I write this piece with mixed emotions. The countless memes, political press and (mis)information about a non-existent Jio Institute’s elevation to an Institute of Eminence (IoE) has made all the pundits defend or glorify their own ashrama (campus). The commentators on the issue are mostly academic, in whose campuses, every month a seed germinates and bears the fruit of salary. I don’t intend to join the league, adding to a list of credible opinions and open letters addressed to the government in power, criticising the decision. But, I do tender my supporting signature to the ones raising their voices and asking tough questions. I ought not to repeat the points brought out by the esteemed and ‘eminent’ fraternity to which I belong. And, hence, keeping this eventuality as a reference, I intend to address the adjectival presence of the word or thought ‘eminence’ or to some extent ‘excellence’ in academia.
The tag of eminence comes as a Shakespearian cliché of what’s in a name? An institute can be designated or awarded by any name. Does a name really assure quality? I doubt it. A name is to be made by delivering what has been promised and by raising expectations from the society. A good name (a new name, in particular) is relevant for catchy headlines or for marketing an educational institute.
Does naming a Higher Education Institute (HEI) as “eminent” bring the excellence promised by it? A simple comparative study of the “vision and mission statement” of various institutions will give a nice rosy picture. It will begin with some dream or a life inspiration by a public figure on whom the institute has been christened; and, in case of a private institute, some unfulfilled desires of the industrial philanthropist who intend to do some good. This will, then, be followed by grand statements of nation-building through various skills and producing an ideal type of citizens. I may be wrong, but, I have come across only these permutations and combinations. Therefore, IoE is just another way of classifying the type of goodies these institutes will receive from the government – the important ones being foreign collaborations and freedom from regulatory bodies.
On the one hand, I see an Institute of Eminence (IoE) with no physical and digital infrastructure except for countless memes. On the other side, I see a renewed hope for another private educational institution backed by a corporate mogul which promises academic and intellectual freedom. How do I prophesise that an institute named Jio will be a model expected to raise the standard (or at least ranking) of educational institutes from rock bottom to the top? How do I not think that it is going to be just another institute (not necessarily of higher education) for the growing demand of degree and diploma distribution centres, for the increased young population of India?
The contemporary saga of Indian educational system concerning Higher Education Institutions (HEI) is at the crossroads of only name and fame. The empty promises and use of academic autonomy is an axiomatic excuse under which most of the high offices take refuge. The need of the hour is decentralisation of the existing academic autonomy and democratisation of the administrative decision-making process.
The paradoxes of our HEI are such that we cannot convincingly acclaim any institute for being at the pinnacle of knowledge production. But, we can name many public intellectuals and academicians who are at the zenith of their scholarship, working in those universities or institutes. I can say in full shame that we, the people or citizens or governance apparatus of respective educational institutions, have failed.
The irony is that the state celebrates this failure by ordaining new campuses every month, in one corner or another. In this interminable wait of academic excellence and namesake eminence, we expect this new one will be the chosen one.
Instead of sharing a meme, I jump from my seat in excitement. I do that when I discover a new name of higher education institution from Bikaner to Burdwan. This time, I was not excited.
For the first time, my instincts rebelled against my conscience. I will not defend or allege foul play in the legal or political process, through which an institute, backed by the wealthiest man of the country, deserves a tag of eminence. The court of public opinion and many critiques of governance have indicated that we are in bed with a person whose offers we can’t refuse. The one who is not capable of following Raja-dharma then is the Dharma-raja now (a government unconcerned for the “rule of law” but daunts people by “rules of law”). Thus, we should get over with the fact that government and the corporate lobby has a quid pro quo relationship. It cannot get more obscene and explicit. Exposing the nakedness is tough enough. Even in these terms, I’m confident that they will stoop to further lows to prove me and you, the people, wrong.
I met Prakash Javadekar in the summer of 2012 in the Constitution Club. It was around the last days of the summer, in the House of Parliament. The issue was still around the Ambedkar cartoon in the NCERT textbook and debates about composition and members in Ashok Thorat Committee. The hearsay impression of Javadekar which had been presented to me by my boss was: “he would listen to whatever you have to say and will cordially invite you to submit your views, but he would have already decided, very prematurely, what he is going to do. It is like going for a walk-in interview, but he already has selected a candidate of his choice”.
I learnt two lessons on democracy that day – one, a decision by this man (Javadekar) on face value will be democratic, second, such namesake democratic and legal decisions which follow the established procedure are not always right. This decision of Javadekar (of declaring Jio Institute as IoE) reminds me of my boss’s advice. Although in a hearsay scandal, in the unwritten code of politics, it can be counted as evidence.
Further on, I don’t see any reason for the invitation of applications costing one crore in the first place. What happens to the non-refundable application amount? Does it go to committee members for their research and evaluation or visits to the said campuses? I fail to gather how the Jio Institute justifies its application fees. My curiosity is to know the email id from which the proposal was delivered to the esteemed committee. A mammoth ₹9,500 crore plan not including a social media handle or web footprint is absurd.
Nonetheless, memes have filled that gap of a digital print as India moves on from Neymar. If something is not fishy, then what makes such news, a controversy? This ocean of memes and coverage has definitely spared Team Jio some money from their marketing budget, in the coming three years. The government has advertised them, not by name but by their tag. The name is not a surety; it may change, but the eminence tag gave it good fame.
I sincerely hope that one day in near or in distant future, all the meme mongers aspire for admission or work in the Jio Institute. It shall bring back my faith and make me jump from my chair again. I am tired of clichés and regular excuses or blame games on regulatory authorities. Now, when these new goodies of IoE have dawned on our existential reality, I expect them to perform as any top 10 institutes of global repute would perform, from the beginning.
My expectations from academic institutions of higher learning have been of Nobel prizes and Olympic medals. In realistic terms, it cannot be achieved in a decade. But, I would like to see how many Nobel laureates or Abel prize winners or Pulitzer awardees, or global star athletes shift their bases to train and educate at this new Greenfield institute.
If one aspires to be amongst the best, do we dream as high as the best institutes dream? Our academic culture is infested with mediocrity and has an impoverished imagination. I just want to know if Jio’s educational imagination includes my expectations.
What promises and model of academic governance does Jio institute present before the people? A plan or making of great HEI ought to be presented in public domain to compete with our humble expectations. Whether this top-class facility will be free for some initial few years and subsidised for the people like their telecom service? I don’t crib about the non-existence of physical infrastructure. Those who already possess state–of-the-art architectural setup haven’t contributed enough to the knowledge society either.
In the end, I would humbly conclude that a tag isn’t an evidence of eminence. Real eminence can be achieved through academic vigour and governance. The problem that academic institutions face is that they don’t behave like welfare institutions. The matters which ought to be more professional are treated in a very casual way. At the same time, trivial issues are not de-professionalised and they stretch in bureaucratic tunnels. Academic governance is a craft which when practised within existing parameters of autonomy without blaming regulatory authorities, may yield visible impacts in a HEI.
If these steps are achieved, even in the limited funding and capacities, the word of mouth or social media will surely make this institute an ‘eminent’ one for the people. In the meantime, as a part of ‘jugaad’ prone India, we ought to make full and optimal use of the limited resources available to us.
Jio might or might not become a premier institute that imparts quality education. It all depends on how ambitious we dream and how hard we work to achieve excellence for an HEI. Unfortunately, the dreams of Ambani will always be of more ‘reliance’ than hopes of millions.
The author is a passionate socio-political-legal theorist committed towards legal education policy and teaching. He is currently an M.Litt. candidate (Legal & Constitutional Studies) at the Institute of Legal and Constitutional Research (School of History), University of St. Andrews.