Sunday, January 31, 2010

UK rationale for not accepting students visa applications in North India

Richard Stagg, UK High Commissioner, explains the rationale behind Britains decision of not accepting students visa applications in North India.

From Monday, the UK's visa application centres in northern India will temporarily stop accepting visa applications for student visas. I much regret the need to take this step. But I am clear we had no choice. This decision does not mean we don't want Indians to study in the UK. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the last few weeks, however, our visa application centres in northern India have been receiving an unprecedented number of applications for student visas some from people who we believe do not actually intend to study in the UK. On one day recently, we received as many applications for student visas in Delhi as in the whole of January 2009.

Those applying for visas, without meeting our requirements, are also making things difficult for genuine students, who naturally want a quick and reliable visa service. The recent sharp spike in applications has put huge pressure on our visa operation. The service we have been able to offer to genuine students has not been up to the usual high standard something I am personally concerned about. The current arrangements, which we call Tier 4, were introduced in March last year. This system places much greater responsibility on educational institutions in the UK, which sponsor foreign students. Whereas once there were several thousand institutions allowed to bring foreign students into the UK, this number is now down to around 2000. We monitor these institutions to ensure that, if they offer places to foreign students, the students actually enrol in the institution and attend classes. If they do not, they can be struck from the register of approved colleges. In only the last week, 60 institutions have been suspended. I hope this shows that we will be vigilant in ensuring that people cannot abuse the system, at either end.

One problem that we face in India is with unscrupulous agents. While there are many agents who offer a genuine and useful service to visa applicants, there are others who try to convince people that they can provide them with a route into the UK by the backdoor. They can't ! But they do, on occasion, cause huge misery for families who sacrifice their life's savings (or borrow money) to make visa applications which stand no chance of being accepted. And, even if these applicants were to get to the UK, they would not have enough money to sustain themselves. Some no doubt are led to believe that they will get full-time work or benefits, neither of which is possible in the UK if you do not have a Work Permit.

Recent news reports have even shown Indians in the UK who resorted to obtaining food at Gurudwaras. So we have been left with no option but to stop receiving applications under Tier 4 in Northern India for the time being (our application centres will remain open for Tier 4 applications in Western and Southern India, but applicants will need to make an appointment). We will review the situation at the end of February. During this time we will deal with the backlog of cases which has built up. But we will also scrutinise thoroughly the large number of applications we have been receiving.

If educational institutions in the UK have been offering places which they know will not be taken up, we will take action and suspend them. Where the applications suggest agents are attempting to take advantage of unsuspecting people, we will pass their names to the local authorities for investigation. I believe it is in the interest of all those with a genuine wish to study in the UK that we address effectively the problems which have emerged in the last couple of months. That will allow us to resume a normal visa service.

Source: The Times of India, January 31, 2010

Are these "Doomed Universities"?

News that 44 deemed universities, mostly private, had everything except quality, has come as a rude shock to many. (They have 1,19,363 students at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels. In addition, 2,124 are pursuing M.Phil. and Ph.D. programs). Though their fate is with the Supreme Court now, its clear that a tough summer awaits the students who got into these universities after paying astronomical entry fees. Various factors forced parents to put their children in private institutions failure to get admission in government-run institutions and their small presence in the higher education sector. It worked well for these institutions too as a deemed status ensured better exploitation of the demand market. So will the current controversy spell the end of private investment in higher education?

Though a huge setback will be experienced for some time, private investment will not wither away, thanks to the lopsided demand-supply chain and poor government investment here. But yes, the recent review of deemed universities will ensure that only serious players remain in the market. As for the future, corrective steps are being taken. HRD ministry officials say regulations are in the offing to comprehensively deal with all that went wrong. HRD minister Kapil Sibal is lucky that two things happened within weeks of his taking over the deemed university bubble burst and submission of the Yashpal committee report which indicted the running of these universities as a family enterprise.

Sibal zeroed in on four factors that made private deemed universities notorious. One was the lack of transparency in giving deemed university status to private institutions by the University Grants Commission (UGC). Two, there was no redressal mechanism to deal with malpractices indulged in by these institutions. Three, lack of transparency about funding, leading to fly-by-night operators. Four, no proper monitoring of the quality of these institutions. Tall claims and false promises made by them were largely unverifiable. More than seven months later, Sibal is nearly ready with, what many see, as the most comprehensive prescription in higher education. The HRD ministry is ready with four bills, the most important of which is the creation of National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER) that will replace the nearly six-decade-old UGC.

Though this move is facing resistance from many quarters, if followed in letter and spirit, the new bill will make the opaqueness of the UGC a thing of the past. To ensure that the funding body does not also become the sole arbiter of quality, as is the case now, the ministry has moved a legislation that will create a SEBI-like body that will give licenses to private and government agencies through a rigorous monitoring mechanism. It will become mandatory for every institution to show its quality rating before a deemed university status is granted to it, quite like companies going for IPOs. Malpractises such as inflated fees will invite a stiff fine and even derecognition. Also, its often believed that the source of funding of these private institutions is dubious.

Unlike many countries abroad, there is no institutional financing for higher education in India. This has led to private education providers demanding arbitrary fees. The proposal to set up a National Higher Education Finance Corporation, on the lines of similar bodies in England and Australia, will tackle these anomalies. It will give long-term loans at cheap rates, but only after due diligence, making these institutions pay more attention to infrastructure, faculty and research. It will take at least another year before these legislations become law. But the bigger challenge for Sibal is to implement them in letter and spirit so that future generations do not wait for court verdicts to seal their future.

This article is written by Akshaya Mukul.
Source: The Times of India, January 31, 2010

Stricter norms for future Vice Chancellors

It may no longer be possible to become vice chancellor (VC) of a central or private university merely because a person thinks he is worthy of the job, is able to exercise influence, or is its promoter. He will have to be a part of a National Registry of VCs that will be compiled by the collegium of the proposed National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER). The national registry will include the names after a thorough assessment of a persons competence. Only those persons whose names are included in the registry can be appointed VCs of Central and private universities.

In a big step forward, the draft NCHER Bill, 2010, plugs all the loopholes that afflict the functioning of the University Grants Commission (UGC). Even the concept and term called "deemed university" has been done away with. NCHER will replace UGC, All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) and National Council for Teachers Education (NCTE). Once NCHER comes into existence all higher educational institutions will have to seek authorization as per norms laid out by the new body. As per the draft, all universities, including private ones, will for the first time be brought under the ambit of the Right to Information Act on the ground that they are public institutions. The draft Bill also has an unprecedented provision which says that the President will review the Commissions functioning within 5 years of it coming into being while Parliament will do so after 10 years.

The draft has been prepared by an HRD ministry task force and will be put through more discussions. Education being a concurrent subject, state universities will be free to either seek names from the registry or appoint their own VCs. The collegium will play a crucial role in the functioning of NCHER. It will have two kinds of members core and co-opted. The latter will be brought in by the core members. The core fellows will have to be national research professors, Nobel laureates, Jnanpith awardees and members of academies of international standing. Even overseas Indians can become core fellows. The co-opted fellows will be chosen by the core fellows to represent each state and Union territory. The collegium will aid, advise and recommend to NCHER academic standards, future trends in different fields of knowledge and prepare the National Registry of VCs or head of institution of national importance.

In a bid to deal with absent members when voting is required, the draft Bill permits voting through electronic methods. NCHER, with powers of a civil court, will specify norms and standards needed for an institution to award any degree or diploma; develop a national curriculum framework; specify norms and processes for establishment and winding up of a university; specify norms of academic quality; and lay down the minimum eligibility conditions for appointment of VC of any university or head of an institution.

Separately, a detailed transparent procedure has been laid out for grant of authorization to an educational institution and revocation of such an authorization. The day-to-day functioning of NCHER will be lookrd after by a seven-member body including a chairperson. All of them will be scholars of eminence. The chairperson and members will be selected for five years by a committee headed by the Prime Minister and consisting of the Lok Sabha Speaker, leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha, HRD minister and the health minister.

This article written by Akshya Mukul.
Source: The Times of India, January 31, 2010

Use new tech to let books speak

Fifteen-year-old Ravi has never read a book. Diagnosed with a brain disorder when he was just three years old, he was taught how to read in a school for special children. But apart from some local newspapers and occasional letters from his family, he could never manage to enjoy a book because reading printed words was never comfortable to him. On Saturday, Ravi was among the 300 print-impaired people all dressed in identical blue sweatshirts and suffering from various disabilities like blindness, autism, dyslexia etc who gathered at Pragati Maidan as the World Book Fair kicked off. Taking part in Right to Read campaign organized by Centre for Internet and Society (CIS), they tried to create awareness about the plight of nearly 70 million people in the country who cannot read but, nevertheless, have the ability to enjoy a book or get information if book publishers take care to use the technology.

We want that people with disabilities should also be able to enjoy popular books like White Tiger or Five Point Someone. But for this, a lot needs to be done. The outdated copyright act needs to be amended so books can be converted to form which is accessible like audio books. Many publishers and writers do not give permission to have their books converted, says Nirmita Narasimhan, programme manager of CIS. As Amina flashes her wide grin, she seems just like any other normal 12-year-old child. However, a learning disorder stopped future studies for her and now her parents want to get her settled in life. I want to study further, was all she said. Amina has come from a small town in Bihar and is in Delhi with an NGO that is helping her adjust to life as a dyslexic. Another participant in the campaign, Manoj, is blind. While he learned braille several years ago, his biggest regret is that because of his disability, he cannot enjoy the latest bestsellers. I read whatever books are available in braille. Popular books are never accessible to me, he said.

The nationwide campaign began last year and since then has taken place in Kolkata and Mumbai, with Delhi being the third destination. The campaign seeks to draw attention to the fact that out of nearly 100,000 books that are published each year, barely 700 are available to people who cannot read print. The books can be converted into formats like braille, audio and large print to make them accessible to disabled people using screen readers (talking software) but its rarely done, said a campaign volunteer. Members of the campaign claimed that according to World Blind Union nearly 5% books are available to print-impaired persons in the developed countries. But in India the number of such books is just 0.5%. Javed Abidi, convener of Disabled Rights Group and one of the key-note speakers in the campaign, said: Mostly its the visually impaired who have carry out the task to make the books more accessible to them. They have to scan the book and convert it and so that they can enjoy it. This needs to be changed. The onus should be on the publishers so books are made accessible to everyone.

The leaders of the campaign approached Union HRD Minister Kapil Sibal when he came to speak at the inauguration ceremony of the fair. The minister said he has already done a lot for disabled citizens. Since the campaign was launched, over 600 authors and publishers have pledged their support to the campaign. While technology has enabled the print-impaired community to access print materials in electronic formats that can be read using assistive technologies, converting books to these formats is not permitted by the law. The campaign also seeks necessary amendments in the Indian Copyright Act, said Narasimhan.

This article written by Richi Verma
Source: The Times of India, January 31, 2010

Global economic recovery still in fragile zone: IMF chief

The theme is still cautiously optimistic, despite the numbers from the U.S. What we are seeing in the U.S. is a statistical recovery and a human recession. This suggests that the policies to contain the economic collapse have been successful. My judgmentand most peoples judgmentwill be that GDP growth will continue at a moderate rate at least for the next several quarters, said Larry Summers, Economic Adviser to the U.S. IMF's Dominique Strauss-Kahn said Asia is leading the world out of recovery, but though growth is coming back faster than expected its still fragile.

The consensus from a phalanx of policymakers around the world was that the global recovery is still very delicate , and Asia and emerging markets are zipping back to recovery much faster than the developed economies. Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia told the gathering, Asia has weathered this crisis .... We would hope in coming years we will move from 7.5% to over 8% next year then get back into 9%. Its going to be domestic investment replacing what has otherwise been export demand. I don't think the deficit will be more than 2.5% of GDP. In addition, Deputy Governor of China's Peoples Bank Zhu Min added that the focus in China will shift to a more balanced growth, and to the aim is to boost consumption growth and domestic demand hopefully the international environment is good, he said.

At one level, central bankers, private bankers and economic ministers met for an extremely private chat about what to do about banking reforms, and while Davos is not a venue for decisions, it seems, from reports, everyone agreed that something will be done. Up the road, trade ministers met for a chat about the future of the WTO. The Indian delegation, though somewhat depleted, was still going strong, and the afternoon session on Indias future growth strategy was packed to the back of the hall. This year though, the annual gathering at Davos has left many a bit confused, with no real dominant theme emerging.

Source: Excerpted from The Economic Times, January 31, 2010

U.S. deficit may hit recovery: Obama

U.S. President Barack Obama renewed his pledge on January 30 to make job creation his top priority in 2010 but said it was also critical to rein in a record budget deficit that threatened economic recovery. Obama used his weekly radio and Internet address to remind Americans of the various proposals he put forward in the last week to spur job growth and tame a $1.4 trillion deficit. The White House has said Obama is still committed to a promise he made last year to halve the deficit by the end of his term in 2013. But in his radio address on Saturday, he talked only of reining in the deficit. Obama is due on Monday to unveil his proposed budget for fiscal 2011 that begins October 1, and has said it will include a threeyear spending freeze on some domestic programs.

A Pew Research Center study published this week showed 60% of those polled viewed reducing the budget deficit as a top priority for 2010, up from 53 % in 2009. Obama acknowledged these concerns in his address. As we work to create jobs, it is critical that we rein in the budget deficits weve been accumulating for far too long deficits that wont just burden our children and grandchildren, but could damage our markets, drive up our interest rates, and jeopardise our recovery right now, he said. The size of the deficit is a political hot potato in an election year, with Republicans seeking to paint Obama as a big spender and the White House countering that the president inherited a $1.3 trillion deficit when he took office. Democrats face a tough time in holding on to their majorities in both the Senate and the House of Representatives in the mid-term congressional elections in November. High unemployment, now at 10%, and the size of the deficit could hurt them, analysts say.

Obama noted that new data released on Friday showing the economy grew at a 5.7% rate in the fourth quarter, calling it a sign of progress and evidence that his policies to stimulate the economy were working. But when so many people are still struggling when one in 10 Americans still cant find work, and millions more are working harder and longer for less our mission isnt just to grow the economy, he said.

Source: The Economic Times, January 31, 2010

UK suspends accepting student visa applications in North India

The British High Commission in Delhi has announced that it will temporarily stop accepting student visa applications under Tier 4 of the points based system at visa application centres in New Delhi, Chandigarh and Jalandhar. This is because of a sudden spurt in the number of applications over the last three months. The UK Border Agency, which enforces immigration and customs regulations, and considers applications for permission to enter or stay in Britain suspects that there are a large number of fraudulent applications and the time out will allow the agency to carry out checks. We took this decision in response to unexpectedly high numbers of student visa applications in northern India over the last three months. The temporary suspension will allow UKBA to continue to scrutinise applications thoroughly and to manage the visa process efficiently, Deputy High Commissioner Nigel Casey said at a press conference on January 30, 2010 at New Delhi.

Significantly, the number of applications received between October and December 2008 has been 13,500 up from 1800 over the same period last year. Some applicants are trying to abuse the visa procedure to get entry into UK for purposes other than studies. We cannot allow this to happen, UKBAs regional director Chris Dix said. Asked what kind of abuse the authorities have come across, Dix said probably certain education agents in north India were misleading the students by telling them that they can get entry to the UK for other purposes by using the student visa route. We want to ensure that student visa system attracts bona fide students, he said.

The suspension may continue till the last week of February, Casey said. During this period , the visa centres will not accept applications from customers. However, visa application centres in west and south India will continue their operations as usual. During this period, the UKBA will undertake thorough scrutiny of the applications to ensure that the applicants are bona fide students and they have the financial backing to continue their studies in Britain. The authorities will also ensure that the education providers in the UK are following rules. The rise in number of applications has affected the customer service also, Casey said. Asked the reason for such unprecedented increase in visa applications, Casey said education in the UK is preferred by Indian students. The decline in number of student visa applications to a few other countries could have contributed to the rise, he said.

Source: The Economic Times, January 31, 2010

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Black-listed deemed universities get reprieve

Over 200,000 students of 44 deemed universities facing de-recognition can breathe a sigh of relief, for now. The Supreme Court has restrained the Centre from taking action against them till the matter is finally decided by it. "We are conscious that each of you has thousands of students...... nothing will happen to your institutions and students till final disposal of the matter," the court ruled on Monday. The status quo order came during the hearing of a public interest litigation by advocate Viplav Sharma, who alleged liberal grant of deemed status.

The court issued notices to the 44 universities, seeking their response, and schedlued the next hearing for March 8. It also directed the Human Resource Development Ministry to place on record the reports of the review committee and task force that formed the basis of the proposed action. Furthermore, it sought reports from the University Grants Commission (UGC) on these institutes. `Deemed' status provides a university greater autonomy in matters of fixing syllabus and fees and appointing faculty. The tag, given to high-performers, is granted by the ministry on the UGC's advice.

The ruling came despite Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati's assurance that "there will be no automatic de-recognition" and the government will ensure students don't suffer. The universities argued that their status, granted by a statutory body like the the UGC, can't be taken away on the advice of a non-statutory body like the government-appointed P.N.Tandon Commission.

Source: Hindustan Times, January 26, 2010

Indian economy to grow 7.7 per cent: IMF

The Indian economy would grow by 7.7 per cent in 2010 with the global economy, battered by two years of crisis, is recovering faster than previously anticipated, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said on Tuesday. But the recovery is proceeding at different speeds around the world, with emerging markets, led by Asia relatively vigorous, but advanced economies remaining sluggish and still dependent on government stimulus measures, the IMF said in an update to its World Economic Outlook. India's growth projection is 1.3 percentage points higher than the forecast in October when it said the economy would grow by 6.4 per cent in 2010.

In 2011 the Indian economy would grow a tad faster at 7.8 per cent, the IMF said. "For the moment, the recovery (in the world economy) is very much based on policy decisions and policy actions. The question is when does private demand come and take over. Right now it's ok, but a year down the line, it will be a big question," said IMF chief economist Olivier Blanchard.

Deputy Chairperson of India's Planning Commission, Dr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia said India is on course returning to a 9 per cent growth trajectory in the next two years. "In the last year of the 11th plan period, 2011-12, we hope to get back to 9 per cent growth," Ahluwalia told industry delegates in London. The economy grew 7.9 per cent during July-Sept -- its strongest in six quarters -- on the back of higher consumer spending and private investment.

Source: Hindustan Times, January 27, 2010

US recovery far, invest in education: Bill Gates

Bill Gates, the world's richest man, said on January 25 that the U.S. economy could take years to recover from recession and predicted taxes will have to rise to bring the federal budget into balance. Speaking on ABC's "Good Morning America", Gates also warned against too much government intervention and urged President Barack Obama to focus policy on long-term issues such as education to combat the effects of the worst recession since the Great Depression. "When you have a financial crisis like that, it's years of digging out," said Gates, who co-founded Microsoft and remains its Chairman.

"The budget's very, very out of balance. And even as the economy comes back, without changes in tax and entitlement policies, it won't get back into balance. And at some point, financial markets will look at that and it will cause problems," he added. "Taxes are going to have to go up and entitlements are going to have to be moderated." Gates spoke two days ahead of Obama's State of the Union speech, which is expected to focus extensively on economic issues including the need for job creation.

"We're having a slow recovery and everybody's frustrated by the pace of the recovery. But I don't think the government could change and magically make it speed up a lot," he said. "If you try to do too much, it can distort things. The government's role is more of a long term role, investing in education." Gates also said the United States needs its leaders to level with the American people about the long-term challenges the country faces and the sacrifices needed to overcome them. "We need leadership for these long-term tradeoffs and I'm hoping that won't cut back a few key areas like aid to poor countries. But there's going to be cutbacks. We're seeing this at the state level right now, and so far it's not being handled very responsibly."

Source: The Times of India, January 26, 2010

ISB ranked 12th in global B-school ranking

Indian School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad, achieved a hat-trick of sorts after making it to the Financial Times (FT) Global MBA ranking of the top 100 B-schools around the world for the third consecutive year. ISB has been the only Indian B-school on the list for the last three years. The management institution has bettered its own performance at the FT Rankings, and is now 12th on the list of top B-schools around the world. The ISB ranked 20th in 2008 and 15th in 2009. This year, ISB has beaten the likes of New York University: Stern, Yale School of Management, University of Oxford's Said Business School and University of Cambridge's Judge Business School.

So what is ISBs secret to success. There really is no secret to ISB's performance. Its just a spirit of excellence and the urge to improve ourselves at each level, said K. Ramachandran, who is the Thomas Schmidheiny Chair Professor of Family Business and Wealth at ISB. He likened ISB to an entrepreneur who has the constant urge to improve his products and services and is not satisfied with one years profit alone. Two years ago, when we ranked 20th on the Financial Times list, the Chairman called both staff and students for a meeting in which he told us not to get over-confident about the feat. He said this was only an indication that we were on the right track and not the end of the journey, said Ramachandran.

Not only does the Financial Times Ranking take into account the salary that B-school graduates receive, but it also tracks their career over a period of time. This is a realistic ranking of a B-schools' performance at the ground level, said Ramachandran. So how come the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), the country's most coveted B-schools, did not make it to FT's list? The two-year MBA course at the IIMs, which is their flagship program, is not eligible for the FT rankings; the rankings are only for B-schools who take in students with work experience. While the ISB takes in students who have worked in industry before making it to the campus, this is not mandatory for IIMs flagship two-year course.

Many of the IIMs have started their own one-year Post-Graduate Programme in Management for Executives (PGP-X ), which is exclusively for students with work experience. In a few years, this course will also be eligible for the rankings, once there are enough batches for FT to chart the career growth of the alumni. We are getting very good applicants for the PGP-X batch, but this course needs to catch on amongst the student community as well as with industry. Unfortunately, the economic downturn occurred when the executive course was in its second year, both at IIM Ahmedabad as well as Calcutta.

Source: The Times of India, January 26, 2010

Monday, January 25, 2010

Education: An unfinished revolution

India's education system is a juggernaut. Over 290 million students attend educational institutions on a typical working day. Enrolment has increased tremendously in schools, technical and professional courses, colleges, distance learning centers, even coaching centers. In 1951, 19 million were enrolled at elementary level (classes 1 to 8), just 1.5 million from 9 to 12. Today, elementary sections have over 130 million enrolled, 37 million in higher classes. Higher education has seen a stunning 100-fold enrolment growth from 170,000 students in 1951 to over 12 million currently.

What drives Indians is hope that education will open doors to a better life. Here are some other numbers. India has the world's largest population of illiterates about 380 million. Nearly every child in the 6-11 years age-group is enrolled but by class 5, one-third have dropped out, by class 8, half; by class 10 nearly two-thirds are out of school. Only 10% go for higher education. In all, over 170 million children and youth in the age group 6-24 years are out of the education system.

Why is it like this? Experts cite the four Great Divides: rural-urban, men-women, rich-poor and the caste divide. In each case, there is a disadvantaged section, which finds it difficult to get access to education and thus gets left out. Back in 1951, 35% of urbanites and only 12% of rural people were literate. In 2006, 80% urbanites were literate but in rural areas literacy rate was 59%. The story of dalits and tribals is similar, although there has been an even greater surge in their desire for education. In 1961, literacy among dalits was 10% and among tribals 9%. This increased to 55% and 47% respectively in 2006, a massive increase but still behind more advanced sections.

Finally, there is the rich-poor divide. Among society's poorest third, literacy is about 46%. In the middle third, it improves to 65%, while among the richest third, it is over 72%. Though its gone up since 1951, government expenditure in 2006-07, total expense on education was Rs.1.33 lakh crore (3.6% GDP) is insufficient to educate 1.2 billion Indians. Forty years ago, the Kothari Commission argued that at least 6% of GDP should be allocated to education, but spending has always remained below par. Low government spending has led to growing inequity in education, as those with better resources get better education, while the majority have to make do with mediocre standards.

Source: The Times of India, January 25, 2010. This article is written by Subodh Varma.

40 universities barely escaped losing deemed tag

Over 40 deemed universities nationwide, including 13 in Maharashtra and 11 in Tamil Nadu, were found to be deficient in certain aspects by the same HRD ministry panel which has recommended that 44 of the worst be stripped of their special status. The Tandon committees report, sourced by the leading national daily, The Times of India, came up for discussion before the Supreme Court on Monday. Managements of private educational institutions are keen to contest the panels findings. The committee had classified 126 deemed universities into three categories Table I comprising 38 good institutions, Table II with 44 institutions which need to rectify certain deficiencies, and Table III listing another 44 institutions whose status is sought to be revoked.

Prominent institutes in the second category include some reputed private colleges and even government-funded bodies like National University of Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA) in Delhi, Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology in Kerala, Indian Institute of Information Technology and Management in Gwalior and Institute of Liver and Biliary Science in Delhi. According to the panels recommendations, these universities would need to rectify the deficiencies over a three-year period to transit into the first category (of good institutions) for their continuation as deemed universities. We must confess that institutions listed in Table II also need to take comprehensive corrective steps urgently in respect of several parameters ... we have placed these institutions in Table II because there is scope for their improvement to meet the requirements expected to retain the status of a university. But they must undergo a rigorous independent review after three years to justify their continuation as universities, the committee has said. But the panels recommendations have already come in for some flak because they did not carry out a physical inspection of the facilities in any of the colleges.

Source: The Times of India, January 25, 2010

Maintain status quo on 44 deemed universities: Supreme Court tells Central Government

Giving temporary relief to nearly 200,000 students, the Supreme Court directed the central government to maintain status quo on 44 deemed universities facing de-recognition for being run as family fiefdoms and not meeting requisite standards. The court also issued notices to all the 44 deemed universities as also their parent varsities to file their response on the government's decision to de-recognise them. At the same time, the court asked the UGC (University Grants Commission) to place its earlier report on the basis of which the Ministry had accorded deemed status to these institutions.

A bench of Justices Dalveer Bhandari and A K Patnaik passed the order notwithstanding the government assurance that no follow-up action would be taken against these institutions without court's consent. The students from these universities received a bolt from the blue last week when the Centre informed the apex court that it had decided to de-recognise the institutions following the report of an expert committee which went into the issue. Amidst strong protests from the aggrieved universities on the government's decision, the apex court assured them that it would not pass any adverse order without hearing them as the issue not only involved several institutions but also the fate of the affected students.

In a bid to assuage the students thrown into uncertainty, HRD minister Kapil Sibal had assured that not a single student will be adversely affected and that all of them will get a university degree. The court directed the Government to submit the reports of the Review Committee and the Task Force on the basis of which the HRD ministry had decided to crack the whip on the universities. The committee had found that these universities were being run as family fiefdoms rather than on academic considerations. It had found 44 such institutions having deficiencies and suggested that they should be given three years' time to rectify. Nearly 200,000 students are pursuing higher studies in these 44 institutions in 13 states which have been recommended for non-continuation of the deemed status as neither on past performance nor on their promise for the future have the attributes to retain the deemed status.

Source: The Times of India (Online Edition), January 25, 2010

India's GDP to grow at 9.2%: CMIE

Indian economic growth is likely to return to pre-crisis levels in the next fiscal year, driven by strong industrial and agriculture growth, a recent review by a think tank showed. The Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) expects the Asia's third largest economy's GDP growth to accelerate to 9.2% in 2010-11 from 6.9% in 2009-10. "In fiscal 2010-11, real GDP growth will be propelled by a strong performance by the industrial sector and a robust recovery in agricultural and elite sector. Services sector too is expected to do well," CMIE said in the report. "A revival in consumer confidence and investment activities will supplement growth in the commodities segment," it added.

India's GDP growth slowed to 6.7% in 2008-09 from 9% or more in the previous three years as the effect of global financial turmoil hurt demand, prompting the authorities to unveil a spate of measures designed to boost the economy. The measures helped as the country's industrial output grew at its fastest pace in two years in November at 11.7%, the economy expanded 7.9% in the September-quarter and inflation jumped to a one-year high of 7.3% in December.

CMIE expects the wholesale price index, the main price barometer, to steadily fall to 7.7% in the June quarter and further to 3.8% March quarter of 2011. The drop in inflation which is seen across primary articles, fuel and manufactured products, is likely to be because of the high base value in 2009-10 and a good kharif (summer) crop production in 2010, it said. Headline inflation is estimated at 8.6% in March quarter, CMIE said.

Source: The Times of India (Online Edition), January 25, 2010

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Big push for higher education

In a big push for higher education, the government on January 21 cleared a string of proposals to start 374 model colleges in educationally backward districts, double fellowships for researchers and interconnect 1,500 institutions through high-speed data communication network. At its meetings on Thursday, the Union cabinet and its committees also cleared a proposal to launch a pilot project to deliver urban facilities in rural areas. The ambitious scheme to Provide Urban Amenities in Rural Areas (PURA) will be implemented through a publicprivate partnership. The rural development ministry hopes to start the scheme after this month. The restructured PURA, a pet project of former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, got clearance for a plan outlay of Rs. 248 crore. "We hope we will be able to start this project after this month. We will do it as soon as possible," Union Minister C.P.Joshi said.

The cabinet decided to double the number of Junior Research Fellowship through CSIR-UGC National Eligibility Test, an official statement said. In the 11th Plan (2007-12), the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research proposes to provide fellowships for about 12,000 students at a cost of Rs. 444.34 crore. The biggest beneficiaries of the programme will be universities and science institutes as they will be able to attract bright minds for research.

A model college set up under the scheme cleared on Thursday will cost the government about Rs. 8 crore and provide education to about 190,000 students per year. The scheme will cost a total of Rs. 2,992 crore, including central share of Rs. 1,079 crore. The government proposes to set up 200 colleges in the remaining period of the 11th Plan. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had announced the setting up of model colleges in 2007 to help increase the gross enrolment ratio in educationally backward districts.

The Cabinet Committee on Infrastructure also accorded its in-principle nod to setting up of the national knowledge network to be implemented by the National Informatics Centre. The National Knowledge Commission had recommended linking all knowledge institutions through high-speed data communication network to encourage sharing of knowledge, specialised resources and collaborative research, Urban Development Minister Jaipal Reddy said.

Source: Hindustan Times, January 22, 2010

Australia to tighten immigration process

In the wake of continuing attacks on Indian students, Australia is planning to make immigration rules tougher so that only genuine Indian students go there for higher studies and not the ones who look for backdoor entry for employment. Canberra has also commissioned an external review to see how to tighten the process of weeding out private educational institutions that do not measure up to standards. We want criteria for registration to make it tougher. We have introduced legislation in Parliament to do that, Australian high commissioner Peter Varghese said. He was answering questions on what Australia was doing to cut down on students going from India for non-specialised courses and end up doing unskilled work.

Varghese said a very large number of students go to Australia to train in institutions not run by government which fall short of quality and they were being closed down. The external review would take care of this problem. He said there was a mismatch between the profile of many of the applicants and the courses they were opting for in Australia. Varghese said Australia has decided to implement visa rules rigorously to ensure that genuine students go there for study. He was answering questions on what Australia was doing to cut down on students going from India for non-specialised courses and end up doing unskilled work.

HRD frames rules for right to education rollout

In a significant step towards notification of the Right to Education Act, HRD ministry has finalised the model rules for states for implementation of the new law. The model rules finally define the concept of neighbourhood schools and make it clear that there will no discrimination against the 25% children from weaker and disadvantaged groups who will get reservation. Also, the minimum qualification for teachers can be relaxed only by the Centre and the period should not exceed three years. The relaxation has to take place within five years of the commencement of the Act.

Each state will have to set up a state commission for the protection of child rights and in the interim period they can have a Right to Education Protection Authority. A State Advisory Council will be the highest body to oversee RTEs implementation. There has been considerable confusion about what neighbourhood schools mean. As per the model rules finalised now, a neighbourhood school for class I to V means an institution that exists within one kilometre . For class VI to VIII, neighbourhood schools will be within three kilometres. The rules also ask the states to upgrade the existing class I-V schools to include classes VI-VIII . The model rules also make it clear that in case there is no school within the prescribed distance, the state government will make arrangement for free transportation and residential facilities. States have been asked to carry out a detailed school mapping for establishing neighbourhood schools.
Source: The Times of India, January 21, 2010

UGC funded undeserving universities

Many of the deemed universities including those now doomed to lose that prized status have been thriving on large sums of taxpayer money. Whether it was for ostensible construction of buildings or even for something as vague as promoting excellence UGC (University Grants commission) has over the years generously funded the dreams of many a deemed university. UGC data reveals that financial support from the government to the deemed varsities ballooned over time, despite the fact that these institutes never offered any subsidised education.

A vice-chancellor of a university in eastern India said, It was a nobrainer. The powerful politicos running the deemed universities slowly made their way into several UGC panels. They have been wielding immense power over the years. The UGC office refused to give the list of deemed universities which received grants over time. However, a member of the P N Tandon Committee noticed that some deemed universities that did not deserve grants were aided by the UGC.

Some patterns emerge. For instance, the money for deemed universities kept rising and more importantly, we can clearly see that the UGC had some favourites among the rotten eggs too, he added. Shockingly, some of names figure in the list of 44 institutes which will lose their deemed status for their deficiencies. For instance, Tilak Maharashtra Vidyapeeth received Rs. 181.96 lakh from UGC in 2007-09. Similarly, Gurukul Kangri Vishwavidyalaya, Hardwar, received Rs. 112.78 lakh in the last two years.

Source: The Tims of India, January 20, 2010

From deemed to doomed, students see dreams crash

Their expressions swing from hope to despair as their institutes face the threat of losing the coveted deemed university tag. A day after the Central government filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court requesting derecognition of 44 deemed universities, students of four such varsities in the NCR were at crossroads, not finding comfort in the reassuring words of their faculty and management. Panic was palpable. A senior student of Santosh University at Pratap Vihar in Ghaziabad said: Its true that there are shortfalls. But we never expected derecognition even though the situation turned from bad to worse after the institute got deemed university status in 2007. Though we have really good teachers, there is hardly any system for recording attendance. Students come and go in their flashy cars. Some don't even come for exams but still pass.

It was set up as a medical college in 1995 and affiliated to Chaudhry Charan Singh University, Meerut. Dr. Mahalingam was the chairperson of the trust that founded it. Thereafter, it became a deemed university in 2007 and Dr. Mahalingam became its chancellor. At present, two sets of students are enrolled in the institute those who joined before 2007 and are still under CCS University and those who came in later to pursue MBBS, BDS and MDS. The institute charges anything between Rs. 200,000 and Rs. 450,000 from medical students per year. But the high fees may not ensure best facilities, complained a first-year student, adding: We have labs and a proper curriculum but often the senior students drop in to teach if the teachers dont turn up.

However, vice-chancellor Professor V K Arora said: We try and give some teaching experience to PG students. We have nearly 200 teachers in the university. We have not received any information from the government. We will see if our infrastructure was found wanting by the government. But the MCI and the Dental Council of India had no complaints so far. However, the MCI said: We have no business to inspect the infrastructure of a deemed university. Its the role of UGC.

The students at Jaypee Institute of Information Technology (JIIT) in Noida, however, put up a brave face even though the authorities almost went into hiding. The students said that their institute had the best infrastructure and was on par with NITs. The security guards at JIIT told Times City that the no official was willing to talk. But the students while dispersing for the day said: There was some flutter at the hostel last night when we heard about the de-recognition . But the authorities showed us a UGC letter issued earlier that mentioned the extension of our deemed university status. Another student, Anant Nath Hira, from first-year, B.Tech., said: Its one of the best institutes in the area. Some of the top rankers from AIEEE join here. The infrastructure and teachers are also perfect. Students also said that the fees was nominal considering it was a private institute. We pay Rs. 160,000 per year including the hostel fees. And we have seen 100% placement in the last few years, a third-year student hoped.

Source: The Times of India, January 20, 2010.

UGC clean chit may not benefit 44 de-recognized deemed univs

The HRD ministry is confident it has a foolproof case in the apex court. Highly placed sources said the 44 deemed universities should not hope that a clean chit by UGC's review committee (separate from the HRD ministry's panel) can help them challenge the recommendation seeking removal of deemed status. Sources said under the UGC Act, the HRD ministry may or may not accept UGCs recommendations. Anyway, UGC had reviewed only a few parameters of these institutions whereas the HRD ministry's review committee looked into the complete picture. It cannot be challenged, a highly placed source said.

The degrees of those enrolled with deemed universities now staring at de-recognition will be of the institutions they may get attached to in future. Students will eventually get the degree from the new university, a source maintained. Those who have already passed out from the universities in question need not worry. They will not be affected because the deemed status was not taken away then, sources said. But the ministry is keen that the institutions are not able to give back-dated certificates. Sources said the ministry had anticipated such a possibility and, therefore , the review committees questionnaire had asked each institute to furnish details of past and present students. Back-dated degrees cannot be given now, a source said. Meanwhile, HRD ministry is waiting for the next hearing in Supreme Court on January 25 before it starts issuing notices to these 44 deemed universities.
Source: The Times of India, January 20, 2010

Deemed universities' student will not suffer: Minister

Amid reports of violent protests in some places and widespread anxiety over the governments move to derecognize 44 deemed universities, Union HRD minister Kapil Sibal sought to allay fears by promising no student would be left in the lurch. The ministry's task force has clearly delineated the roadmap for students in these institutions, ensuring that no one suffers, he said. Meanwhile, students broke window panes, ransacked laboratories and burned furniture in a couple of blacklisted universities in Tamil Nadu, where a majority of the derecognized universities are situated.

Sibal's assurance notwithstanding, many questions linger. For instance, the HRD ministrys affidavit in the Supreme Court clearly states that even if the institutions concerned lose deemed university status, they remain colleges and will be affiliated to state universities. In case of medical /dental colleges, they will seek affiliation from state medical universities. Asked what if state governments refused to give affiliation, sources said the ministry would seek a relevant directive from the Supreme Court. There are other methods also, a source said. Another question is what will happen to institutions that got deemed status by virtue of starting courses in new fields like nanotech. It seems students who enrolled for these niche disciplines can at best hope to pass out as regular graduates.
Source: The Times of India, January 20, 2010

44 deemed universities to be de-recognized; 16 are in Tamil Nadu

The Union Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has decided to de-recognize as many as 44 deemed universities, spelling uncertainty for nearly 200,000 students who are enrolled with them. MHRD's decision amounts to an acknowledgement of irregularities in conferring the deemed tag to these institutions under the first UPA government in which Arjun Singh was the HRD minister. The 44 deemed universities, including one promoted by I&B minister of state S Jagathrakshakan, three government-sponsored ones, and some in the national capital region (Delhi and its satellite towns), such as Manav Rachna, Shobit and Santosh, are spread across the country. These deemed universities were found deficient on many grounds ranging from lack of infrastructure to lack of evidence of expertise in disciplines they claim to specialize in.

The big step, as reported first by TOI, was taken after clearance from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and is also an indictment of the manner in which the deemed status was doled out during the tenure of the last HRD minister, Arjun Singh. Although the list includes many that were given deemed status during Murli Manohar Joshi's time too, the list of those red-pencilled indicates how during Arjun Singhs tenure, the deemed status was virtually up for grabs.

The MHRD emphasized that the affected students would be taken care of. The ministry's task force has recommended that institutions not found fit for deemed university status revert to status quo ante as an affiliated college of the state university of jurisdiction so that students would be able to complete their ongoing courses and obtain degree from the affiliating university. Similarly, medical and dental colleges not found suitable can affiliate to a state university or a state medical university. In case, the institution is unable to obtain affiliation, efforts would be made to facilitate the migration/reenrolment of the affected students in other institutions. Doctoral students would have to re-register in affiliating universities and those in distance education should either go to IGNOU or state open universities.

In an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court in the Viplav Sharma vs Union of India case, the HRD ministry said the review committee found only 38 institutes fit to have the deemed university status. Another 44 were found deficient in some aspects which need to be rectified over the next three years. With Supreme Court likely to approve HRDs action, it is unlikely that government will have to face any litigation. These 44 deemed universities have 119,363 students at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels. In addition, there are 2,124 students pursuing research at M.Phil. and Ph.D. levels and another estimated 74,808 students pursuing distance education programmes. As many as 41 of the 44 deemed universities have several constituent institutions under them, which would further swell the number of affected students.

Tamil Nadu has the distinction of having 16 of the 44 de-recognized deemed universities. Karnataka has six de-recognized deemed universities; Uttar Pradesh four; Haryana, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan and Maharashtra three each; Gujarat, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Bihar, one each.

With 16 deemed universities from Tamil Nadu and one from Puducherry coming into focus consequent to the centres submission in the Supreme Court that their status as independent universities must be withdrawn, there is widespread concerns regarding the future of the thousands of students enrolled in these institutions. Significantly, four of the deemed universities against which action has been recommended, are administered by politicians or their kin.

While the Bharath University was founded by union minister of state for information S. Jagathrakshakan, the St. Peters University was founded by former Tamil Nadu education minister and AIADMK MP M. Thambidurai. Likewise, the Dr. MGR University is administered by A C Shanmugham, a former AIADMK MP and the Periyar Maniammai University is administered by a trust managed by K Veeramani, leader of the Dravidar Kazhagam. And at least four of these deemed universities PRIST in Thanjavur, Vinayaka Missions in Salem, St. Peters in Chennai, and Periyar Maniammai in Thanjavur have also enrolled thousands of students in several courses offered through the distance education mode and study centres spread all over the country.

While the Tandon Committee, on whose recommendations the centre had filed its affidavit in the Supreme Court, has drawn up a comprehensive scheme to ensure that education of these students is not disrupted, the state government has decided to adopt a wait and watch policy. We will wait for the courts verdict on how to integrate the students (who had enrolled in deemed universities) in regular universities. The Supreme Court should give directions on this and we will comply with it, Tamil Nadu higher education minister K. Ponmudy said.

Source: The Times of India, January 19, 2010

Saturday, January 09, 2010

HP unveils cloud-based Internet tech

More than two years after Prith Banerjee took charge of HP Labs in Palo Alto, California, to overhaul the 44-year-old research organization of the world's largest IT company--a move initially seen by many as yet another cost-cutting measure by chief executive Mark Hurd--the 20 research labs in seven locations seem to be buzzing with activity and imminent commercial roll-outs of technology. On Friday, Banerjee unveiled the beta launch of a cloud-based Internet technology that allows rapid creation of mobile applications and can make online content and services available on low-end mobile phones. Called SiteonMobile, it is currently an inviteonly service and lets website/ portal owners and non-programmers to easily design mobile applications by just browsing the HP website. The cloud platform developed by HP creates SMS (short message service) and voice interfaces to existing websites.

"The idea is to extend the information and service available to 45 million Internet users to 450 million mobile phone users," says Banerjee. The service, which is currently being tested with three customers, will soon be launched with a revenue-sharing model where HP (Hewlett-Packard Co.) will seek its share just as Apple Inc. does through its AppStore. This aligns well with HP's gradual, strategic march up the stack--from a hardware to a software to a services company. Recently, it signed up a multi-billion dollar deal with retail giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc. for "managed print services" to handle its entire document work flow. A key technology there is from HP Labs India--trusted hard copy solution--that secures documents with two-dimensional bar codes.

Opportunity for overseas Indians to tap knowledge sector: Sam Pitroda

India’s knowledge sector offers great opportunity for overseas Indians to join hands with the country in its high growth trajectory and invest in its future, Sam Pitroda, adviser to Prime Minister, said on Friday. “Though the country recorded more than 7% growth over the last five years, the next challenge is inclusive growth,” Mr Pitroda said at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, adding that the biggest challenge before the country was to build an effective information infrastructure that will ensure efficient delivery of public services. He said that there were opportunities for the diaspora in India in areas of information technology, knowledge and innovations.

The IT sector enabled by the telecom revolution of the 1980s has today become an industry with exports to the tune of $60 billion. IT could also play an important role in addressing issues related to governance and inclusive growth, Mr Pitroda said. Elaborating on innovation, Mr Pitroda said that in addition to the innovation in products and services, innovation was also required in processes, governance and organisation. This provides an opportunity for collaboration to the diaspora, he said. “I request you to engage with India, knowing this is a great window of opportunity,” said Mr Pitroda, regarded as the father of India’s communications revolution.

Speaking on ‘Diaspora: Role and Expectations’, Mr Pitroda said it was imperative for the country to look at the future of its population below the age of 25 — who today numbers over 550 million. “We now plan to build 30 new national universities and 40 new innovation universities,” said Mr Pitroda, adding that the government has allocated $67 billion for education in the 11th Five-Year Plan (2007-2012).

Sharing the opportunities in the education sector, he said that the proposed 30 new national universities, 14 innovation universities and the skill development projects provide attractive engagement opportunities for the diaspora. According to him, all these offered a unique opportunity for overseas Indians to join hands in building new universities and working at these institutions, while also improving vocational education system in the county. “We have to create a new Indian model,” said Mr Pitroda.

Source: The Economic Times, January 9, 2010

Reliance Industries to set-up a multi-disciplinary university

Reliance Foundation, the recently set up philanthropic arm of Reliance Industries Ltd. (RIL), plans to set up a multi-disciplinary university in the country. The university, modelled on the lines of American Universities like University of Pennsylvania, will offer courses in science, technology and liberal arts. The new initiative would be launched under the chairmanship of Nita Ambani, Mukesh Ambani, Chairman of RIL, said during his acceptance speech after being honoured with the Dean's Medal by the University of Pennsylvania School of Engineering and Applied Science on Friday. The medal was conferred for his visionary leadership in the application of engineering and technology for the betterment of mankind.

The award was given today to Ambani by Eduardo Glandt,Dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science,University of Pennsylvania, in Mumbai."I will treasure this medal. It is much more than the recognition of the modest contribution as a chemical engineer from India. It recognises the collective achievement of the Reliance family and the creativity of over 25,000 engineers in Reliance," Ambani said.

Commenting on the inaugural medal, Glandt said that Ambani "embodies what the engineering profession can contribute to a country, as someone who seeks to apply technology for the betterment of society". The University of Pennsylvania is one of the leading universities in the US.

The Reliance Group, is looking at the option of establishing the educational institute outside Mumbai or Delhi. The move comes seven years after it established the Dhirubhai Ambani International School in Mumbai.

3 idea-tors from IIT bag NYC prize

A team of 3 idea-tors from the Indian Institute of Technology in Chennai has won New York City’s first annual “NYC Next Idea” prize, a competition among entrepreneurs presenting business plans to improve quality of life and create jobs, mayor Michael Bloomberg announced.

Greenext Technology Solutions, the winning team composed of Sriram Kalyanaraman, Vinayshankar Kulkarni, and Aashish Dattani, proposed a software system that utilities and energy producers might use to store electricity at times of low consumption and distribute it across the city when demand increases. They dealt with the electricity grid, proposing a software interface with the national electric grid to coordinate power distribution and electricity prices with consumer-demand.

The winners will receive $20,000 in cash, office space in a city-sponsored lower Manhattan “entrepreneur incubator”, and other help in setting up their business in the city — if they decide to come New York. None of them had even visited the city before they reached the finals of the competition and were invited to come to the Big Apple, a city that doesn’t particularly have a power crisis. “No one can say for sure whether the finalists’ ideas will translate into successful job-creating businesses,” Bloomberg said. “What a shame, though, if they and countless others are denied the opportunity even to try.”

Source: The Times of India, January 9, 2009 (Reported by Chidanand Rajghatta)

Government seeks legal advice on deemed universities

To ensure that the tough action proposed against 44 deemed universities do not end up in courts of law, the Union Human Resource Development (HRD) Ministry has swung into action with Minister Kapil Sibal holding a meeting with Solicitor General Gopal Subramaniam on Friday. Subramaniam is believed to have approved the action being planned by the HRD Ministry.

Mr. Sibal will also meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to apprise him of the action that has been recommended by the HRD’s Task Force on Deemed Universities. Considering that many politicians run a large number of deemed universities, political clearance will be taken at the highest level. “Once the process has been set in motion we are not going to roll it back. Many deemed universities will lose the deemed status. We are preparing ourselves for the likely legal action that might follow,” a top source said. Sources also said that the review committee that was turned into a task force has recommended a detailed action map against deemed universities that do not have necessary academic and physical infrastructure.

Source: The Times of India, January 9, 2009 (Reported by Akshaya Mukul)

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