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a) Moon shine: on India-South Korea ties

That South Korean President Moon Jae-in undertook a four-day visit to India this week, when there is hectic diplomacy over the Korean peninsula, speaks of his commitment to improving bilateral ties. In fact, during his election campaign last year he had promised to raise bilateral ties to the level of South Korea’s relations with what it calls the four major powers: the U.S., Russia, China and Japan. Prime Minister Narendra Modi too has often said he sees South Korea as a significant partner for India, and had travelled to Seoul. But despite the personal touch, and ambitions to align India’s Act East policy with Korea’s New Southern Policy, ties have drifted for lack of focus. Trade, at $20 billion, is a fraction of the potential, given that India and South Korea are Asia’s third and fourth largest economies. This figure has been a cause for worry, as the two countries had hit the $20-billion mark in 2011 after the signing of the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement. The large trade deficit in South Korea’s favour has led India to be wary of further opening up. In turn, Korean companies cite problems in doing business in India, despite a special “Korea Plus” desk set up by the Prime Minister’s Office in 2015. Tourism between the two countries has always been low, and strategically both New Delhi and Seoul are preoccupied with tensions in their immediate neighbourhoods and ties with the big world powers than with each other. On Mr. Moon’s watch, this may change. Both Mr. Modi and he exuded a sense of purpose and there is a clear road map on converging interests. Agreement to invoke the “early harvest” clause in the 2010 CEPA will allow both to do away with tariffs in 11 areas, benefiting Indian seafood exporters and food processing units, as well as South Korean petrochemical companies. The inauguration of Samsung’s biggest mobile factory in Noida will bring investment and create jobs in India. More Korean companies should be persuaded to invest, by projecting a counter-narrative to the failed bid by the steel company Posco to set up its plant in Odisha. Much will depend on negotiations on the regional free trade agreement, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. On the strategic front, India has asserted its place as a “stakeholder” in the Korean peace process, while South Korea has for the first time shown an interest in talking about an Indo-Pacific policy. In the short term, a symbolic token towards shared interests will be seen in a joint “capacity-building” programme in Afghanistan. At a time when U.S. foreign policy is capricious and unpredictable, and China’s is making purposeful moves towards global domination, it is important that the South Korea-India partnership grows and consolidates, to contribute to stability in the region.

b) A list of questionable eminence

The government’s list of ‘Institutes of Eminence’ (IoEs) was waited for the simple reason that finding a place in it would help an educational institution avoid the clutches of a dreaded regulator. Regulators are meant to ensure that we have a socially desirable outcome but in the case of higher education in India, the opposite seems to have happened. The University Grants Commission (UGC) has, over more than half a century, micromanaged this space, leading to a large number of publicly funded universities, producing low-level ‘knowledge’, which have shattered the aspirations of our youth. Aware of the public anger at the functioning of the UGC, two governments in the past decade have tried to revamp the regulatory environment for higher education. The latest offering is in the form of a proposed Higher Education Commission of India (HECI). The intention is to leave the HECI to focus on quality while leaving funding of public institutions to the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD).

Engagement with ideas

This arrangement has raised the issue of the possibility of bias, leading to concerns that the government may use its discretion to reward institutions according to its ideological predilections. While this is an ever-present hazard in a democracy, one cannot in principle object to an institutional arrangement whereby an elected government exercises its right to allocate funds. One can only pressure it to be impartial and accountable in its actions. In higher education, one would imagine that this accountability would be manifested in enabling the pursuit of excellence. It is not as if excellence is difficult to identify, even if it may be impossible to measure. In the world of ideas, excellence lies in the ability to participate as an equal in the global knowledge commons. The emphasis here must be on engagement; it is not necessary that institutions should produce knowledge in every field or that its members abide by every idea and protocol in the fields chosen. Whether the criterion of equal engagement is met by the majority of our universities is a moot question. This could be a high-priority issue for the proposed HECI. However, even as we wonder if the HECI is going to be more than just old wine in a new bottle, we have an inkling of where it could go wrong. The government has chosen a total of six institutions — three public and three private — for the IOE status. The public institutions are: the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru; and the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) at Delhi and Mumbai. The private ones are: the Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS), Pilani; the Jio Institute; and the Manipal Academy of Higher Education. The list suffers from a serious lack of credibility as the most obvious question that arises is: Where are the universities?

Ignoring the universities

Universities by definition embody knowledge across a wide range of disciplines. While the early European universities started as academies of the arts, they soon had medicine and astronomy as areas that they pursued with vigour. The emphasis was on depth of knowledge across a broad horizon. Somewhere along the line, we seem to have lost this breadth and come to revel in a landscape dominated by engineering schools. These engineering schools, notably the IITs, have done us proud but cannot be equated with the great universities of the world for the simple reason that they are focussed on a narrow domain. Also, if the idea behind preparing a list of the IoEs is giving them greater autonomy and enhanced financial support, it must be acknowledged that until very recently, the IITs were not meddled with; neither were they starved of resources. The IISc’s scope is of course broader than that of the IITs but it does not embrace the social sciences and the humanities, the presence of which would be considered necessary for an institution to be considered a university. Assuming that an IoE list is needed, the absence of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) from the present list striking. If, as I mentioned earlier, the possibility offered by a university for engagement with global ideas is accepted as a criterion, the JNU would count as among India’s eminent educational institutions. One need not agree with any of the political ideas emanating from the university to recognise that if there is one Indian institution that engages a student as an equal in the global commons, it is the JNU. Its research work in various disciplines, ranging from history to economics, is top-quality. Its faculty have brought many of the world’s leading ideas to Indian students and also come close to building a new school of thought. It is not as if similar efforts have not occurred elsewhere in India but JNU has perhaps sustained its reputation as a university for longer. It would require a scientist assess the contribution made by the JNU to the sciences, but it may be noted that it has had schools of Computer Science and the Life Sciences for many decades, right from the time when they were just nascent disciplines in the country. The choice of the three private institutions that made the cut is as surprising as the exclusion of JNU. While BITS Pilani made significant contribution to the country at a time when it desperately needed engineers, it still doesn’t have the breadth of disciplines to be considered a university.

Dubious premise

However, the presence of the two other institutions on the list leaves one nonplussed. One of them, we are told, has been conferred the status solely on grounds of its promise, a dubious position to take as it has little to show but for the financial heft that will surely undergird it. The other is known largely for its practice of charging capitation fees. Eminence is not usually understood in terms of money. So where does this leave us? Even before the HECI is a reality, we can get an overview of what to expect when such a limited approach to education guides the hand of the state. While there may be no political partisanship involved in the matter of finding eminence only in engineering schools, the choices do reflect short-sightedness when the social sciences and the humanities are completely ignored. It is indeed conceivable that the politicians who govern us have little time to bother with the constitution of committees. But then, we do maintain a machinery of government, at considerable expense, to advise the Cabinet. In this episode of drawing up a list of IoEs, we are able to see what will determine whether the HECI can make a difference. Its membership will matter more than the institutional architecture governing higher education in India.


1) Hectic

Meaning: Full of incessant or frantic activity.

Example: “a hectic business schedule”

Synonyms: Frantic, Furious

Antonyms: Leisurely, Quiet

2) Ambitions

Meaning: A strong desire to do or achieve something.

Example: “her ambition was to become a pilot”

Synonyms: Aspiration, Intention

3) Drifted

Meaning: (of a person or their attention) digress or stray to another subject.

Example: “I noticed my audience’s attention drifting”

Synonyms: Digress, Depart

4) Preoccupied

Meaning: (of a matter or subject) dominate or engross the mind of (someone) to the exclusion of other thoughts.

Example: “his mother was preoccupied with paying the bills”

Synonyms: Concerned

5) Exuded

Meaning: (of a person) display (an emotion or quality) strongly and openly.

Example: “Sir Thomas exuded goodwill”

Synonyms: Emanate, Radiate

6) Persuaded

Meaning: Induce (someone) to do something through reasoning or argument.

Example: “it wasn’t easy, but I persuaded him to do the right thing”

Synonyms: Make, Get

Antonyms: Dissuade, Discourage

7) Asserted

Meaning: Cause others to recognize (one’s authority or a right) by confident and forceful behaviour.

Example: “the good librarian is able to assert authority when required”

Synonyms: Uphold, Defend

8) Capricious

Meaning: Changing according to no discernible rules; unpredictable.

Example: “a capricious climate”

Synonyms: Variable, Unstable

Antonyms: Stable, Consistent

9) Consolidates

Meaning: Strengthen (one’s position or power).

Example: “the company consolidated its position in the international market”

Synonyms: Strengthen, Tighten

10) Clutches

Meaning: A small group of people or things.

Example: “a clutch of brightly painted holiday homes”

Synonyms: Group, Collection

11) Dreaded

Meaning: Regarded with great fear or apprehension.

Example: “the dreaded news came that Joe had been wounded”

12) Micromanaged

Meaning: Control every part, however small, of (an enterprise or activity).

Example: “he did not want to give the impression that he was micromanaging the war”

13) Shattered

Meaning: Damage or destroy (something abstract).

Example: “the crisis will shatter their confidence”

Synonyms: Destroy, Wreck

14) Revamp

Meaning: Give new and improved form, structure, or appearance to.

Example: “an attempt to revamp the museum’s image”

Synonyms: Renovate, Redecorate

15) Intention

Meaning: A thing intended; an aim or plan.

Example: “she was full of good intentions”

Synonyms: Aim, Intent

16) Discretion

Meaning: The freedom to decide what should be done in a particular situation.

Example: “local authorities should use their discretion in setting the charges”

Synonyms: Option, Judgement

17) Predilections

Meaning: A preference or special liking for something; a bias in favour of something.

Example: “your predilection for pretty girls”

Synonyms: Liking, Preference

Antonyms: Dislike, Disinclination

18) Hazard

Meaning: A danger or risk.

Example: “the hazards of childbirth”

Synonyms: Danger, Risk

19) Impartial

Meaning: Treating all rivals or disputants equally.

Example: “the minister cannot be impartial in the way that a judge would be”

Synonyms: Unbiased, Objective

Antonyms: Biased, Partisan

20) Manifested

Meaning: Be evidence of; prove.

Example: “bad industrial relations are often manifested in strikes”

Synonyms: Evidence, Indicate

Antonyms: Mask, Deny

21) Abide by

Meaning: To accept or obey an agreement, decision, or rule.

Example: Competitors must abide by the judge’s decision.

Synonyms: Obeying

22) Moot

Meaning: Subject to debate, dispute, or uncertainty.

Example: “whether the temperature rise was mainly due to the greenhouse effect was a moot point”

Synonyms: Debatable, Doubtful

23) Vigour

Meaning: Effort, energy, and enthusiasm.

Example: “they set about the new task with vigour”

Synonyms: Hardiness, Robustness

Antonyms: Weakness, Lethargy

24) Revel

Meaning: Gain great pleasure from (a situation).

Example: “Bill said he was secretly revelling in his new-found fame”

Synonyms: Adore, Appreciate

Antonyms: Hate

25) Meddled

Meaning: Handle (something) without permission.

Example: “you have no right to come in here meddling with my things”

Synonyms: Interfere, Intrude

26) Starved

Meaning: Deprive of something necessary.

Example: “the arts are being starved of funds”

27) Embrace

Meaning: Include or contain (something) as a constituent part.

Example: “his career embraces a number of activities—composing, playing, and acting”

Synonyms: Include, Contain

Antonyms: Exclude

28) Emanating

Meaning: Originate from; be produced by.

Example: “the proposals emanated from a committee”

Synonyms: Proceed, Emerge

29) Sustained

Meaning: Strengthen or support physically or mentally.

Example: “this thought had sustained him throughout the years”

Synonyms: Comfort, Assist

Antonyms: Torment, Plague

30) Nascent

Meaning: (especially of a process or organization) just coming into existence and beginning to display signs of future potential.

Example: “the nascent space industry”

31) Desperately

Meaning: Used to emphasize the extreme degree of something.

Example: “he desperately needed a drink”

Synonyms: Seriously, Severely

Antonyms: Slightly

32) Nonplussed

Meaning: So surprised and confused that one is unsure how to react.

Example: “Henry looked completely nonplussed”

Synonyms: Stun, Surprise

33) Conferred

Meaning: Grant (a title, degree, benefit, or right).

Example: “the Minister may have exceeded the powers conferred on him by Parliament”

Synonyms: Converse, Consult

Antonyms: Withhold, Remove

34) Dubious

Meaning: Hesitating or doubting.

Example: “I was rather dubious about the whole idea”

Synonyms: Doubtful, Uncertain

Antonyms: Certain, Definite

35) Heft

Meaning: ability or influence.

Example: “they lacked the political heft to get the formulation banned”

36) Undergird

Meaning: Provide support or a firm basis for.

Example: “that’s a philosophy that needs to undergird retailers’ business plans this year”

37) Short-sightedness

Meaning: Lack of imagination or foresight.

Example: “the policy is flawed by its extreme short-sightedness”

38) Conceivable

Meaning: Capable of being imagined or grasped mentally.

Example: “a mass uprising was entirely conceivable”

Synonyms: Imaginable, Possible

Antonyms: Inconceivable

39) Drawing up

Meaning: To prepare something, usually something official, in writing.

Example: I’ve drawn up a list of candidates that I’d like to interview.

40) Governing

Meaning: Conduct the policy, actions, and affairs of (a state, organization, or people) with authority.

Example: “he was incapable of governing the country”

Synonyms: Rule, Control

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