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Posted at: Dec 5, 2018, 12:29 AM; last updated: Dec 5, 2018, 5:45 PM (IST)IN CONVERSATION

All for institutional equality

Eesha Duggal

From India’s first private medical school Kasturba Medical College coming up at a barren hillock to a 600-acre plush global education empire offering a variety of courses, the Manipal Academy of Higher Education at Manipal (MAHE), Karnataka, has come a long way. 

The momentous journey is evident in its world-class infrastructure and also the cutting-edge educational advances it has made over six decades. A melting pot of cultures, MAHE got a shot in the arm this year after the HRD Ministry picked it as an Institution of Eminence. Dr Vinod H Bhatt, Vice Chancellor (VC), talks about what this status means for MAHE, university's achievements and future plans.

With the Institution of Eminence status, what are the new opportunities that have opened for MAHE?

The Institution of Eminence charter gives universities autonomy and the freedom to choose the curriculum, the method of delivery and international faculty. All these liberties should be accessible for all universities, but for some reasons have been given only to the Institutions of Eminence. This sure is a great opportunity.

What are the challenges for the institute at the same time?

The intention of the government is noble, but it is still a half-hearted attempt. There are only 22 regulators for higher education in this country and the Institution of Eminence liberates us from only two. So, the freedom isn’t absolute. Perhaps, it is for us to seek such freedom in the months to come. 

The second is to treat the Institutions of Eminence, both private and public, on an equal footing. There is some level of discrimination. It became apparent when it was announced that the selected public universities will get Rs 100 crore a year for 10 years but no such grant was announced for private varsities. 

However, this isn’t the real issue. The actual concern is that the Institutions of Eminence, whether private or public, should be made free to apply for research grants within the country, but that is far from happening. The recently announced ‘Spark’ grants by the Ministry of HRD clearly mentions that only universities under Section 12B can apply for such grants. There is no mention of the Institutions of Eminence or if an Institution of Eminence can apply for it. Thus, there are several hindrances in the way of private universities.

How do you facilitate research on campus? Do students have the freedom to explore and innovate? 

What was missing in the Indian education scenario was the freedom given to students to tinker around labs. At MAHE, we have created such system in both medical and engineering schools. Students are free to explore and experiment at the innovation centre housed in the Manipal Institute of Technology campus. 

There are at least eight or 10 hackathons that have been conducted on campus. Such events bring together students and faculties from different disciplines with different skills and knowledge to face a common problem and come out with a solution. There are two incubators at Manipal for start-ups and assistance is provided to students by way of legal, secretarial and financial support. We have already incubated over 40 companies. We have the second incubator now, a bio-incubator. It works specifically in the fields of medical devices, drug discovery and molecular diagnostics.

What's your vision for the institution? 

We are a powerhouse in the field of higher education. The institute is more popular outside India. Even universities in Australia and the Netherlands know about Manipal and we want to form strong collaborations with them. We aim to be in the top 200 universities in the world in 15 years from now.

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