Thursday, July 22, 2010

India unveils $30 laptop designed for students

India today unveiled a Rs. 1,500 (around $30) laptop designed specifically for students. "If more companies decide to manufacture a similar device, prices will come down automatically", Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal said after unveiling the low cost-access-cum computing device here. The device would be made available to students in 2011. When the ministry floated the concept of a low cost laptop some years ago, officials said it would cost Rs. 500 ($10). It will now cost about three times the initial projections. The ministry expects the prices to drop to Rs. 1,000 ($20) and reach Rs. 500 ($10) as innovations are introduced.

The device, no bigger than a conventional laptop, is a single unit system with a touch screen and a built in key board along with a 2 GB RAM memory, wi-fi connectivity, USB port and powered by a 2-watt system to suit poor power supply areas. "This is real and tangible and we will take it forward. Sun will rise for the Indian students in 2011", he said.

The ministry also invited private players to produce similar low cost computers. "When we started the project, the response from the private sector was lukewarm. Now many are willing to join the innovation", Sibal said. The ministry started its efforts by holding discussions on this concept with a group of experts at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, IIT Kanpur, IIT Kharagpur, IIT Madras and IIT Bombay, a ministry official said.

The low cost laptops will be distributed in institutions by the HRD ministry. The final price will depend on the transportation cost. "We will give some subsidy on the device. As far as transport is concerned, if the transport cost in less, the government can bear that as well", Sibal added.

Source: The Economic Times (Online Edition), July 22, 2010

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Symbiosis B-school scouts for global tie-ups

The Pune-based Symbiosis Institute of Business Management (SIBM) is in talks with around seven international institutes to be the content provider and course designer for their courses. The institute has a working tie-up with the Khimji Training Institute LLC, in Muscat and Steinbeis University, Berlin. "We are in talks with close to seven more such institutes in places like Frankfurt. There is a five-week study India programme for the Seidman School of Business and the Grand Valley State University, Michigan. Also, there is a 24-month executive MBA for IBM Germany in collaboration with Steinbeis University, Berlin. On the local front, we run the SIBM Pune weekend Diploma in Finance for executives. We also have a tie-up with the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management", said Vivek Sane, Director, SIBM.

Ranked among the top five B-schools in the country, SIBM is looking to grow its brand further to gain international recognition. "We believe in one step at a time. Currently, we may not feature in Europe, USA and the like but in May 2010, SIBM received Asia’s best B-school award, presented by CMO Asia and titled the Business School with Best Industry Interface Award", added Sane.

The institute is also running a lot of initiatives for the benefit of students. Last year, it spent close to Rs. 1 crore on student welfare activities. The institute also conducts a series of guest lectures and panel discussions called Alpaviram, wherein industry biggies come in and share their knowledge with students. "We have a collaboration with Yashaswi Abhiyaan wherein women entrepreneurs come over to share their experiences. Our latest initiative includes a training programme we run with the State Election Board to train elected candidates for leadership communication and the like in their own languages", added Sane.

Last year, SIBM also started a value added lecture series involving lectures on latest industry trends in the subjects chosen by students. The institute also offers customised executive diplomas in business management for corporate for which it has tie ups with companies like Godrej, WNS, Avaya, Zensar, Wipro. "We deliver lectures on their grounds for the same. We have even innovated a diploma in business management for our engineering students", said Sane. For this academic year, SIBM is laying emphasis on bringing the industry’s best practices to the classroom.

Source: Business Standard, July 19, 2010

Monday, July 19, 2010

CET for IITs and engg institutes by 2011

The decision to conduct a single test or a common admission test (CET) for admission to the IITs and engineering institutes across the country, is likely to be finalised by the end of this year. While speaking to mediapersons after addressing the 56th annual convocation of IIT-Kharagpur, the Union human resource development minister, Mr. Kapil Sibal, said the panel of IIT directors, headed by IIT-Kharagpur Director, Prof. Damodar Acharya, will submit their report on conducting a common examination system by July, following which the ministry will go through their suggestions. "There have been many proposals and after going through the panel’s report, the ministry will choose the best suitable system", said Mr Sibal.

Mr. Sibal had appointed the panel to explore the possibility of replacing the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) and other engineering exams held across the country with a single entrance test, with a focus on “general aptitude” and not knowledge of specific subjects. Mr. Sibal said there is a serious need to change the present examination system, where a student has to appear for 20 to 30 admission tests. Sitting for so many tests puts an enormous burden on the students and we cannot allow this to happen, he said.

Lashing out at the private coaching centres, Mr. Sibal said only rich families are able to send their wards to the coaching centres that prepare students for the IIT-JEE and this gives some students an additional advantage. But, students from poor families are not so privileged. Moreover, admitting students trained in coaching centres to the IITs is not the best way to get the best students, he added.

Mr. Sibal supported the views of Mr. B Muthuraman, Chairman of the Board of Governors over laying stress on research and postgraduate studies. During his convocation speech, Mr. Muthuraman had said that the old IITs like the IIT-Kharagpur should lay more stress on PG and research while the newly established IITs should focus on undergraduate studies.

Mr. Sibal laid the foundation stones of four buildings, Nalanda Academic Complex, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Hall of Residence, Chanakya Hall of Residence and Gurukul-I. During the convocation ceremony, Doctor of Science (Honoris Causa) was awarded to Dr. Srikumar Banerjee, Chairman of Atomic Energy Commission, Prof. K.L. Chopra, scientist, Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia, flute maestro, Prof. Goverdhan Mehta, scientist and Mr. Shiv Nadar, HCL's founder chairman.

Source: The Statesman, July 18, 2010

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Bharti's Mittal putting more money aside for education

Having helped with the transformation of India through the power of communication, Sunil Mittal, the founder of the country's largest mobile phone operator --- Airtel, is channeling his wealth towards education for poor children that has the power to change their destiny. Right now, Mittal's philanthropy through the Bharti Foundation has touched the lives of 30,000 underprivileged children and the telecom czar has pledged to put more money aside to expand this number to at least 100,000. In 2000, when the telecom sector was in the midst of a revolution, Mittal realised that connecting communities in small towns and villages through mobiles was not enough. They needed the power of education. And the Bharti Foundation was set up to make this possible.

In an interview with PTI, Mittal said: "The focus of the foundation is education for the poor in the villages. Nearly 30,000 students are already there in 236 schools. We are determined to take it to 1,00,000. This will be the single largest intervention by any corporate in the history of this country". Mittal has already donated Rs. 200 crore (Rs. 2 billion) towards various educational initiatives.

The first generation entrepreneur, who has been ranked among the top philanthropists in the country, feels that money is not going to be a limiting factor for his initiative. "Whenever money is required, we will put in cash", he said. Mittal, who started his business as a bicycle manufacturer and is now leading the over US$ 8 billion business conglomerate Bharti Enterprises, is also ready to part with his stake in the company for charity. "We will put in cash or (dilute) stake" whenever required, he added.

The company he founded is the largest mobile phone operator in terms of subscribers in a country where mobile phones are seen as a tool for economic empowerment. Everyone from fishermen to street vendors use mobile phones across the country, thus gaining access to information such as the market price they need for growing their business.
At Bharti Enterprises, there is absolute belief in education being the most important tool for social and economic development in India. This belief is what led to the launch of the Satya Bharti School Programme in 2006. Currently, 236 Satya Bharti Primary Schools are operational, reaching out to approximately 30,000 children across the states of Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Of these 236 schools, 49 schools are adopted government-run schools, reaching out to about 6,000 children across the Neemrana and Amer blocks of Rajasthan.

Mittal, a recipient of the country's third highest civilian award, Padma Bhushan, believes that this initiative will help him give back to the society what the society gave to him.

Source: The Economic Times, July 18, 2010

CBSE to introduce full-time vocational courses this year

Students bored with the regular Science, Arts and Commerce subjects finally have a wider choice of courses to choose from. The CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education) will this year introduce full-fledged vocational courses — equivalent to a Higher Secondary School Certificate —- in Media studies & Film Appreciation, Geo-spatial Practices and Hospitality and Management.To begin with, the Media Studies course will be started in 10 schools in Delhi, 6 in Mumbai and 4 in Pune while the Geo-Spatial course, that will focus mainly on cartograpgy and GIS-based mapping, will be available in 9 schools in Delhi, 3 in Kolkata and 1 in Mumbai.

CBSE has roped in Subhash Ghai’s Whistling Woods Institute and Rolta India Limited — agreements will be signed on July 19 — to help train teachers and devise curriculum for Mass Media Studies and Geospatial Practices courses respectively. A tie-up with the Union Tourism Ministry is also on cards for a course in Hospitality and Management, with focus on Food and Beverages.Students can opt for a vocational course and skip the regular Science, Arts and Commerce courses if they so wish. Otherwise, they can also take any of these as an add-on to three Science or Arts subjects.

But HRD Ministry does not want to limit the vocational courses to the 10,000 CBSE schools only. It is working on a Rs. 2,000 crore plan to set up 2,500 vocational schools across the country —- at least one Model Vocational School with at least six vocations on offer in every district. Existing schools can also start Vocational Studies Units. Headed by a Deputy Principal or Vice Principal, the unit, complete with a workshop and linkages with local industry, will offer full fledged vocational courses. HRD Ministry will facilitate their tie-ups with industry and institutes. The only glitch in the plan is that Planning Commission views it as rather expensive.

"We will begin with a smaller number of schools this year. Next year the courses will be introduced in more number of schools", an HRD Ministry official said. "Schools are, in fact, showing a lot of interest in vocational courses". CBSE had earlier introduced a vocational course in Financial Markets Management with the help of NSE. Success of the course prompted the board to introduce the new courses.

Source: Indian Express, July 18, 2010

Indian-origin woman named professor of Economics at Harvard

Noted academician Gita Gopinath has been named Professor of Economics at the prestigious Harvard University, becoming the first Indian-origin woman professor in the institution's history. Gopinath, 38, has been a member of the Harvard faculty since 2005 and was named associate professor in 2009. Her focus area is business cycles in emerging markets and price fluctuations across international borders. "Professor Gopinath's research on emerging markets has proven extremely important to our understanding of their business cycles and her studies of price stickiness have been highly influential among macroeconomists", Dean of Social Science in Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences Stephen Kosslyn said here. Gopinath's research has examined price stickiness at the U.S. border, addressing questions on whether prices are set in the producer's or the consumer's currency and how this transnational pricing responds to exchange rate shocks.

University President Drew G. Faust had confirmed tenure for Gopinath in May, making her only the second internally promoted woman full professor and the third woman to be tenured full professor in the department. "On campus, she has played a central role in the vitality of our programme in international economics and especially in teaching and advising students in this field", Kosslyn added.

A University of Delhi alumnus, Kolkata-born Gopinath has a Ph.D. in economics from Princeton University. She was an assistant professor of economics at the University of Chicago's Graduate School of Business. She is also an associate of the National Bureau for Economic Research, the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, the International Growth Centre at the London School of Economics and Oxford University.

Earlier this month, IIT alumnus Nitin Nohria took over as the 10th Dean of Harvard Business School (HBS). At HBS itself, Nohria is among some 25 teachers of Indian-origin in a faculty of just over 200. Nobel laureate Amratya Sen is currently the Thomas W Lamont University Professor and Professor of Economics and Philosophy at Harvard.

The Economic Times had earlier reported on Prof. Gopinath's achievements on May 23, 2010. The report is reproduced below.

Harvard's newest India connection : Prof. Gita Gopinath
Gita Gopinath’s ground-breaking research is helping economists get a better understanding of the financial crisis in Greece and Iceland. No surprise really, considering that Prof. Gopinath has recently been named tenured professor at Harvard University’s high-brow Department of Economics and she thus becomes the third woman ever and the first Indian after Nobel laureate Amartya Sen to receive such as outstanding honour.

Prof. Gopinath, who is only 38, works in the area of international macroeconomics and finance—areas that have become significant in light of the current financial crisis and the critical macroeconomic situation. "She has made fundamental contributions to the understanding of sovereign debt defaults, which is the current leg of the crisis in Europe. Her work also shows, at a very deep level, why many emerging markets tend to experience greater macroeconomic volatility than advanced economies and has significantly advanced understanding of the interaction between prices and interest rates", says Kenneth Rogoff, Prof. of Economics and Public Policy at Harvard and former chief economist at the IMF.

Prof. Gopinath has some advice for Indian policy makers too and sees a major lesson from the Greece debt crisis for countries that have to work extra hard in preventing runaway budget deficits. "This should be a top concern for India. Its close to 7% projected budget deficit is on the high side. Even though this size of deficit is smaller than the U.S., the risk to the economy is larger for India. This is because from the international investors’ perspective, India still is an emerging market, there is more uncertainty about how India will correct its deficits and what is even politically feasible, so the tolerance for Indian deficits is much lower", she says.

Prof. Gopinath, who completed her bachelors in Economics from Delhi’s Lady Shri Ram College and masters from Delhi School of Economics before moving to the U.S. for a Ph.D., considers herself a product of the Indian education system. "When I was doing my bachelors from Delhi University, India experienced its first major external financing and currency crisis in 1990-91. This inspired me to pursue graduate work in economics and was the foundation for my interest in international finance", she says.

Her father, TV Gopinath, a farmer and entrepreneur in Mysore, too, believes that increasingly, young Indians from small towns and villages will do well in academics and have the confidence to compete for top honours with their wealthier and savvier counterparts in cities. "My daughter went to school in Mysore, but was unfazed by the intense competition that she faced in Delhi. Later, Harvard University offered her an admission for Ph.D. but didn’t give her any financial aid. Because we couldn’t afford to fund her, she decided to go to the University of Washington, Seattle, where she was offered funding. She left the university after two years, but was given an MS in Economics in recognition of her extraordinary capabilities", says Mr Gopinath, a proud father.

Today, Prof. Gopinath herself sees mentorship from seniors as an important tool in breaking the gender glass ceiling at Ivy League universities in the U.S. There are very few women faculty at the top. At Harvard’s economics department, for instance, there are only three tenured women out of around 40 tenured faculty. While this is very low, it is still a lot better than it was in the past. Prof. Gopinath thinks that junior women could benefit from having senior women as mentors, so when that pool is very small this is just harder to accomplish. In academia, the whole tenure clock makes having a family difficult, so this is a bigger challenge for women. "I am very fortunate to have a hugely supportive husband in this matter".

Overall she believes universities are now increasingly cognizant of the special challenges for women and explicit provisions are being made through family leave policy and stopping the tenure clock for a year when you have a child, policies that unfortunately were not in place in the not too distant past. "These are positive signs", she adds.
Her husband and former classmate, Iqbal Dhaliwal, Director of Policy at the Jameel Poverty Action Lab at MIT’s Department of Economics, acknowledges that her job has been far more stressful than his because she was on the tenure clock at Harvard.

"The research they do is very intense with the added pressure of peer-review and the need to publish in top journals. I am not a professor, but work on the policy side of research at MIT. Both of us appreciate the importance of dual careers and accept the challenges that come with it. Since we really cherish and value the time that we get with each other and our little son after work, we try to be as efficient in the office as possible, and try to make sure that the time we have together is quality time", he says.

In a recent interview published in the Harvard Crimson, the university’s newspaper, Prof. John Campbell, the Chairman of Harvard’s Economics Department praised Prof. Gopinath’s ability to move between theory and data analysis, and her strong skills as a teacher. "She has worked with some of our best Ph.D. students", Prof. Campbell said. "She is really becoming a professional leader in terms of training economists. She is the complete package".

Her former students too endorse this view. "Promotions in top research universities are exclusively based on research and publication record and do not condition on the quality of teaching. Teaching, however, still takes a significant amount of time. Prof. Gopinath was an important figure in graduate teaching in the economics department", says Oleg Itskhoki, who is now on the faculty at Princeton University’s economics department.

Source: The Economic Times, July 18, 2010 & May 23, 2010

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Self-disclosure rule hits new tech institutes seeking AICTE nod

India's technical education regulator denied approval to three out of every four new institutes that had applied to start courses this academic year, following a new approval policy implemented in January in the wake of corruption charges. The All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) rejected applications from as many as 1,626 new institutes out of the 2,176 that wanted to start courses in engineering, business administration, computer applications, pharmacy and architecture, among other subjects. The earlier practice was for the regulator to send inspectors to verify claims made by applicants before approving them. In its new policy, institutes have to upload information --- including land records, faculty details and a video capsule of their facilities, along with a sworn affidavit --- on AICTE's website before it sends inspectors.

The rejection rate is high this year because many applicants simply failed to upload the required documents. "We are shifting from inspector raj (rule) to self-disclosure regime. It will bring transparency and cut down corruption in the technical institution system of India", AICTE's Acting Chairman S.S. Mantha said. "We have given approval to 550 institutes this year and the rest failed to get it as they could not disclose the required details", he added. In contrast, the regulator approved 1,131 new institutes last year and 1,345 institutes in 2008.

The self-disclosure policy was implemented after AICTE was dogged by accusations that its inspectors demanded bribes from institutes seeking approval. On 16 July 2009, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), India's top investigating agency, arrested a Member-Secretary of AICTE and also filed a corruption case against then Chairman R.A. Yadav. The chairman was suspended two weeks later.

Mantha, his successor, said the new policy is more transparent and ensures that institutes cannot lie to either AICTE or prospective students about their infrastructure. "Now they have to give an affidavit and if any of their claim comes out to be untrue, then we can file criminal cases against them". The video capsules uploaded by the approved institutes is to be made public in four months. "This will help students get a first-hand view of every single technical institute approved by us. Students must know where they are applying or going to study", said Mantha.

Some 1.4 million seats for technical education were available in the country at the end of the last academic year. Mantha said 250,000 new seats are being added from this session. "While 100,000 seats will come from the new institutes, expansion of old institutes will add up 150,000 more seats this year", he added.

A senior official at the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), requesting anonymity, said that the self-regulatory mechanism is a step in the right direction for AICTE, which is hoping to repair its dented reputation. The institutes agree. Prashant Bhalla, Vice-President of Manav Rachna International University at Faridabad, said his institute has won AICTE's approval. Institutes that do not intend to cheat students or the government are happy as the new process is less cumbersome, Bhalla said, adding that AICTE needs to improve its website to make uploading of details smoother.

"The aim is to bring in a culture of transparency. This is a sign of maturity in the technical education sector", said Narayanan Ramaswamy, Executive Director (Education) at audit and consulting firm KPMG. "Self-governance is better than somebody monitoring you always", he added. "The self-disclosure policy will benefit the students most as they will have all information about institutions".

Source: Mint, July 15, 2010

Indians barred from taking licentiate test for U.S. practice

Tens of thousands of Indians who went to the United States to cash in on the health industry boom have been served a blow as the federal government has decided against allowing Indians to sit for the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE), a licentiate test without which students cannot practice in the U.S. The decision was taken by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy, a national body, reasoning that it found systematic and methodical sharing and distribution of recalled questions by significant numbers of graduates of programmes in the affected countries as well as several exam preparation companies specifically targeted to these graduates. Apart from Indians, students from Pakistan, the Philippines and Egypt have also been barred from taking the exam.

The federation recognizes the significant consequences of this policy decision but feels that it needs to be made clear to all candidates that the federation will not tolerate security breaches, it stated in a notice sent out to all the candidates who had registered to take the NPTE. Candidates will now have to wait for a year, which is when the federation is likely to introduce a more secured version of the test.

A parent from Mumbai whose daughter is enrolled with the University of Pittsburgh said the U.S. government's decision was not fair as they had found no evidence against Indian students sharing the questions with their friends. Even in the communication released to students, the federation stated, "Evidence was obtained through extensive forensic analyses of exam performances as well as a variety of legal actions brought by the federation in the United States and abroad. Most notably, this includes the raid and seizure of evidence from the St. Louis Review Center in Manila, Philippines, and its alleged owners/operators, which revealed the widespread sharing of hundreds of live test items".

Announced on Sunday, the decision caused ripples among the student community, some of whom are speaking of filing a case suit in an American court. This unfortunate news has disheartened me and shattered my dreams. What should I do next I am not able to find any way, noted Vijayta on a blog that has several students agitated with the United States government's decision.

Source: The Times of India, July 15, 2010

Right to Education likely to be watered down

In what could end up diluting the Right to Education (RTE) Act, the government is considering a crucial amendment whereby private schools will not be required to admit all applicants and can screen and select most of their students.
The admission-as-an entitlement provision will be limited to poor children in the neighbourhood for whom 25% seats are set aside. Schools will continue to have the right to screen 75% of the admissions, in a major amendment prompted by sustained lobbying by private schools. Public schools were up in arms, insisting the no-screening clause could seriously affect their quality.

Signalling a rethink, HRD minister Kapil Sibal said, "There are practical problems ... How will schools like Doon, Mayo, Modern and others give random admission to children I have suggested that while schools will not screen 25% of poor children who have to be taken,75% will go through screening". Section 13 of RTE Act not only bans screening but fixes a penalty of Rs 25,000 on a school for first contravention and Rs 50,000 for later.

Source: The Times of India, July 15, 2010

Government cannot direct minority institutions to employ SC/ST teachers: Supreme Court

In a significant judgment, the Supreme Court has ruled that governments cannot force the reservation policy on minority educational institutions, including those getting grant-in-aid, and ask them to appoint teachers from the SC and ST communities. A bench comprising justices B. S. Chauhan and Swatanter Kumar gave this ruling while negating the applicability of Rule 64 of Delhi School Education Rules, 1973, to a school run by the Sindhi community in Lajpat Nagar. The rule insisted that minority schools have to appoint the requisite number of SC and ST candidates as teachers to receive grant-in-aid. Justice Kumar, writing the judgment for the bench, said that the government was free to frame regulations where there was mal-administration. Even where a minority linguistic or religious school is being run against the public or national interest, appropriate steps can be taken by the authorities, including closure, but in accordance with law, he said.

The government could specify the minimum educational qualification and teaching experience for appointment of teachers in minority educational institutions, but it cannot issue a direction that a person or class of persons ought to be appointed to the school and threaten that non-compliance would result in withdrawal of grant-in-aid. The SC said power to frame regulations for minority educational institutions was vested with the government to ensure better organisation and development of school education and matters incidental thereto.

Such powers must operate within its limitation while ensuring that it does not, in any way, dilute or impair the basic character of linguistic minority. Its right to establish and administer has to be construed liberally to bring it in alignment with the constitutional protections available to such communities, it said.

Source: The Times of India, July 15, 2010

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

HRD Ministry to consider E-certificates to check misuse

India's premier investigation agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), asked to investigate fake marksheet cases across Maharashtra by the Bombay high court, on Monday recommended that the Centre store marksheets in tamper-proof electronic format. Responding to CBI's request, Human Resource Development minister Kapil Sibal said his ministry is willing to consider the recommendation. He also said the ministry has set up a task force under IIT-Kanpur Director S. G. Dhande to work on de-materialization of certificates. Its a concept which resembles demat shares, said P. Kandaswamy, CBIs head of Mumbai zone.

According to Kandaswamy, CBI found 1,576 fake marksheets issued in the name of 10 universities across the state. Of these, 659 fakes were issued in the name of University of Mumbai and another 729 by the Pune University.
Kandaswamy suggested HRD ministry consider e-certificates with ways to check their misuse. A body can be formed to store the marksheets and update as and when a person acquires a fresh degree. Any prospective employer can ask for marksheet related data from educational institutions or the regulatory body for a fee. Each person can be issued a unique code or biometrics for access, he said. The transfer certificate issued after Class X will contain other details of the person. K. Ramkumar of Central Depository Services (India) Ltd. helped the CBI in working out a draft framework.

According to CBI, none of the universities informed law enforcement agencies when fake marksheets were sent to them for verification by prospective employers. Kandaswamy said the cases that came to light are only the tip of an iceberg. All the cases have been handed over to the police who will carry out detailed investigation, he said. The CBI identified three groups as involved in the scam. They charged anything from Rs. 2,000 to Rs. 5,000 for a fake marksheet.

Investigation revealed that most of the marksheets were in commerce and economics, Kandaswamy said. The Medical Council of India did not provide any figure of fake MBBS marksheets floating around in the market, said Kandaswamy. Our job ended with submitting a report to the court and suggesting corrective measures, he said.

Source: The Times of India, July 13, 2010

Deemed universities cannot expand, pleads MHRD

Forty-four deemed universities blacklisted by a central review panel cannot be allowed to expand, the Minitsry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has told Madras High Court in the latest round of legal battles between institutions and the government. The MHRD is already stinging from a Supreme Court verdict that allowed these deemed universities to admit students during the trial of a case to determine whether these institutions can continue to offer degrees. Allowing these 44 deemed universities to expand --- by incorporating fresh institutions under their ambit --- will hurt the interests of students, the ministry argued at the HC on Friday. The court is expected to deliver its order on the case on Tuesday, July 13. "If the blacklisted deemed varsities are allowed to expand, it could amplify the number of students who would face problems if and when the institutions are derecognised", a source said, adding this was ministry's argument before the HC.

HRD Minister Kapil Sibal had ordered a probe into the functioning of deemed universities last year. The probe panel found 44 of 130 deemed universities unfit for the tag and recommended these institutions be stripped of their deemed status immediately. The panel also found another 44 unfit for the tag but had potential to improve, and suggested that this lot be given three years to reach required standards. The remaining varsities were found fit for the tag.

But these universities that the HRD ministry wants to derecognise immediately are admitting students this year because of the SC decision. The Madras HC case involves a Tamil Nadu-based deemed university that wants to incorporate a new medical college. If this is allowed, students will receive degrees from this blacklisted university.

Source: Hindustan Times, July 13, 2010

Health and HRD see eye to eye on medical education

The Ministry of Health will collaborate with the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) on the issue of accreditation of medical education institutions. The two ministries have been at odds over the control of medical education. The new draft of the National Council for Human Resource in Health (NCHRH) has proposed a subsidiary body, the National Committee for Accreditation, which will register and accredit medical colleges. In keeping with MHRD-piloted National Accreditation Regulatory Authority for Higher Educational Institutions Bill, the proposed National Committee for Accreditation will seek approval from the proposed authority.

Sources said the proposed committee will frame parameters and standards for accreditation, and then have these approved by the national authority proposed by the MHRD. It is likely that this committee, in turn, could set up further agencies for accreditation, which would operate within the parameters set out by the accreditation committee of NCHRH. The Ministry of Health has made it clear that even though the accreditation of medical education institutions would stick to the system laid out in the national authority proposed by the MHRD, this should not be seen as acquiescence on the issue of regulatory oversight.

Medical education is too complicated and important and therefore regulatory structures must have technical expertise to be able to take informed decisions. Also, the proposed regulatory body National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER) vests the power of deciding about institutions to universities. Accreditation of medical institutions and academic content requires technical expertise. Once the institutions are found to be acceptable by the NCHRH, the institutions can approach universities for affiliation, a senior official said.

The issue of regulatory oversight still remains unresolved.The MHRD has argued that the task force which is preparing the framework for the NCHER is keen to bring medical education under its fold. MHRD officials have argued that till the task force submits its report to the minister, no final decision on the issue can be taken. Interestingly, even as the MHRD has decided to keep the issue of regulatory oversight on medical education in abeyance, the Prime Minister's Office has made it clear that medical education would fall within the purview of the NCHRH.

In keeping with this mandate, the Ministry of Health has reworked the NCHRH. In the proposed overarching body for the health sector, activities have been separated as much as possible. The proposed NCHRH Bill provides for setting up several subsidiary bodies each of which will independently perform one of the many essential tasks in governing medical education, all of which are currently performed by the Medical Council of India (MCI).

Source: The Economic Times, July 13, 2010 (Report by Urmi A. Goswami)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Community college offers low-cost education

Gurgaon got its first community college in Naya Gaon village in Sohna region. Registered with the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) under its Community College Scheme, the Navjyoti Community College offers structured courses with 'credit system'. The courses include English language speaking, home care, interview and communication skills, computers, animation, web designing, fashion designing, retail management, herbal plantations, general knowledge, law and herbal plantation. The students will be charged Rs. 500 per month as fees.

"Similar colleges would be opened in Karala (near Rohini), Bawana (near Narela) and Jahangirpuri but this will be done in phases", said Kiran Bedi, General Secretary of Navjyoti India Foundation and a retired IPS officer. On Sunday, she visited the nearby Khedla village to create awareness about the facility.

Bedi said, "I will go from village to village and motivate people to join the college and take advantage of this 'B-School for marginalised'. In addition to employment, many can also look forward to joining mainstream courses run by regular colleges. Next Sunday, I will visit another Abhey Pur village". Spread over 3 acres in Naya Gaon village, the college was inaugurated by IGNOU Vice-chancellor Professor Raj Shekhran Pillai on Saturday.

The college has tied up with the British Council for English language training, Vedanta Foundation for computers and placements, and with Ozone Pharma for herbal plants training. "We will organise a placement mela and also post the names of the participants on the website for employment", Bedi said. Students will receive IGNOU certificates on completion of the course.

Source: Hindustan Times, July 12, 2010

Time to review 27% OBC quota in education?

This is the third academic year after Supreme Court on April 10,2008, upheld the legislation providing 27% reservation for OBCs in admissions to central educational institutions. The apex court had excluded the creamy layer from the 27% quota benefit and said unfilled seats would be go back to the general category. The government had also assured the court that general-category seats would not shrink as institutions would create more seats to absorb the reservation requirement. We can discount the chaos of filling the seats created for OBCs under the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admissions) Act, 2007, in 2008-09 as teething problem despite the admission process getting extended till October. However, the data for the next two academic years gives an impression that the quantum of 27% may have been far in excess of what was needed to meet the demographic demand.

In 2009-10, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) transferred 83 of the 413 seats reserved for OBCs to the general category. Of the 10, 183 OBC seats in Delhi University, there were no takers for nearly 2,300 seats. This year too, Delhi University is witnessing a similar story. University officials are fearing that nearly 6,000 seats may get transferred to general category for want of suitable candidates from backward classes, despite the cut-off being 10 marks less than the last general category candidate taking admission in the institution.

The general category may not be complaining. But the increased number of seats will definitely put pressure on the already stretched faculty, library facilities and allied educational resources available with the institution. This is what happens when the political class, without any scientific survey, fixes quota without identifying what constitutes backwardness in the social and educational maze. SC repeatedly warned against this, right from Indra Sawhney judgment in 1992 till the Ashoka Kumar Thakur judgment in 2008.

Socially and educationally backward classes (SEBCs), who are entitled for the 27% reservation in government-run colleges and institutions, are at present determined solely on the basis of the backwardness of their caste. In both these judgments relating to OBC reservation in employment and admission, the apex court had stressed that caste could not be the sole criterion for identifying the social and educational backwardness of a person.

So, without a proper identification of SEBCs, their number was guesstimated and a percentage of seats kept reserved. SC realized it but was hampered without contradicting data to fault the socially affirmative action. That is why it suggested periodic review of the quantum of quota as well as the necessity of reservation in admission for SEBCs. There must be periodic review as to the desirability of continuing operation of the statute Central Educational Institutions (Reservations in Admission Act,2007). This shall be done once every five years, the bench had said in Ashoka Thakur case.

Is the government prepared to review working of the 2007 law? If not, then it could utilize the opportunity provided by the census to determine the exact number of persons to be included in the socially and educationally backward category to help work out the percentage of reservation needed.

Article by Dhananjay Mahapatra
Source: The Times of India, July 12, 2010

Saturday, July 10, 2010

U.S. colleges spend more on sports than studies

U.S. colleges are spending a smaller share of their budgets on instruction, and more on recreational facilities for students and on administration, according to a new study of college costs. The report, based on government data, documents a growing stratification of wealth across America's system of higher education. The study of trends in revenues and spending by American institutions of higher education from 1998 through 2008 traces how the patterns at elite private institutions like Harvard University and Amherst College differed from sprawling public universities like Ohio State and community colleges like Alabama Southern.

Community colleges spend close to $10,000 per student per year, while the private research institutions, spend an average $35,000 a year for each one. But the trend toward increased spending on non-academic areas prevailed across the higher education spectrum, with public and private, elite and community colleges increasing expenditures more for student services than for instruction.

The student services category can include spending on career counseling and financial aid offices, but also on intramural athletics and student centers. On average, spending on instruction increased 22 per cent over the decade at private research universities, about the same as tuition.

Source: Hindustan Times, July 10, 2010

Two minor planets named after Kolkata school students

Two students of South Point High School here will now have minor planets named after them. The Massachussettes Institute of Technology (MIT) and Lincoln Laboratory, USA have bestowed the honour on Anish Mukherjee and Debarghya Sarkar in recognition of their winning the second Grand award in Electrical and Mechanical Engineering category at the Nevada Fair, the South Point Education Society said in Kolkata on Friday. "Minor planet 2000 AH52 (citation No. 25629) and minor planet 2000 AT53 (citation No. 25630) will, henceforth, be known as 'Mukherjee' and 'Sarkar', respectively," it said. The two planets were discovered on January 4, 2000, by Lincoln Laboratory Near-Earth Asteroid Research team at Socorro under its Linear programme, a release said.

A minor planet is an astronomical object in direct orbit around the Sun that is neither a dominant planet nor a comet. Since 1801, more than two lakh minor planets have been discovered mostly in the asteroid belt. The two students have just passed the Higher Secondary examination from the school.

Source: Hindustan Times, July 10, 2010

Friday, July 09, 2010

UGC grants now for private university students

Students in self-universities and colleges may soon be eligible for a large number of University Grants Commission (UGC) fellowships and scholarships that at present are open only to students from institutions receiving government grants. The UGC has proposed allowing students from private universities benefits like the Junior Research Fellowship (JRF) and the Post Graduate Merit Scholarship, top government officials revealed. The Indira Gandhi Scholarship for girls, the Rajiv Gandhi National Fellowship for scheduled caste (SC) and scheduled tribe (ST) students, and post-doctoral fellowships for SC/ST candidates are some of the other UGC grants for which private college students will be eligible. "We are okay with this proposal. The more the number of beneficiaries, the better", said a senior official of the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD).

The MHRD had earlier turned down a proposal from the UGC to provide grants to private and self-financing institutions, the official said. The ministry had argued that the UGC should concentrate on funding government institutions apart from selective grants to private institutions for specific purposes. The UGC then revised its proposal to keep out direct grants to these institutions. Under the new proposal, the UGC will reimburse private and self-financing institutions the amount they provide as fellowships and scholarships to their students. Estimates suggest that tens of thousands of students study in private institutions at present. The government does not want to keep them outside the net of UGC benefits, sources said.

Source: Hindustan Times, July 9, 2010

HRD Minister reaches out to plan panel for model schools

Union Human Resource Development (HRD) Minister Kapil Sibal is making last-ditch efforts to resolve differences between his ministry and the Planning Commission over a plan for public-private partnerships (PPP) in schooling that is struggling to take off three years after a prime ministerial announcement. HRD Minister Sibal has called a meeting on Friday of an expert panel for drafting a blueprint for PPP in schooling, to try and hammer out a consensus amid sharp differences.

The ministry has already drafted a note on the plan for the expenditure finance committee (EFC) but Gajendra Haldea, Advisor to Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Dr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia, has raised objections, top sources have told Hindustan Times. "Unlike Kamal Nath, the HRD minister appears keen to avoid a confrontation with the Planning Commission and instead work towards consensus", a source said, referring to a comment on Monday by Roads and Transport Minister Nath that the plan panel was little more than an "armchair advisor".

The plan revolves around a proposal to start 2,500 model schools through the PPP mode, announced by the PM in 2007 Independence Day speech. These schools are planned as exemplars for other nearby schools to model themselves on. But the government is yet to finalise even a blueprint for the PPP model schools with just two years left of the 11th Five Year Plan the project was meant for.

"If we fail to arrive at a consensus soon, the HRD ministry will have to take a call - either to ramrod a proposal, or to postpone the project at least till the 12th Five Year Plan", a Planning Commission source said. A sub-group under Haldea had proposed a model for the PPP schools that is likely to cost over Rs. 150,000 crores (Rs. 1500 billion) over the next 18 years. This model was opposed by the ministry, which proposed an alternate model costing significantly less but also catering to fewer students.

Source: Hindustan Times, July 9, 2010

Thursday, July 08, 2010

HRD Minister and IIT Directors on collision course

The Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) and Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) seem headed for a confrontation over drastic examination reforms proposed by a panel of IIT directors. The ministry is unlikely to allow the IITs a two-tier entrance exam structure, as proposed by a panel headed by IIT-Kharagpur Director Damodar Acharya, sources told Hindustan Times. HRD minister Kapil Sibal had appointed the panel to explore the possibility of replacing the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) and other engineering exams held across the country with a single entrance test, with the focus on "general aptitude" and not knowledge of specific subjects.

The two-tier structure suggested by the IITs comprises a common aptitude test and an additional test for those who cross the first hurdle. The additional test was proposed to accommodate the faculty, who are against scrapping the JEE. Over 1,300 IIT alumni too have petitioned the government against abolishing the JEE. "If IITs conduct second-tier test, similar demands will come from other institutes. This defeats the whole point of a single test", a ministry source said.

The IIT directors will now meet on July 10 to come up with a solution, sources said. "We have to find a middle path acceptable both to the IIT community and Centre", a director said. In its interim report, the panel had suggested that 70 per cent weightage be given to Class XII Board exam marks and 30 per cent to the common aptitude test. But it had also said it needed further consultations with stakeholders and may finetune its recommendations. After the faculty opposed scrapping JEE, the panel suggested an additional test. It hoped JEE could continue as this additional test, sources said.

Source: Hindustan Times, July 8, 2010

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

British job market bleak for fresh graduates

An estimated 500,000 British graduates are about to join the queue for jobs this year, but the market has become tougher with employers raising the bar for minimum education qualifications. Most employers in Britain will not be recruiting graduates with lower than a 2:1 pass degree, equivalent to a second class honours degree with 60 per cent marks or above. Latest research by the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) reveals that eight out of 10 British employers have slapped a ban on recruiting anyone without a 2:1 degree because of the current job squeeze. The research, based on a survey of the job market for 2010, shows that at present there are 69 candidates on an average for each job. The survey, which took in 199 of the country's largest graduate recruiters, said that they were offering 17,920 graduate jobs this year, 6.9 percent fewer than last year.

This year, 686,600 graduates have applied for jobs. They include 420,000 from the class of 2010. The remaining are those left unemployed from the class of 2009 and another 40,000 who failed to find jobs for two years in a row, the survey says. The AGR report expects the job market to plummet further.

The sectors facing the biggest drop in vacancies include fast-moving consumer goods -- supermarket and consumer electronic goods -- (down 45.4 per cent), IT and retail (both down 31.4 per cent). However, sectors seeing a rise in vacancies include banking and financial services (up 72 per cent after a massive collapse last year) and insurance (up 53.3 per cent).

Chief executive of AGR Carl Gilleard said on the company website: "Recruiters are under intense pressure this year dealing with a huge number of applications from graduates for a diminishing pool of jobs". On the issue of the raised bar on educational qualifications, he said: "We are encouraging our members to look beyond the degree classification when narrowing down the field of candidates to manageable proportions".

Universities minister David Willetts posted his reaction to the AGR survey on a government news website, News Distribution Service: "The job market remains challenging for new graduates, as it does for others. But a degree is still a good investment in the long term, and graduates have a key role to play in helping Britain out of the recession".

Source: Hindustan Times, July 7, 2010

India seeks to insulate education from political interference

India has said that it will make attempts to insulate its education policies from political interference as done by Indonesia. Minister of State for Human Resources Development, Daggubati Purandeswari said this in an interview to Nigerian newspaper Thisday in Abuja on the sidelines of a meeting of education ministers from countries with highest number of world's illiterate people. According to Purandeswari, one of the benefits of the conference is to learn about the best practices in other countries. India was selected as the next host of the summit in 2012.

She explained that the minister from Indonesia said they have fashioned their literacy programme in such a way that it is insulated from political interference and change in the country. "We will now look at how Indonesia was able to achieve this and learn from it", she said. She advocated that the countries like India, China, Egypt, Indonesia, Nigeria, Mexico, Bangladesh, Brazil and Pakistan ought to accept the challenge bearing in mind that they are home to very large population.

"If we're able to address these challenges and make a change in our own countries, we will make a change globally because that is the change that will affect a large number of people. Rather than feel bad, I think we should feel rather challenged about the issues that we have", Purandeswari said. She said India's achievement since the last E-9 meeting in Indonesia include the revamping of the entire literacy vision by reaching out to the most hard-to-reach segments of the society. The minister called this decentralisation which involves making some elected village representatives part of the programme.

The E-9 countries represent 54 per cent of the world's population and 67 per cent of its non-literates. At the end of the session, the participating ministers had released an Abuja Framework for Action and Cooperation and re-affirmed the value of mutual cooperation among E-9 countries and with other countries within the South-South and South-South-North (triangular) framework. The meeting also adopted a broad concept of literacy for development whose sustained use is significant to all aspects of human and socio-economic progress and which is the foundation of lifetime learning.

Source: Hindustan Times, July 7, 2010

Delhi can have its Open University: Kapil Sibal

Delhi is free to set up its own Open University. Human Resource Development (HRD) Minister Kapil Sibal stated this to Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit at a meeting also attended by Delhi Education Minister Arvinder Singh Lovely. Dikshit had expressed concern about the fate of children who scored less than 40 per cent marks in their school-leaving examination as they are not allowed admission into Delhi University's School of Correspondence. A government official told reporters that Sibal said the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) here would be approached to initiate a large vocational education training in Delhi. The minister promised all help to the Delhi government in expanding higher, technical and vocational education in the capital. He expressed concern over the shortage of teachers in the city.

But the city's initiatives to make elementary education more purposeful was appreciated by the minister, the official added. "The HRD ministry also appreciated computerisation in the state's education department, which has been facilitating online teachers' attendance and a separate ID for every child", the official added. The minister promised that Rs. 9 crore (Rs. 90 million) would be provided to the state government to strengthen the State Council Educational Research and Training (SCERT) and District Institute of Education Training (DIET).

Source: Hindustan Times, July 7, 2010

Education loans likely to be capped at 2% above base rate

The government plans to cap the spread on student education loans, crimping banks profitability that may force some to reduce lending, said a person familiar with the development. The interest rates on education loans by banks may be capped at 2% above their respective base rates, which is aimed at lowering the cost of funds for students, said an official at the finance ministry. The move is aimed to continue the support towards the education loan segment, which is a priority area for the government, said the official who did not want to be identified. "If banks have access to low cost deposits, the students should also benefit from the same".

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government has been focussing on improving social infrastructure with investments in education, health care and generating income for poor through rural employment schemes. While some appreciate the measures helping rural incomes, others point out to pilferage and distortion of the labour market with agriculture finding it hard to get labourers. The move could reduce the cost of funds further for students who were set to benefit from the move to the base rate concept from July. Under the new regime, the rate arrived at by every bank is based on their cost of funds below which they cannot lend. Loans under the previous prime lending rate regime were well above 11%. Now, with the base rate between 7 and 8.5% for most banks, the outgo for students may be lower.

But the banks may not be willing to go with the governments diktat. Most banks are already giving a concession of around 50 basis points for select students, or those who get selected in top colleges in their respective streams, said a senior official of a leading public sector bank who did not want to be identified. He was not in favour of a cap on rate of interest. If the cap comes into force, it would be above the Indian Banks Association announced concession of 50 basis points in interest rates for girl students.

Banks fear that their bad loans may rise further who already are handicapped because of lending without collateral for loans up to Rs. 400,000. The 21 public sector banks have a total outstanding education loan of Rs. 34,192 crore (Rs. 341.92 billion) on March 31, 2010, up 24% from a year earlier.

Source: The Economic Times, July 7, 2010

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Lack of funds hold up RTE implementation

Proper implementation of the Right to Education (RTE) may still take some time. The proposal of the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) to hike the Centres share of funds to 75% is stuck due to the Planning Commission. In the face of demands from the states for a higher contribution by the Centre and the analysis undertaken by the Anil Bordia Committee, the MHRD had prepared a note for the Expenditure Finance Committee outlining a new funding pattern for implementing the RTE, with the Centre shouldering 75% and the states 25% of the burden.

At present, the Centres share is at 55%. While other relevant ministries have signalled their willingness to consider a higher share for the Centre, the Planning Commission has not moved on the note. At the recently held state education ministers' conference and the meeting of the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE), states repeatedly said the Centre needs to shoulder a greater financial burden. The states have asked the Centre fork out as much as 90% of the cost.

The states argued that the Right to Education makes the state and local bodies accountable for the implementation, however neither has the financial capacity. Some states like Uttar Pradesh have charged that since the central government takes all the credit for the legislation, it should also ensure that funds are available. The reaction of the states has not come as bolt from the blue.

In pre-notification meetings held by the Bordia Committee, state government representatives made it clear that the states would require additional funds. Most states stressed that all additional costs resulting from the RTE should be borne by the Centre. Bihar, Delhi and Kerala suggested the funding pattern of 90:10 be adopted. Some states such as Jammu and Kashmir maintained that the entire cost should be borne by the Centre. The broad consensus was that states were willing to go along with the 60:40 ratio adopted in 2009-10 as the RTE would result in a huge financial liability for the states.

The Bordia Committee, set up by the MHRD to harmonise the "Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan" and the RTE, suggested pegging the Centres share at 75%. The committee argued that sharing ratio of 55:45 (for the current year) and 50:50 (in 2011-12 ) would be unfavourable to the states as they would have to practically double their allocation.

It was found that at even at current sharing levels of 60:40 for the "Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan" as many as 14 states defaulted on their shares. Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Orissa are among the defaulters. Given the financial backlog and the ensuing infrastructural backlog, it is being suggested that the Centre should provide a higher share.

Some experts say that while a 75:25 sharing pattern would be ideal, given the economic downturn and its impact and the Rs. 25,000 crore (Rs. 250 billion) allocation to states by the Thirteenth Finance Commission, a sharing pattern of 65:35 would also be acceptable.

Source: The Economic Times, July 6, 2010 (Report by Urmi A. Goswami)

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Minister wants clean-up, but HRD bureaucrats don’t

HRD MInister Kapil Sibal may want to clean up corruption in education but his officers are in no hurry to act against others from their fraternity according to the vigilance wing of Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD). In a scathing letter received by officers up to the rank of joint-secretary in the ministry, the vigilance wing of the ministry has said babus (bureaucrats) were “shirking” investigative work following complaints of corruption. Officers are giving "last priority" to vigilance work assigned to them, states the letter which is understood to have been blessed by Sibal, who is keen to make the cleansing of education his signature initiative.

Each union ministry has a vigilance wing that coordinates with the Central Vigilance Commission to probe allegations of corruption and malpractices against central government employees. The vigilance wing then assigns cases to officers in the ministry — not from the vigilance wing — to conduct preliminary enquiries within a month. But officers take months to submit reports on enquiries and sometimes request the vigilance wing to assign the task to other colleagues.

Complaints against former Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan commissioner Ranglal Jamuda, received months before he retired last year, are still to see any outcome, sources said. Complaints against director of Rashtriya Sankrit Sansthan and the Director of IIT-Delhi are also pending.

Officers who have received the letter, however, dismissed suggestions that delay in probing cases was related to a reluctance to probe administrators. “That would be a simplistic and incorrect conclusion to draw. Yes, we may be uncomfortable probing people we know, but we are professionals and try our best to perform tasks assigned to us,” a senior officer said.

HRD ministry officers argue they are as of now overstretched. "You look at our workload today as compared to just two years back, and you would see that it is next to impossible to complete all work on time", another officer said.

The MHRD’s workload has expanded over the past two years, following an increase in the number of institutions and schemes. India has 40 central universities today, as compared to just 25 two years back. It also has to tackle challenges thrown up by the Right to Education law and the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan.

Source: Hindustan Times, July 4, 2010

Friday, July 02, 2010

IIMs to make CAT global

The Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) are quietly working towards expanding their Common Admission Test (CAT) into an international examination to attract students from abroad and compete with the globally-popular Graduate Management Aptitude Test (GMAT). The initiative is a key component of a confidential contract signed between IIMs and Prometric, the American computer-based testing (CBT) service provider. "Prometric will provide CBT services to IIMs in India ... and to IIMs for global expansion of the CAT program", states an agreement signed between the IIMs and the service provider, accessed by one of India's leading daily newspaper Hindustan Times through the Right to Information Act.

The "global expansion" was also a reason why IIM rejected the bid of the Graduate Management Aptitude Council - a non profit body that conducts GMAT - for the computerisation of the CAT. But IIMs have never revealed a vision to pit CAT against GMAT, used by top B-schools in North America and western Europe. "We wanted to keep the project under wraps. No one wants to forewarn competitors", an IIM Director said.

Source: Hindustan Times, July 2, 2010

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Private varsities seek pacts with firms for entry-level training

Educational institutions such as Manipal Group, Thapar University, Amity University and Lovely Professional Univer- sity are offering large firms dedicated, long-term training for their new hires. The Manipal Education and Medical Group (MEMG) already has such a tie-up with India's second largest lender, ICICI Bank Ltd. The ICICI Manipal Academy for Banking and Insurance, floated two years ago, offers a one-year residential programme to train the bank's probationary officers fresh out of college. MEMG is in talks with around a dozen firms in the banking, financial services and insurance, retail, and manufacturing sectors. "Potentially, there is enormous opportunity", said Anand Sudarshan, Managing Director and Chief Executive at MEMG. "We hope to close with at least six of these companies this year". He declined to name the firms.

Officers trained at the ICICI Manipal Academy get a post- graduate diploma in banking and insurance from the Manipal University and join the bank as assistant managers. ICICI pays their fees. So far, 1900 probationary officers have gone through the program. "These initiatives aim to create inclusive opportunities that recognize and nurture the talent from across the country, including smaller towns and cities, and from all strata of society", a spokesperson for ICICI Bank said.

Firms are again hiring in large numbers, but employability remains a problem. According to human resource firm Manpower Inc.'s latest talent shortage survey, 16% of employers in India struggle to fill key positions. "If a company hires 100 people, 25 are very good quality, 25 are average and the rest are just absorbed", said J.S. Neerav, Vice-Chairman of the board of governors of Patiala-based Thapar University. It is in talks with some five firms in manufacturing and information technology. Neerav declined to disclose their names.

Public sector companies, too, are being tapped. K.S. Bains, Director General of Amity Institute of Training and Development, the training arm of Noida-based Amity University, said he is in advanced talks with Steel Authority of India Ltd. and in preliminary discussions with NTPC Ltd., NHPC Ltd. and Central Warehousing Corporation for similar initiatives.

Some experts believe these models are short-term fixes. "Once the economy matures (and companies slow recruiting) these models will vanish", said Rajan Kaicker, Executive Chairman at the South Asian arm of U.S. training and consulting firm Franklin Covey Co. Kaicker says the university-corporate training model will work only with scale and, therefore, for services firms that are process-driven, hire in thousands and suffer from high churn.

The institutions say the key advantage is savings. Partnering with universities lowers training costs for firms by 30-40%, said Aman Mittal, Assistant Director of Jalandhar-based Lovely Professional University, which is in talks with a large retail firm for a co-branded program. Firms opting for this model don't have to invest in physical infrastructure, faculty or creating a curriculum, he added.

That hasn't stopped firms before from spending on improving the quality of their new hires. In 2005, India's second largest software exporter, Infosys Technologies Ltd., set up the world's biggest corporate training centre in Mysore to train around 12,000 freshers a year, investing Rs. 2,055 crore (Indian Rupees 20.55 billion).

Shekar Viswanathan, Deputy Managing Director (Commercial) at Toyota Kirloskar Motor Pvt. Ltd., believes in a mix of the in-house and outsouced models. While the outsourced model gives flexibility and cost advantage it cannot be a cure-all, he said, and added, "Very specific training has to be done in-house...soft skills can be outsourced".

Source: Mint, July 1, 2010

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