Bridge Trolls are trolls that stop travelers from crossing a bridge unless they answer their riddle or pay them through other means. The phrase was made popular by a Norwegian fairy tale. Bridge trolls are a nuisance because they take over a public bridge built by others. Their riddles are arbitrary and their behavior is not predictable. These people use assets they don’t own and instead squeeze other people’s wealth. Indian babus use the term “Empowered Expert Committee” for bridge trolls.

 

Institutes of eminence are nothing but another version of trolls on the bridge. The Indian government was correct to accept that UGC and other Higher Education regulatory bodies that suck taxpayer money to ensure quality are the reason for the mediocrity of Indian higher education. But instead of reforming these regulations government has created a new bridge of “Institute of Eminence” with the trolls to guard them.

 

6 institutes have been declared institutes of eminence.

 

“Institutes of eminence are important for the country. We have 800 universities, but not a single university is in the top 100…Today’s decision will help achieve this,” HRD minister Prakash Javadekar tweeted. “This (the scheme) will help the institutes to grow rapidly to a scale, improve quality and add new courses. Also do whatever is needed to become world-class institutions,[source]

 

I am not sure why only 6 institutes in the country would be allowed to rise to such status. What exactly has IIT Kanpur has done for which they will not benefit from the scheme? If this new regulation is going to help an institute become eminent then why not apply it to all or most ?

 

The Empowered Expert Committee apparently has people in charge of universities in the USA. These people themselves are not subject to UGC and its death choke of regulations. These people have probably never learned the art of sucking up to the right people in Delhi to get a NOC for their college or to even start a college. These people with no skin in the game screened through 113 applications and selected 6. No news reports have any details on the criteria advertised, applies and how all 113 performed on those criteria.

 

People across entire political spectrum love bridge trolls. They just have to plant their own trolls so they control who crosses the bridge. Part of the reason why the political opponents of current government criticise who got the tag instead of this discriminatory regulatory regime.

One good thing about fairy tale bridge trolls is that once you cross the bridge you are done. But the Indian version is different. You have to keep renewing the permission like how Right to Education Law insists that all Hindu run schools renew their recognition on regular basis.

 

What if one of the 6 institutes fails any of the opaque criteria used by EEC after the tag is issued? Will they still get to continue the privilege or will be revoked and all students will suddenly be subject to a different regulatory regime?

 

Why Jio Institute is a non-issue.

 

Reliance has money. It means they can invest capital to build a really good institute. It might sound strange to people today but traditionally Indian philanthropists have invested a lot in education in past. This investment went down with increasing government meddling.  

 

If any Indian university breaks into the top 100 global universities it will by by Reliance, Tatas or some other Indian entrepreneur with huge capital. It won’t be anything that is controlled by MHRD babus.

 

I think Reliance entering education sector is a good thing. But if they get this regulatory exemption under the opaque and rare tag they will then actively work to prevent competition by controlling the trolls on the bridge in future. The fact that Reliance gets this preferential treatment will hurt further reforms in this sector.

 

It would have been another story of Tatas, Adanis, Mahindras etc. too had got the same exemption. They would then compete among themselves lowering prices and improving quality.

 

It is also beyond me why government will not put an objective criteria for this eminence tag and then seek as much private investment as possible in the education sector. For private universities there is no monetary commitment from government and hence this investment was essentially free for government.

 

A widely advertised and well known criteria also prevents your opponents from accusing you of backroom deals. But if the law/regulation is suppresses the critical pieces as to why only 6 institutes where chosen there obviously there is a good reason to be suspicious of government’s intentions.

 

6 is too small a number

 

After spending 4 years in power with an absolute majority if you are going to exempt 6 institutes from UGC then it is probably a symptom of deep-rooted incompetence in MHRD. It will be another 10 years before these institutes actually end up making any difference.

 

MHRD had another opportunity here to handout this exemption for as many institutes it could to counter the minoritysm in higher education where minority institutes have substantially more freedom than Hindu-run institutes.

 

Keeping this number higher would have also made it difficult to repeal this scheme by a future government. A UPA government will probably need a month in office to scrap this entire scheme.

 

The phrase “Eminence” is nothing but subterfuge

 

Government tags work exactly opposite of their meaning. The government has to give out eminence tags only because there are no real eminent institutes in the country. Had there been any Indian university in the top 100 global universities there was no need for this tag in first place. These kind of government tags are useful only to those who on their own will not be recognized as eminent on their own. IIT Bombay, for example, is unlikely to benefit further from this tag, they already have a lot of autonomy. But this tag will do wonders to Jio Institute. Read this essay by NN Taleb to understand the point. IIT Bombay’s eminence is not established by government tag but by the cut throat competition to get into it.

 

One may ask if the tag means government is already recognizing institute as that of eminence. If true, then it makes no sense to have a greenfield institute. If the tag means these institutes “could be” institutes of eminence then the low number is a suspect. IIT Kanpur or Madras can not be institute of eminence ? If the tag means the regulatory exemptions will help an institute become a better university then why not give it to everyone ?

 

We have to ignore the tag and actually look under the hood for what it actually means and its implications on ground. Just the way right to education is only about right to a lottery in hindu managed schools, this tag too just means exemption from some UGC regulations. Also many of those exemptions show just how confused MHRD is.

 

One of the benefits of IoE tag is the following:

 

While a greater clarity awaits, it has been learnt that these institutes will also bag freedom to tweak remuneration structures in order to attract quality faculty members, both domestic and foreign.

 

Unlike the current regime, institutes of eminence will have the freedom to not only fix remuneration for foreign faculty but also admit about 25 per cent foreign students at their campuses.

 

Fixing salaries of employees is a freedom that is taken for granted in most developed countries. With the exception of these 6 institutes government thinks that all other universities and colleges are not even fit to decide salary of their faculty members.

 

Foreign faculty is another interesting matter. Neeti Ayog vice-chairman dumped his job just to keep his teaching job Columbia university. He preferred his job in USA over possibility to impact 1 billion people in the world. Why would any foreign faculty of repute would be interested in teaching in Bombay or Manipal or Bangalore ? It goes without saying that not only there is no harm in offering this freedom to these institutes but where is the harm in offering the same freedom to all institutes ?

 

Good chance that entire institute of eminence scheme is nothing but a feeble attempt by MHRD to show that they are trying to do something without actually doing anything. Another bullet point for their 2019 list of achievements. This tag promotes discriminatory regulations and creates another bridge with trolls. Accepting that UGC ss a bottleneck for quality of education and then coming up with 6 institutes for exemption is like changing wiper fluid because your engine is bust.