Answer Writing Practice for UPSC IAS Mains Exam: Paper - II (General Studies – I) - 18 September 2018

Answer Writing Practice for UPSC IAS Mains Exam

UPSC Syllabus:

  • Paper-II: General Studies - I (Indian Heritage and Culture, History and Geography of the World and Society)

Q. “The decision of centre to anoint Institutions of Eminence (IoEs) is not the route to academic excellence”. Critically analyze. (250 words)

Model Answer:


  • Why in news?
  • Introduction
  • IoEs – route to academic excellence
  • Conclusion

Why in news?

The Government has shortlisted Six Institutions of Eminence (IoEs) including 3 from Public Sector and 3 from Private Sector. An Empowered Expert Committee (EEC) in its report recommended selection of 6 institutions (3 from public sector and 3 from private sector) as Institutions of Eminence.

The details of these IoEs shortlisted are as under:

Public Sector: (i) Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, Karnataka; (ii) Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, Maharashtra; and (iii) Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi.

Private Sector: (i) Jio Institute (Reliance Foundation), Pune under Green Field Category; (ii) Birla Institute of Technology & Sciences, Pilani, Rajasthan; and (iii) Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal, Karnataka.


Government had commitment in 2016 budget for setting up / upgrading of 20 Institutions (10 from public sector & 10 from private sector) as world class teaching and research institutions called as ‘Institutions of Eminence’.

  • The new status (IoEs) is expected to help them break into the world’s top 500 higher education institutions in a decade and into the top 100 after that.
  • IoEs will be permitted to admit 30 per cent foreign students with no restrictions on the fees charged from them.
  • This will also set them free from regulations of the All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE) and the University Grants Commission (UGC).
  • Each public Institution selected as ‘Institution of Eminence’ will get financial assistance up to Rs. 1000 Crore over the period of five years under this scheme.

IoEs – route to academic excellence

The actual reason for promoting these policies may not be a desire for academic excellence as discussed below –

  • At least three of the institutes selected (IITs and the Indian Institute of Science) already enjoy complete academic freedom in what they teach, how they teach and what research they undertake. Most faculty members who want to do research in these institutions are also able to obtain a reasonable amount of research funding without much competition.
  • This obsession with rankings began about a decade ago after the Times Higher Education World University Rankings and the QS World University Rankings started around 2005 and the Academic Ranking of World Universities in 2009. From India, only the Indian Institute of Science was included in the top 500 every year whereas many Chinese universities had made it, and worst of all, two from South Africa. So, we set up our own university ranking system and, in addition, directed our vice-chancellors and directors to somehow push their institutions into the top 500.
  • It is quite interesting that the Times and QS rankings appeared when education was becoming more expensive in the US and UK and more fee-paying international undergraduate students had started going to those countries. So pursuing the quest of getting included in these rankings has hardly any utility.
  • These rankings are not purely academic but include surveys on reputation, views of employers, research output, and proportion of foreign students. Serious students are quite clear about which universities they would like to attend based on the reputation of the specific department of interest and the professors’ publications in their area of interest, rather than just these rankings.
  • As far as academically elite government institutions like IITs, IISc, IIMs etc are concerned, the rankings make little difference to the kind of students they get or the faculty they hire. The students are selected through tough entrance exams. These institutions will get the same kind of students with or without rankings. A few of the IITs have been making it to the top 500 now and then, but that has not changed the quality of applicants for faculty positions in recent years. Out of a large number of applicants, only a few are of good quality and make it while a significant number of positions remain vacant. This is not likely to change with the IoE tag.
  • As far as scientific and technological careers in research are concerned, private institutions in India do not make much of a difference at present. Only students from middle class and lower-middle class families opt for research careers and the high cost of education debars them from “good” private schools and universities.
  • Indian institutions will not become centres of “world-class” research by aimlessly striving for rankings or by crores of rupees being poured into a few of them. The problem lies elsewhere. There is almost no country in the world that does well in academic research where education costs money primary school onward. More than 90 per cent of students go to schools that provide free education, including books, in most well-performing countries.
  • A paltry Rs 600-crore annual investment from the fastest growing economy for its dream to create a world class university is too little.
  • What was a promise of 10 universities was brought down to eight by the committee. But the tragic thing is that government accepted only three public universities without giving any reason why the other five were denied despite the recommendation. This decision demoralises the entire academic community as there is no justification for denying the other five public universities. Similarly, there is no justification to deny a few other private universities when there is no financial commitment. India could have easily given wings to the aspirations of many well intended private universities. For example - Reliance Foundation’s greenfield Jio Institute has been chosen but KREA University, led by former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan and with considerable business and academic eminence on board, has been left out.
  • This model remains dependent on state patronage. 
  • To gauge institutions principally by their prospective rankings, without regard for the relevance of outcomes, would be reductionist.
  • The academic freedom depends, in great measure, on financial freedom. Public IoEs are to be rewarded with an Rs 1,000-crore handout, but their private competitors must fend for themselves. This distinction is rather pointless. All institutions, irrespective of their ownership, should be encouraged to compete for both public and private funds, and should be allowed to invest.

IoEs can inch our education system closer to excellence –

  • The institutes of eminence will have added funds for the state-run institutions, and more collaboration opportunities with top global universities so that universities can fully focus on their students, faculty, research and social outreach thereby transforming the higher education sector and strengthening the foundations of a knowledge economy.
  • IoEs will have unprecedented freedom to fund activities and customize courses, bringing creativity to higher education and facilitating them to grow more rapidly. At the same time, they will get more opportunity to scale up their operations with more skills and quality improvement so that they become World Class Institutions in the field of education.
  • The “institutes of eminence” are looking to have more foreign faculties and students thereby increasing competition, innovation and improving their global standing.


The present policies may anoint institutions of pre-eminence, but unless we make education almost free at all levels and increase job opportunities in research, there is little chance that we will excel in science and technology. Improving higher education outcomes will also depend on India’s ability to improve school education so that students enrolling in higher educational institutions are equipped with foundational skills.

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