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Yet-to-be-established Jio Institute given Tag of ‘Excellence’ by Modi Government

The HRD Ministry’s selection of the yet-to-be-established Jio Institute by Reliance Foundation as one of the six “Institutions of Eminence” drew sharp criticism from various quarters today, with many questioning the process of selection and the motive behind it.

The news of a Reliance-promoted educational venture, about which there is no information in the public domain – getting clubbed together with the Indian Institute of Science and the IITs of Delhi and Bombay as ‘institutions of excellence’ was astonishing by any yardstick, was broken on Twitter by HRD minister Prakash Javadekar on Monday afternoon.

The University Grants Commission (UGC), a panel of which carried out the selections, however, defended the move saying the institution was accorded the coveted tag under greenfield category for new or proposed institutions that are yet to come into existence, according to a news agency.

Its inclusion in the list of six institutions of excellence selected from among dozens of applicants has prompted accusations of cronyism, given the proximity of Reliance Industries and its promoter, Mukesh Ambani, to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Jio Institute was trending on Twitter today with many users tagging the HRD Minister, asking him about the institute’s location and credentials. “It doesn’t have a campus, a website or any alumni and it has left behind prominent IITs as well as private players like Ashoka University and OP Jindal Global University. It is yet to be established but will already be marketed as a world-class institution by the government. Can’t we see the conflict of interest,” JNU professor Ayesha Kidwai said.

The institute’s name ‘Jio’ connects it to Reliance’s mobile telephony business, which itself was launched in an unprecedented manner with Modi’s face used prominently by the company in its advertising despite government rules prohibiting this.

The only information publicly available about Indian education’s latest institution of excellence comes from remarks Nita Ambani made at a media event in March 2018, where she spoke about the Reliance Foundation’s plans to establish a world-class university.

The government granted “Institutions of Eminence” (IoEs) status to IIT-Delhi, IIT-Bombay and the Bengaluru-based Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in the public sector, and Manipal Academy of Higher Education, BITS Pilani and Jio Institute by Reliance Foundation in the private sector.

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