Jio Institute: Institute in imagination

Print edition : August 17, 2018

Student activists protesting against the Institute of Eminence tag conferred on Jio Institute, on July 11 in Delhi. Photo: Manvender Vashist/ PTI

The declaration of Jio Institute as one of India’s six Institutes of Eminence even before it has been set up raises several questions.

Across epochs and civilisations, it is difficult to find instances where a university, or any establishment for that matter, was declared “excellent” before it even came into being. But what emperors and kings could not do, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has achieved. It declared the Jio Institute an Institution of Eminence (IoE) even before it has been set up.

On July 9, HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar conferred the status of IoE on six institutions, three from the private sector and three from the public sector, on the basis of an Empowered Expert Committee (EEC) recommendation. These were Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore; Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay; Indian Institute of Technology Delhi; Jio Institute, Pune; Birla Institute of Technology and Sciences (BITS), Pilani, Rajasthan; and Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Karnataka. While the others are educational institutions of long standing, no one had heard of Jio Institute before.

According to the HRD Minister, each public sector IoE will get from the government a financial assistance of up to Rs.1,000 crore over a period of five years. Jio Institute is to be set up under the Reliance Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Reliance Industries Ltd, which is headed by Nita Ambani. The principle of corporate philanthropy is that the company will bear the expenses for what is considered a just cause. But the plans of Jio Institute indicate that it is intended as a money-spinning enterprise. In its business proposal presented to the government, Jio Institute projects an earning of Rs.100 crore from hostel and tuition fees from 1,000 students in the first year of its operations. It will waive Rs. 38 crore as scholarships in the first year, which means, on an average, it will generate an income of Rs.6.2 lakh from each student. The institute will admit 300 students in Natural Sciences, 250 in Engineering and Computer Science, 200 in Humanities, 125 in Management and Entrepreneurship, 90 in Law, 60 in Media and Journalism, 50 in Performing Arts, 80 in Sports Sciences and 50 in Urban Planning and Architecture. The student strength in the second year is projected at 2,000 and the earnings will increase to more than Rs.200 crore. Of this, the Reliance Foundation has promised to waive Rs.76 crore for meritorious students. In its 15th year, Jio Institute has projected a student strength of 10,000, when the net revenue will touch Rs.1,500 crore. The institute will come up on 800 acres (one acre is 0.4 hectare) of land in Karjat near Navi Mumbai and the Reliance Foundation has committed Rs.9,500 crore towards the institution’s funding. The operating expenditure for the first year has been pegged at Rs.154 crore, and the salaries and benefits of staff and faculty at Rs.93 crore. On its website, chairperson Nita Ambani’s message says: “Central to our philosophy is the commitment to enhance the quality of life of people from marginalised and vulnerable communities, by empowering them and catalysing change through innovative and sustainable solutions.” But given the high fee structure, it is anybody’s guess which section of students will be able to afford to study there.

The Rs.1,000 crore given by the government is expected to help the institutions to become world-class educational institutions, according to Javadekar. “It is expected that the above selected institutions will come up in top 500 of the world ranking in 10 years and in top 100 of the world ranking eventually over time,” said the Minister. Apart from funds, the IoE tag will ensure complete autonomy and facilitate rapid growth with unchecked liberty to scale up their operations. It would free both the public and private IoEs from the regulations of the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), the UGC and, henceforth, the Higher Education Commission of India, which will replace the UGC. Furthermore, the institutions will be able to admit foreign students up to 30 per cent of admitted students, recruit foreign faculty up to 25 per cent of faculty strength, offer online courses up to 20 per cent of the programmes, enter into academic collaboration with institutions ranked among the top 500 in the world without the permission of the UGC, be free to fix and charge fees from foreign students without restriction, offer flexibility of course structure in terms of number of credit hours and years to take a degree and complete flexibility in fixing of curriculum and syllabus, among others.

The Finance Minister, in his 2016 Budget speech, had said, “It is our commitment to empower higher educational institutions to help them become world-class teaching and research institutions. An enabling regulatory architecture will be provided to 10 public and 10 private institutions to emerge as world-class teaching and research institutions. This will enhance affordable access to high quality education for ordinary Indians. A detailed scheme will be formulated.” Accordingly, the government approved the scheme of providing regulatory architecture for setting up or upgrading 20 such institutions. The regulatory architecture has been provided in the form of UGC (Declaration of Government Institutions as Institutions of Eminence) Guidelines, 2017, for public institutions and UGC (Institutions of Eminence Deemed to be Universities) Regulations, 2017, for private institutions.

Under this scheme, 114 institutions—74 from the public sector and 40 from the private sector—applied to the government. the applications were vetted by an EEC comprising N. Gopalaswami, as Chairman; Prof. Tarun Khanna of Harvard Business School; Prof. Pritam Singh, former director of IIM, Lucknow; and Renu Khator, Chancellor, University of Houston System. Gopalaswami, a former Chief Election Commissioner, is now the head of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh-affiliated Vivekananda Educational Society. All the institutions or sponsoring organisations made presentations before the EEC from April 2 to May 8. The EEC recommended the selection of only six institutions. More rounds will commence to select seven each from public and private sectors.

According to reports, the rules might have been framed just to help Jio Institute secure the IoE tag. The rules under which the IoE tag was to be awarded by the Union government were notified on August 29, 2017. The UGC issued a press release inviting proposals for the IoE status on September 12, 2017. On the same day, the Reliance Foundation Institution of Education and Research (RFIER) was incorporated as a Section 8 company under the Companies Act, according to the Ministry of Corporate Affairs website. According to reports, Vinay Sheel Oberoi was part of the Jio team that presented the proposal to the EEC. Oberoi was the HRD Secretary in 2016, when the IoE Scheme was first announced in the Budget as a World Class Institutes programme.

Even as the declaration was made, this was the first time the public at large heard the name Jio Institute. It was found that the institute did not yet exist, that is, it did not have a physical infrastructure. Unlike the other institutions on the list, which had been around for a while, nobody knew where Jio had come from. As per the National Institute Ranking Framework (NIRF), the top seven colleges in India are the IISc, IIT Madras, IIT Bombay, IIT Delhi, IIT Kharagpur, Jawaharlal Nehru University and IIT Kanpur. But only three of these could make the cut to the IoEs. Manipal University and BITS Pilani are ranked 18th and 26th on the NIRF. Eventually, the MHRD stepped in with a clarification on Twitter that clause 6.1 of the UGC (Institutions of Eminence Deemed to be Universities) Regulations, 2017, provides for a completely new proposal to establish an institution to be considered under this project.

The EEC had received 11 proposals under this provision but only Jio fulfilled all the parameters for it: availability of land for construction of the institution, putting in place a core team with very high qualifications and wide experience, making available funding for setting up the institution, and a strategic vision plan with clear annual milestones and action plan. On the basis of this selection, they were given a letter of intent. This letter of intent gives the institution three years’ time to establish itself, post which it will be awarded the status. There are two categories of institutions that are considered for this status: Brownfield and Greenfield institutions. Two institutions—the Indian Institute of Human Settlement, Bengaluru and the Indian Institute of Public Health, Gandhinagar—had also applied under the Greenfield category but were not selected. They were recommended by the EEC for being given flexibility in the regulatory framework and will be considered separately.

Scientist Raghunath A. Mashelkar, who currently heads the National Innovation Foundation under the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India, is slated to be the Chancellor of Jio Institute. He is a chemical engineer who served as Director-General of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) from 1995 to 2006. He was also a member of the Prime Minister’s Scientific Advisory Council from 1988 to 1990 and 2004 to 2014.

After retiring as the chief of CSIR in 2006, Mashelkar joined Reliance Industries in 2007 as an independent member of its board and has since been associated with Reliance Foundation. For Vice Chancellor, the name of Dipak C. Jain has been proposed. Jio Institute will also have the Provost, Dean Research, Executive Vice President and nominees of the Governing Council (GC) of Reliance Foundation as its members.