Knowledge Commission has recommended 50 national universities; Orissa must plan ahead and be prepared for it

October 4th, 2009

Update: The following was written before I saw this article in Pioneer. has a report on Dr. Digamabara Patra’s request for a national or central university in Bhawanipatna, Kalahandi. A lot of the arguments made there make sense. Many of the recent central universities have been established in rural and semi-urban areas and indeed there is no reason why one should not be established in Bhawanipatna; especially since its citizens have been asking for one for more than 2 decades.

However, as mentioned in the article adequate infrastructure seems to have been an important factor in determining the locations of the new IITs, IIMs and National universities. 

For Orissa to have them in locations ouside of Bhubaneswar, there are two ways to go about it.

  1. Argue that adequate infrastructure should not be a requirement or they will automatically come once the institutions are established.
  2. Develop areas outside Bhubaneswar to have adequate infrastructure.

To me pursuing (2) has a higher chance of success than pursuing (1) and even if (1) is successful the institutes/universities in locations without appropriate infrastructure will struggle until the infrastructure eventually catches up which may take a long time if just left to fate. (Such a struggle may result in Orissa not being given in appropriate numbers additional central/national institutes.) 

[In India people sometime point out that IIT Kharagpur was established in a rural location. First, Kharagpur is only 116 kms from Howrah. Second it has been a major railway junction for a long time. Third it was the first IIT and for a long time only one of 5 IITs. Similarly Roorkee was the oldest engineering college and is close to Haridwar and Dehradun. There are a few top universities and institutions in the US that are in rural areas, but these are exceptions, and the infrastructure in rural areas of US are quite good compared to rural areas of India. For example, Univ of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and Penn State University in State College, PA are often mentioned in that context. But both do have small airports with commercial flights.]

Before we suggest what needs to be done regarding developing areas outside Bhubaneswar to have adequate infrastructure, let us address what may be coming in the future and why Orissa needs to do this urgently so as to not risk missing future allocations of national institutions.

The National Knowledge Commission (NKC) in its December 2006 note on higher education has explicitly suggested 50 national universities in India. It says:

We recommend the creation of up to 50 National Universities that can provide education of the highest standard. As exemplars for the rest of the nation, these universities shall train students in a variety of disciplines, including  humanities, social sciences, basic sciences, commerce and professional subjects, at both the undergraduate and post-graduate levels. The number 50 is a long term objective. In the short run, it is important to begin with at least 10 such universities in the next 3 years. It is worth noting that the National Universities need not all be new universities. Some of the existing universities could also be converted into National Universities, on the basis of rigorous selection criteria, to act as exemplars. We recognise that there could be a human resource constraint if faculty members are not available in adequate numbers to establish these universities.

The current government has implemented most of the recommendations of the NKC and exceeded some of them. For example, instead of the recommendation of 10 national universities in the three years following the report (2007-2010), establishment of 14 have been announced. Moreover, the higher education budget has been increasing drastically from one five year plan to the next. The 12th five year plan starts in 2012 and it is expected that it will take up on the long range objectives of the knowledge commission. In other words there could and should be more central and national universities in the 12th plan.

[My impression is that how soon additional national universities are established will depend on the success of the first 14. It seems to me that the locations of the first 14 have been greatly influenced by the consideration of, where in each of the states selecetd,  does it have the best chance to succeed.]

Unless Orissa is prepared for it, Orissa may lose out pieces of those plans on lack of infrastructure grounds. Other states with multiple locations with adequate infrastructure will get preference and Orissa may lose out.

However, 2012 is still 3 years away and if adequate steps are taken very soon, Orissa should be able to get its fair share. 

The pity is there are areas in Orissa which are on the verge of having the necessary infrastructure, mostly through private investment, but because of non-constructive opposition, blind suspicion towards industrialization and the relcucatnce of many to speak out in favour of development and industrialization, the development and associated infrastructure building has been greatly hampered. The governments (state and center) are also at fault for their sluggishness on some aspects.

Following are some suggestions:

  1. The state government should push for the completion of the airport in Jharsuguda within a year.
  2. It should make an all-out effort to have commercial flights operating out of the existing airport in Rourkela. In general, the people of the area need to recognize the existing infrastructure and potential of Rourkela and take advantage of it. Currently, as a friend of mine would say, Rourkela is an orphan. This is a pity. It is a big asset to Orissa, especially to the western parts of Orissa; but is severely underutilized and undermined.
  3. Coming back to Jharsuguda, the people there should follow a smarter approach in not opposing and rather facilitating industries coming up there, and at the same time being vigilant about environmental and land acquisition related R & R issues. If these industries and investment are allowed to materialize there soon, then Sambalpur-Jharsuguda area would become a large metro with adequate infrastructure to have and support any and all kinds of institutes and universities. But will the people do that? Or will they continue to be controlled by or scared of the anti-industry activists.
  4. Similarly, both Bhawanipatna (Lanjigarh to be precise) and Rayagada areas have industrial investors who have been senselessly opposed. If the people would take a smarter approach that mixes development with being vigilant about environmental and land acquisition related R & R then both these areas would be able to get infrastructure where a central university (and possibly more) would flourish. But will the people do that? Or will they continue to be controlled by or scared of anti-industry activists. In Lanjigarh, Kalahandi, the local MP has recently taken a more sensible approach. I hope there is a quick resolution as this area desperately needs development and the resulting infrastructure.
  5. The state government should push for the rail infrastructure, particularly, the Khurda-Balangir line, the Talcher-Bimlagarh line and connectivity to Kalahandi, to be completed at the earliest.

The above is extremely important for the development of the western parts of Orissa where there is often a feeling of neglect. If the people there do not follow a smarter approach and only follow the strange approach that many (not all) seem to be following (such as opposing industrialization and thus infrastructure building but wanting things that need infrastructure) the places that follow a smarter approach (inside and outside Orissa) would be gainers. The same is happening in some other places in Orissa too  – Paradeep and Kalinganagar come to mind, but these places are in closer proximity to Bhubaneswar and because of that they may be less harmed.



Entry Filed under: Anugul-Talcher-Dhenkanal area (7),Balasore-Chandipur area (6),Baripada-Bangiriposi area (6),Berhampur-Gopalpur-Hinjilicut area (3),Bhawanipatna-Kesinga-Lanjigarh (8),Bhubaneswar-Cuttack-Puri- Khurda area (1),Central Universities,Comparison with other countries,Educational and Knowledge clusters,IITs, IISc, IISERs, NISER, IIMs,Knowledge Commission,Koraput-Jeypore-Sunabeda area (5),Learning from others,Odisha Higher Education Vision 2020,Rayagada-Gunupur area,Rest of Odisha,Rourkela-Rajgangpur area (2),Sambaplpur-Burla-Jharsuguda-Baragarh area (4),Universities of Innovation


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