Jio, ‘eminence’ of crony capitalism

Industrialist Mukesh Ambani's son Akash Ambani speaks during an event for the unveiling of iPhone 8 and iPhone 8+, in Mumbai on Friday. (PTI Photo)

The Modi government’s much-talked-about scheme to cultivate ‘institutions of eminence’ (IoE) in higher education has been badly marred by the choice of Jio Institute, promoted by Reliance Foundation, for that status. It is a travesty of the very idea of eminence that an institution that is yet to be born has been given a stamp of excellence and bracketed with some well-established institutions that have decades of high academic and research performance behind them. There is no controversy over the grant of the status to Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, two IITs, the Manipal Academy, and BITS, Pilani. But it beats common sense and logic to recognise an institution which has no infrastructure, faculty, students or academic plans as an eminent institution worthy of mention and encouragement by the government. Jio Institute has been given the tag in the category of greenfield projects, a category that clearly was drafted for the purpose of bringing to limelight yet another “world-class” Ambani dream. 

The grant of IoE status to institutions by the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development is intended to foster excellence by giving them maximum academic and administrative freedom and, in the case of public institutions, by funding them generously for their activities. The idea is to enable them to eventually win a place among the world’s 100 top universities. The selection was made by an expert committee from among 114 institutions, including 11 in the greenfield category. The requirements for selection in the greenfield category were land availability, a qualified core team, a strategic vision and an adequate funding plan, all drafted to suit the Ambani blueprint. Since it is backed by the Ambanis, funding may not be a constraint. Perhaps, money does buy eminence, after all, in the government’s eyes. Union HRD minister Prakash Javadekar should tell us if that’s the case.  

Jio Institute was chosen while institutions like the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, and Krea University in Tamil Nadu, which has former Reserve Bank governor Raghuram Rajan as an adviser, did not make the cut. Neither did Azim Premji University, which is doing world-class work training teachers across the country, a responsibility that successive governments have abdicated; nor did Ashoka University, which boasts of an eminent faculty. This, quite clearly, symbolises crony capitalism. A university should be judged by its research and academic performance and achievements. But a mere plan on paper has now been given a badge of excellence on the basis of untenable considerations. If the Modi government lays any store by credibility, it must withdraw forthwith the tag of eminence given to Jio Institute. 

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Jio, ‘eminence’ of crony capitalism

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