Sunday, November 14, 2010

Bridging the gap between varsity and school of life

As president of the John Hopkins University, Daniel Coit Gilman, one of the pioneers of the American education system, practiced what he preached. In 1878, two years after he took office, he started the Universitys press. It remains America's oldest, continuously operating university press.

Having your own press has become something of a tradition with western universities. From Harvard and Yale in the U.S. to Oxford and Cambridge in the U.K., university presses transmit knowledge of research, new thinking and big ideas worldwide. Not so in India. Few Indian institutions have a robust publishing programme and even fewer their own press. T.V. Rao, a professor at IIM-Ahmedabad, which initiates its publishing programme on Monday, says there are many reasons for this, not least an "over-dependence on foreign publications." IIM-A is starting with a series of business books.

Rao adds that Indian institutions lack of interest in original publishing is also because they have little to publish. Professors have heavy teaching loads and little time to write, he says. But change might make good business sense. According to estimates, the market for academic publishing in India is huge. "There are two markets at the university level in India textbook and reference. The textbook market in English is around Rs. 600 crore (Rs. 6 billion) and the reference / academic around Rs. 200 crore (Rs. 2 billion). The total would range from Rs. 800 to 1,000 crore (Rs. 8 to 10 billion)," says Rajiv Beri, Managing Director of educational publishers Macmillan India.

The opportunity for universities to leverage their expertise to produce quality publications exists. So, why haven't many of them utilized it Lack of initiative is a major reason, says Anuj Bahri Malhotra of Delhi-based India Research Press. "Most universities are simply not bothered. Those among the faculty who want to publish their research simply go to foreign universities and get it done as it looks good on their resume. In fact, the irony is that the bulk of the academic writing being done in foreign universities is by Indians."

Some say the academic environment here at home may not be encouraging enough. "A lot depends on the encouragement and assistance provided for producing publication work. Traditional universities are lagging behind in their faculty authorship contributions, although institutes which encourage book writing like BITS Pilani, IIMs and IITs have prolific authorship," says Macmillan's Beri.

But the reason cited most often is lack of resources. "Many universities have a small budget for publications. If they have received Rs. 500 crore (Rs. 5 billion) from the University Grants Commission (UGC) for a financial year, very few would want to put even a few lakhs in publishing," says Parmil Mittal, former president of the Delhi State Booksellers' and Publishers' Association.

The reluctance may be understandable. Publishing is a capital-intensive and competitive business. Chiki Sarkar, Editor-in-Chief of Random House India, which worked on the IIM Business Books series, says that "it takes a lot of resources to invest in a publishing division in-house. Probably for most Indian universities, this may not be a priority. That's why tying up with a publisher makes the best sense."

This often makes sense for authors as well. Nayanjot Lahiri, professor in Delhi University's history department, believes that many university authors prefer working with a publishing house, which has professional editors who can transform manuscripts if they are good. "Also, the distribution network of such publishing houses is much wider than what a university publishing programme could offer. Naturally, every author would want to be read as widely as possible," she adds.

Some universities have internalized this. The Kolkata-based Jadavpur University recently announced plans to start its own university press by early next year. Pradip Kumar Ghosh, the University's registrar says that it will probably be in collaboration with a publishing house. "It's a huge task setting up a publications division, but we felt it's high time we did it. Ours is a university that is strong in research and there is a dearth of good publications in areas we specialize in, like engineering. This initiative should address it and also inspire other universities to follow suit." A beginning, and hopefully, a good one.
(This article written by Atul Sethi, Times News Network.)

Source: The Times of India, November 14, 2010
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