On May 21, 2012, the Universities for Research and Innovation Bill 2012 was introduced in the Lok Sabha. From the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Bill, it appears that innovation has been recognised as one of the key drivers of the economy, with the further observation that public expenditure alone is not sufficient.
In other words, the proposed legislation seeks to encourage an increase private participation to set up universities which could act as hubs of research and innovation. Following are some of the salient features of the bill as enumerated in the statement of objects and reasons:
(a) Each University for Research and Innovation would provide for the knowledge needs of the country, in training professionals, specialists, scientists and researchers needed by society and the economy and in generating new knowledge to support national innovation systems.
(b) Each University would offer exposure to an international classroom environment. However, a minimum of 50% students have to be Indian citizens.
(c) Each University would focus on one area or problem of significance to India and build an ecosystem of research and teaching around different related disciplines and fields of study. Significant dividends in terms of Intellectual Property Right creations are expected due to focused and inter-disciplinary research in an area of study.
(d) These universities would have autonomy in matters of academics, faculty, personnel, finances, administration and in the development of a vision for the future.
(e) Different modes of establishment of these universities are contemplated. They can be either fully public funded or fully private funded. The Bill also provides for public private partnership.
(f) The President of India would be the Visitor of the publicly funded Universities for Research and Innovation.
(g) The Chancellor would be appointed from amongst eminent academicians who shall be the nominal head of the University and preside over convocations and annual meetings of the Board of Governors (BoG). The Chancellor for Publicly funded Universities would be appointed by the Visitor while for private Universities, the Chancellor would be appointed by the Promoter.
(k) The Bill deals with the protection and utilization of intellectual property emerging from public funded research. It provides that the concerned University shall disclose the fact of creation of intellectual property emerging out of public funded research to the Central Government or such authority as designated by the Government. It also provides for the concerned University to retain the title of such intellectual property, with previous approval of the Central Government. It further provides for acquisition by the Central Government of an intellectual property if it is so considered in the “interest of the security of India”.
The highlight of the bill, as I see it, is that it envisages creation of universities by mere notifications as opposed to legislations. For instance, the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) were established under the various IIT legislations. In contrast, under this Bill, universities may be established by notifications.
Under the Universities Bill, each of the universities so established shall have provision for admission of foreign students with at least 50% reservation for Indian students. The universities may be established under an agreement entered into between a private entity/investor and the Central government which brings in the aspect of public private partnership.
Also, each of the universities established shall cater to a specific area of innovation and related disciplines thereby giving rise to a comprehensive ecosystem in that area. Curiously, Chapter 5 of the Bill relates to “protection and utilisation of intellectual property emerging from public funded research”.
The provisions under this chapter are similar in letter and spirit to the provisions of the Protection and Utilisation of Public Funded Intellectual Property Bill (PUFIP) 2008 which is now in cold storage. It is surprising that at a time when the PUFIP bill itself is being discarded pursuant to the observations of the Parliamentary standing committee, the Universities Bill makes provision for public funded IP, which has a mandatory spirit to it.
Although public-private partnership in the area of higher education and research has long been in the pipeline, there must be a means of ensuring that these universities do not become the conduits for publishing "doctored" research which advance private vested interests at the expense of public interest.
The question that comes to my mind is that when there are already have several private institutions which abound in this country, with at least 200 private engineering colleges in every major state, why must we create more institutions instead of converting existing infrastructure into public-private enterprises for the purposes of the Universities Bill?
Considering that India does not have the kind of financial surfeit that certain developed nations have, shouldn't we adopt a more cost-effective approach instead of creating new infrastructure?