing are in agreement that an imaginary university cannot get a title. By this standard, I can also claim that my 4 year old niece will is highly intelligent and will become a famous doctor 30 years down the line and hence, she should get a Padma Bhushan award now itself.
    First, the author needs to explain whether any such thing as a greenfield criteria has ever been put up in giving an award to universities anywhere in the world throughout history. I am not aware of one. By that standard, even if KREA university had gotten it alongside MANIPAL, people would have criticised it since it has also not started functioning.
    Second, the panel which is setting up KREA university is known and is headed by a Nobel Prize nominated candidate and internationally renowned academic whose integrity is beyond doubt. His non-partisanship is well known. That is not the case with the Ambanis. First, they are not academicians (none in the family are), there is a huge cloud of distrust already over them regarding their ethical standards in manipulating political powers and Mukesh Ambani is already getting NSG security from the BJP government at taxpayer’s expense, which as far as I know, is a first for India. Hence, I am not surprised that the government is going to throw more taxpayers money into his lap to build a new university when government says it does not have money for running basic healthcare hospitals, ambulances and primary schools in the country.
    So, my final request to theprint.in and Mr. Sekhar Gupta is this. I cannot find any merit in the arguments of the author. What merit did you find to publish it? If you believe that any Tom, Dick & Harry can write any thrash and you will publish it, then I am far more qualified than this author.

  6. What utter crap has been doled out by the writer. He appears to be bending twice over in getting the attention of those whose interests he seeks to promote. The recognition of Jio Uni is akin to India being awarded the FIFA World Cup this year for its desire and intent in winning the world cup in the future. The sad fact is that there are numerous “intellectuals” like the writer who choose to shut their eye to such cronyism and biased actions of the authorities. Instead of questioning the basis of such actions they are promoting it.
    With great education institutes already existing and contributing to the national efforts of excellence it is indeed a sad commentary on the part of the government to permit itself to be part of this dubious award.
    Sports and Education have been hijacked by big business for promoting their self-interests. There is nothing altruistic about it. For the Government however, it is its sacred duty to its citizens to promote education and not by granting recognition for wishful presentations made to select committees who change the very basic parameters for awarding recognition.

  7. Sir muje ak madad kijiye ham bohot gorib Hu Mera karma sangsthapon nahi Hai esiliye Mai kuts korna sahtahu mehnot Mai korunga aap muje help kor dijiye sir ham bohot gorib

  8. Lol, very carefully you’ve included your fetish in this article.
    “If raghuram rajan would’ve… ”
    I would like to give you a standing ovation for trying to hide the biggest blunder under ur illogical and poor question.

    Nonetheless, intellectuals don’t go with bribery, obviously raghuram is having this much brain not to accord such status to yet to come institute…

    So whole of ur article is just an advt to create confusion, well best part of being brainy is u dont get confused so easily.

  9. It is indeed defending the indefensible by Sandeep Ghosh. It sounds like house magazine article of Reliance Industry. It would have been welcomed had it been announced that Jio Institute with a laudable vision of creating an infrastructure with 25% seats free of cost for Indian poor not the reserved ones. Something on the lines of what Anand Kumar’s Super 30 envisions. Edupreneurs are worse than Businessmen. They are allowed to open shops and then from day one they start announcing that they have one of the best placement records. Hence this doubt.

    • Very well said! … They are not interested in education per se .. they want to set up “shops”. It’s definitely not “philanthropy” by any measure!!

  10. The author has failed to even talk about the issue, which is the jio+greenfiled category. Is it right/ethical to have included Jio? If it is so, how and why? Otherwise, why it’s bad? Then, the arguments could have been used for all greenfield institutes. Instead, the entire article is all about the strawman–the ‘liberal’ outrage. First, it’s not just liberals, even many conservative academicians appear to be unhappy about this issue. If Rajan’s institute was included, then also there would have been outrage (of course, those who are using Jio as only a proxy to bash Modi would have remained silent, the rest of the so-called “elite” liberals would have gone mad).

  11. Sandip Ghose argues the counterfactual that if Raghuram Rajan’s backed university had been given the eminence tag liberals would not have objected. What utter nonsense. The point was about a non-existent being given the recognition not who had set it up. He also retails the canard that there was no financial benefit involved. As has been reported elsewhere there are several ways in which the “eminence tag” can be monetised. You may be certain the Amaanis will know who to do it. Besides as noted by another commentator there is not a single logical argument here. Clearly Shekhar Gupta continues to run with the hares and ride with the hounds by publishing this rubbish.

  12. >> In India, historically, business barons have been less than generous with philanthropy. It is only now that some gen-next industrialists and corporate billionaires have begun to look at social enterprise.

    ha ha! Ambani is gen-next businessmen? Check the list of all colleges in all major/small towns and find out who built them.

  13. I think Jio university had applied in a different segment. Government has not given anything, unless Jio sets up its university and invests on man and machine. Without doubting promoter’s ability to set up a building, getting highly qualified academicians, creating great infrastructure, question remains should an eminence status be given to an university that has no track record in teaching or research? I have strong suspicion, even if Jio Uni does not meet all the parameters, whether it is NDA or UPA, Jio will get what it wants. I guess most of the anger is from there.

  14. Sudip Ghosh is defending the indefensible, and failing badly at that. As he himself admits, other business houses were shying away from education for fear of red tape, and here Ambani has the red carpet laid out for him in the form of Certificate of Excellence even before the baby is born!

  15. Sandeep gives us an impression of his being so impartial. I am not surprised if he himself is a candidate in line to be interviewed at Jio

  16. I think the writer misses the point. Ambani’s are welcome to open educational establishments and the Government is free to encourage them. Granting them a tag of emminence (a qualified one) before they even lay a stone sends a wrong message. this article is just the ongoing attempt to make normal, natural, rational thinkers to look bad.

    • Tag of eminence has not been given. That is a twist given by media. They are eligible for the tag, that’s all. Will they really get it depends on how far they are able to fulfill their promises.

  17. What are you trying to say?
    There is not one logical argument in this entire article which is backed by any evidence, real names, examples and so on.
    Found it completely vacuous.

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