by Moiz Mannan
The Minister of Overseas Indians Affairs, Vayalar Ravi, has said he wishes to “revive” the proposal to set up a university for overseas Indians. We don’t know what proposal he’s talking about. Possibly, it seems, he does not either.
In many ways, the issue seems akin to the announcements about the “revival” of the proposal to set up a Kerala Airline.
After returning to India from the Mini Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) in Mauritius recently, Ravi was quoted by the media as saying that he would work for setting up a university to cater to non-resident Indians (NRIs). The university, he said, would be established in India and would affiliate institutions across the globe for Indian populations there.
The minister is right when he says that a large number of overseas Indians are facing huge problems in giving affordable quality higher and professional education to their children. In this column we have closely followed all developments related to the education of NRI children, be it the reduction or quashing of seats reserved for them or the proposed university.
Ravi’s latest statements do not sound too convincing. Had he meant business, the bill related to the establishment of the proposed ‘Innovative Universities’ would not have remained pending for more than a year-and-a-half.
The much-hyped university dedicated to overseas Indians appears came a cropper last year when the proposal to establish it at the Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE) was scrapped owing to legal complications.
The project was challenged by the Charitable Educational & Welfare Society (Kadammanitta), Pathanamthitta district, in Kerala, and Kerala state that filed a writ petition in the HC of Kerala seeking direction from the court to quash the letter on the university and such other directions.
The Ministry of Overseas Indians Affairs has written to the MAHE Trust that the project cannot go ahead under the current legal provision, ie, Section 3 of the UGC (University Grants Commission) Act. Under Section 3 of the UGC Act ‘deemed-to- be-university’ status is granted by the Central Government to those educational institutions of repute, which fulfil the prescribed standards and comply with various requirements laid down by the UGC.
The UGC Act stipulates that “for private universities belonging to a separate category altogether, a suitable regulatory mechanism is essential by way of laying down the conditions specifically for the establishment and operation of such universities for safeguarding the interests of the student community with adequate emphasis on the quality of education and to avoid commercialisation of higher education, etc.”
Accordingly, the Advisory Board set up for the purpose opined that this and such other universities should be established under an Act of Parliament. After the bill is enacted a fresh expression of interest was to be invited for the proposed PIO/NRI University.
The legislation being referred to was the Innovation Universities Bill which has been introduced in the Indian Parliament. Senior officials have said that the Government of India plans to set up five PIO (Persons of Indian Origin) Universities which will exclusively cater to the diaspora students of Indian origin.
Ironically, it was at another Mini PBD, the one at Toronto, that the secretary at the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs announced the PIO universities would be established in different cities including Bangalore. These full-fledged universities will be built in public-private partnership and 50 per cent of their seats will be reserved for students from Indian diaspora.
The PIO University, as per plans, will be established by a private organisation under the Innovation Universities Act (once it is approved), where the support to the said University would come in the form of research support and student scholarships. The Innovation Universities Bill has been forwarded by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD).
Nothing at all seems to have been done in this regard, and Minister Ravi would have us believe that the woes of NRIs regarding their children’s education are about to end.
In fact, the MIOA’s own website, under the head ‘Diaspora Services’ still speaks of the Innovation Universities’ Bill being moved by the HRD Ministry. It boasts: “The proposed structure of the ‘Universities of Innovation’ would have the advantage of a world class institution coming up through the private sector where PIO students could then gain admission through the scholarship scheme of our Ministry.”
In a related development, earlier this year, a prominent Saudi-based NRI businessman, Siddeek Ahmed, had called upon the Keralite community in the Gulf to come together in establishing such a university in the state. He was driven by the thought that Keralites in the Gulf spend millions and go through great hardships to get their children admitted to the desired courses back home. Things could be much better if they joined hands and created such an institution on their own.
He was even said to have submitted a proposal to this effect to the Kerala chief minister.