Friday, November 19, 2010

Why are Private Universities Seeking So Much of Public Land -- And Getting It?

Let me lead off with an excerpt from Amy Kazmin's report in FT on the latest legal trouble that could be fatal for Vedanta University:

Anil Agarwal, the Indian billionaire who controls Vedanta, the UK-listed mining group, has suffered a setback to his philanthropic ambitions, hard on the heels of legal problems this year involving some of the group’s Indian operations.

Mr Agarwal’s plans to build a $3.3bn (£2.1bn) university in a coastal area of impoverished Orissa, starting with a $1bn endowment from his personal fortune, have fallen foul of the law – and a powerful Hindu deity, Lord Jagannath.

The Orissa High Court has ruled that the Orissa government’s acquisition of about 6,500 acres of land – including 500 acres from Puri’s famous Jagannath temple – and the land’s subsequent transfer to Mr Agarwal’s eponymous foundation to build Vedanta University was illegal.

The court has ordered that the land be returned to its original owners. The judgment – in response to a clutch of public interest lawsuits challenging the land acquisition – will bring a formal end to the long-stalled plans for the university, which Vedanta had already concluded was unlikely to ever get off the ground in Orissa.

Thanks for the tip-off to T.T. Ram Mohan, who also points to a Business Standard column by Kalpana Pathak -- Land largesse for corporate universities -- that raises serious questions about private universities / institutions seeking vast quantities of public land -- and getting it. Here's Ram Mohan:

The ruling has brought to the fore the question of land being acquired for setting up of private universities and colleges. BS has an interesting feature on the subject today. The article notes that the Anil Ambani group has recently been alloted 110 acres by the MP government for its foray into education while ISB got 70 acres of land in Mohali. The land allotment is disproportionate to the requirement in many cases. Where it is made over to private parties, the suspicion of a land group is bound to be there.

BS notes that a good engineering institute can be set up on 10 acres and a management institute on 5. So why are private institutions asking and getting so much land? It also notes that Infosys' Mysore training facility is on a 337 acre campus. This is not even a degree-granting facility, it is strictly for a private company. Interestingly, Shiv Nadar and Aziz Premji are acquiring and pay for the land they need for their educational ventures instead of seeking concessional land from the government.