Innovation universities: fresh direction for India’s education sector

The Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), which is aiming to make India the global knowledge hub, has proposed to establish 14 premier educational institutions (innovation universities). What will distinguish these world-class educational institutions from the existing ones, be it the state, central, private or deemed universities, will be the emphasis on research and innovation, the prime driving force behind such institutions. The MHRD has prepared a concept paper on innovation universities, providing a broad overview of the intent of the government behind the establishment of such universities, as well as the nature, structure, role and intended contribution of innovation universities to society.

Though the government intends to be the prime driver for the establishment of innovation universities, the concept paper provides for multiple modes through which the new institutions can be established, ie they may be opened by the government, by private parties, through public-private partnership (PPP-model) or by eminent foreign universities.

Salient Features of Innovation Universities

The principle thoughts underlying the concept of innovation universities are research, innovation and excellence. Each innovation university will be required to focus on a particular area of research or problem of significance to India, such as:

  • environment sustainability challenges;
  • over-population; and
  • public health.

The litmus test for all prospective applications when establishing innovation universities will be ingenuity, knowledge creation and vision to achieve excellence.

The importance attached to research and change in innovation universities is further reflected by the fact that the government intends to provide a research endowment fund of a considerable amount to the innovation universities for undertaking research activities.

Though the innovation universities would be receiving funds and grants from the central government, the concept paper contemplates much greater operational autonomy being given to the innovation universities, in comparison to the existing education institutions. In relation to academic matters, these universities would fall outside of the purview of the regulatory bodies in higher education.

Innovation universities would have the freedom to formulate their own policies for admission, fee structure, course structure, criteria for making appointments to academic posts and pay structure. They would also have the freedom to formulate their own statutes and ordinances without the requirement of any further approval from the ‘visitor’ of the university, ie the President of India.

Moreover, the concept note envisages that the innovation universities would offer scholarships to the top 20% of the student community at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels. At doctorate level, innovation universities would be required to offer fellowships to all students to enable partial compensation.

The key authorities of the innovation university would be the visitor (the president of India), the chancellor (who would be appointed from eminent academicians), the vice-chancellor (selected by the board of governors (BoG) from a panel of three names nominated by a collegium of distinguished academicians (collegium)), the collegium, the BoG (whose first members would be nominated by the visitor from a panel of names recommended by the collegium to the visitor), and the Faculty Board of Studies.


The initiative of the MHRD to establish premier world-class educational institutions is commendable. However, the actual implementation of the government’s dream project would require clearly laying out the intent in a simple and transparent manner, followed by sincere efforts to implement it.

The core values of these universities, ie research and innovation, should be made the key eligibility criteria for giving licences for the establishment of innovation universities. This should be done to discourage those applicants who may attempt to use this as a window to establish universities that are ordinary institutions, mediocre in quality and/or are purely commercial driven. Innovation universities, through intense research and knowledge creation, should stand on a different footing than the existing educational institutions.

Furthermore, the concept paper does not address the role of private players in the management of privately funded innovation universities, thereby creating uncertainty among those private players who are interested in the PPP-model as a mode of establishing the innovation universities. Additionally, the concept note has not specified the exact composition of the various authorities of the innovation university, including the process of appointment and removal. It is recommended that the government should issue detailed guidelines in relation to the establishment, operation and management of innovation universities. The government should also ensure that the standards of quality are strictly adhered to at the inception stage so that the status of ‘innovation university’ is a continuing one, unlike the situation being faced by educational institutions today, where certain deemed-to-be universities are under threat of derecognition by the regulator who granted them recognition on a previous occasion.

India currently faces the problem of not having an adequate number of educational institutions for the millions of students in the country. There is a distinct need to provide affordable higher education to a larger number to cater to the need of India’s future and to keep India ahead of other counterpart countries. It may be suggested that a well-structured and exhaustive distance education programme is devised and applied. However, it is important to bear in mind that such a method of teaching should in no way compromise the quality and content of the courses to be offered in the innovation universities. In this regard, it is essential that a distinguished and well-experienced faculty is engaged in the distance learning programme to ensure that the students undertaking it are on a par with those students enrolled under the conventional classroom teaching system.

In conclusion, it may be stated that the government’s endeavour to establish premier educational institutions can only be truly successful once the innovation universities have been opened, and continue to operate and uphold the core standards of innovation, research and excellence on which the universities were set up in the first place.


The views expressed are those of the authors and do not reflect the official policy or position of Amarchand Mangaldas.