The union cabinet is set to allow public sector units to partially fund setting up of new Indian Institutes of Information Technology (IIITs). This is an effort to salvage the central government's first-ever move to introduce public-private partnerships in higher education -- a plan that has largely received a cold response from the private sector.
Two years ago, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh promised to set up 20 new IIITs— the country’s apex IT schools —through public private partnerships (PPP), in his Independence Day speech. Two days after his latest address from Red Fort, the cabinet will consider allowing PSUs to pump in money and expertise to fill in a role originally envisaged for top private firms, including global giants like Google and Yahoo.
The union cabinet will also consider reducing the number of companies required to fund each IIIT from three to one. The cabinet note points out that in several states, especially in the North East, even medium size private industries are non-existent.
The IIIT Bill 2012 is set to be introduced during the ongoing monsoon session of parliament, after the cabinet gives its nod.
India already has four IIITs fully funded by the central government. These are at Gwalior, Allahabad, Jabalpur and Kancheepuram and are currently deemed universities. The plan was to establish one IIIT in every other state.
The new bill also aims to elevate all 24 IIITs to ‘institutes of national importance’—a tag which exempts them from several government regulations and allows them independent statutory status.
It is learnt that the government had to rethink its plan after three states—Rajasthan, Bihar and Kerala—suggested that industry partners need not necessarily be private and that state or centrally-owned companies be allowed to participate.
The private sector's response stands in stark contrast to industry's support to IT education in the late 1990s, when the sector first took off in India.
The state governments of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka both managed to attract private investment to start IIITs in PPP mode. Though court orders subsequently forced these schools to rename themselves International Institutes of Information Technology -- dropping the 'Indian' from their name -- these institutes remain among the best in the country for IT education.