Friday, September 30, 2011

Prometric opens test centres, may go solo in conducting CAT

US-headquartered test-conducting firm Prometric Inc. opened its own test centres in India, paving the way for the company going solo in holding the Common Admission Test (CAT) for the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs). The company said, however, that “it will not drop its partners” in the near future. These include Everonn Education Ltd. and MeritTrac.

“We have now opened two centres of our own—managed and administered entirely by Prometric—unlike other centres which are of third-party vendors,” said Soumitra Roy, Managing Director of Prometric India. “We don’t know about the future, but will continue to expand our network.” Prometric, which has been conducting CAT online for the IIMs since 2009, is doing so in association with Everonn and Manipal education group-promoted MeritTrac.

Roy said the situation at Everonn is being closely monitored. The Indian company’s managing director P. Kishore is in judicial custody in an alleged tax evasion and bribery case. Roy also said that he didn’t want to associate an individual with the entire system. “We will take appropriate action at the appropriate time,” he said, without elaborating. Roy didn’t comment on a question over whether there was a conflict of interest in Everonn entering the management test-preparation business while being involved in conducting CAT for IIMs.

Prometric’s move was a sign of its ambitions for India, said Bharat Gulia, Senior Manager (Education Practice) at Ernst and Young. “They have a bigger and better bet on the Indian market. It’s a long-term view,” he said. “The online testing segment is growing bigger in the country and a firm like Prometric looks for a bigger share.”

The new centres have been opened in Gurgaon and Hyderabad—the first can accommodate 226 candidates in one sitting and the second 284. They will start operations this year. They are “state-of-the-art centres that will cater to global demand”, Roy said, without giving investment details. “They will be the benchmark for other test centres run by our partners.”

The first edition of the online CAT led to a flood of criticism owing to technical glitches and virus attacks that disrupted the testing process and affected thousands of candidates. Their protests forced the IIMs to go in for another round of exams. The 2010 CAT, however, went off smoothly.

The new centres, equipped with the latest technology and back-up systems, will end any apprehensions that students have, Roy said. The new centres may help the IIMs in their bid to make CAT a global test, a point that Roy also made. Besides, CAT this year is something of a “super exam” with the results determining admission for some non-IIMs as well. These include the management schools of the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), the Faculty of Management Studies, the Delhi School of Economics and Mudra Institute of Communications, Ahmedabad, all of which have scrapped their own entrance exams.

The setting up of the new centres was welcomed by Janakiraman Moorthy, professor at IIM-Calcutta, and CAT-2011 convenor. “It will help IIMs scale up things in future,” he said. Prometric “may go solo in future for conducting CAT”.

The move may help Prometric in its bid to gain a bigger share of the growing Indian education market that has drawn overseas companies such as Pearson Education​, which has acquired local firm TutorVista, besides setting up a joint venture with Educomp Solutions Ltd for skill education called IndiaCan.

“India’s education system is becoming more international in scope,” Roy said. “The modernization of India’s approach to testing and evaluation is a critical component to ensuring that the Indian workforce continues to be seen as highly-trained, highly-productive and reliable... It is more critical than ever to enforce high security standards that assure fair testing experiences across the board.”

Source: Mint, September 30, 2011

There will always be a surprise element in the CAT pattern

Probably the only thing predictable about the Common Admission Test (CAT) is that it's unpredictable. The computer-based CAT, introduced in 2009, is going along the same lines - there will be changes in format again this year. ET spoke with CAT convenor Janakiraman Moorthy to understand the reasons behind the changes. Excerpts:

What are the changes in the computer-based CAT this year?
CAT 2011 will have only two sections. The first section will focus on Quantitative Ability & Data Interpretation; the second on Verbal Ability & Logical Reasoning. These two sections will be implemented sequentially with separate time limits. The examination will be held for 140 minutes.

Candidates will have 70 minutes to answer 30 questions within each section, which will have an on-screen countdown timer. Once the time ends for the first section, they will move to the second and will no longer be able to go back. Although new in the computer-based version of CAT, this format was practised in some of the earlier paper-and-pencil years.

But doesn't this curtail candidates' flexibility?
The reason we have reduced the number of sections from three to two is because we want students who are equally competent in quantitative and verbal ability. Till last year, we have seen many students with a skewed efficiency. The reason for the 'timed' sections is that CAT-takers spend most of their time on areas they are strong in. This leads to a skewed score. They get high percentage owing to the fact that they have spent much time in their strong section, but on the other hand the sectional scores vary a lot. We have kept this in mind while changing the exam pattern.

Since its introduction, CAT has seen changes in its pattern every year. Will this practice continue?
There will always be a surprise element in CAT. However, for the past few years, we have been announcing the changes well in advance. The structure will be the same but there could be minor improvements.

The idea behind introducing the computer-based test was that CAT would become like GMAT - candidates can take the test anytime during the year. Do you see that happening in the near future?
Such options are open. This year, though, is more of a consolidation year for us. We are evaluating various possibilities of making CAT more convenient for students, especially those who are working.

The number of candidates taking CAT has been decreasing over the past two years. Do you expect the number to rise this year?
The reason for the dip in numbers vary - the economy, placements, technical glitches in the first year of computer-based CAT, to name a few. But things are looking up. Students are much more familiar with the computer-based CAT. This year, three test centres have been added - Bhilai, Dehradun and Jammu. Axis Bank has also increased the number of branches to 201 so that it is easier for candidates to access CAT vouchers.

Source: The Economic Times (Online Edition), September 30, 2011

Thursday, September 29, 2011

IIT CAT 2013: Hard lessons for private coaching centres

The proposed common admission test format for the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and National Institutes of Technology (NITs), could prove to be a damper for the Rs. 10,000-crore (Rs. 100 billion) coaching industry.

Come 2013, the existing marking system will be replaced with one where the focus will be on the performance at the board exams. Candidates will be chosen, based on their ranks in the board exams and the number of students who appear for the exam under the concerned board. “For example, a student from CBSE would get more points for being ranked fourth, than a student from the West Bengal Board,” said Gautam Barua, Director, IIT Guwahati.

At present, IIT aspirants appear for the IIT-Joint Entrance Exam (IIT-JEE), which takes into account a student’s capabilities in physics, chemistry and mathematics (PCM). Board exams or class-XII results do not play a role in the final marking system. A student has to, however, score a minimum 60 per cent to qualify for the examination. Over 1.5 million students appear for the exams every year.

He said the idea behind changing the exam format “was to strike at the root of the coaching system that has gripped the country”. “We want these coaching classes to be transformed into schools,” he said, adding that the new format will encourage students to earn merit at the Plus-2 level. “The best way to do it, would be by encouraging students to perform better at the board exams.”

Coaching centres will, therefore, have to change their approach, said experts. For instance, Gautam Puri, Managing Director of Career Launcher, one of India’s better-known coaching institutions, said students will focus more on the overall package of subjects rather than just the PCM combination. “The way students prepare for the exams will change. Instead of focusing on the PCM, they will study everything. It will directly impact residential coaching institutions, which offer the code for cracking the earlier PCM-based exam. This kind of a coaching system will not be needed for just an aptitude test.”

At present, there are three types of examinations to apply for an engineering course — the IIT JEE for IITs, the All India Joint Entrance Exam (AIJEE) for other government engineering colleges besides the IITs, and the state board engineering exams for state engineering colleges.

The residential coaching programmes that Puri refered to are estimated to be a Rs. 400-500 crore (Rs. 4-5 billion) industry in Kota, a small town in Rajasthan, with a burgeoning student population. Over 70,000 students arrive in Kota to prepare for the entrance exams. While coaching institutions like the Forum for IIT-JEE chose to downplay saying it is too erealy to pass a judgment on the potential impact of the change, others like Pramod Maheshwari, MD and CEO of Kota-based Career Point, echoed Puri’s views.

“Now that Class XII board exam marks will also be taken into consideration, there will be a lot of competition to secure good marks in these exams. In this case, expert coaching will still be there. But, though the coaching modules would be modified as per the requirements, I believe there the business would be affected temporarily,” said Maheshwari.

Others, however, said the new exam format will merely mean a change in the coaching syllabi. “The analysis that students study only for the exam and not for their boards is incorrect. Over the past five years, the average IITian has a board exam percentage of over 80 per cent. Good students will continue to look for help. As long as that happens, it will be business as usual,” said P K Bansal, CEO, Bansal Institute. Kota-based Bansal Institute gets over 12,000 students every year an average and the annual fees per student is Rs. 70,000.

The idea behind the change in the format, which was taken at the meeting of the IIT Council last week, was to curb the growing coaching culture. Terming the coaching system as a “racket”, Sanjay Govind Dhande, Director, IIT Kanpur, had observed that the entrance examination system had to change.

Source: Business Standard, September 29, 2011

Mumbai calling: Harvard provides the answers

US-based Harvard University has, in principle, agreed to partner with the Maharashtra government to provide training for its elected representatives, bureaucrats, executives and academicians on issues relating to governance and development. This will be the first time Harvard University has agreed to be part of such a venture in Maharashtra. The university expressed its desire in this regard during its recent interaction with a high-level delegation led by Maharashtra's minister for higher and technical education Rajesh Tope.

Sanjay Kumar, higher and technical education secretary, who was part of the delegation, told Business Standard: “We kept all four proposals for consideration of Harvard University which include training for elected representatives, propelling of a quality research programme in Mumbai University and other universities in Maharashtra, and the university's engagement in the development of a world class traning institute and using its expertise in the resource mobilisation for the education sector.”

With Harvard University giving an “in principle approval” to take part in the project, the government will submit a detailed proposal which will be cleared by the university's board of directors. He said the state government would provide the necessary funds for the same.

Harvard University has also agreed to be associated in a capacity-building exercise for Mumbai University and other institutions in the state. “The objective is to build capacity of the stakeholders in higher education, including vice chancellors and academician administrators,” said Kumar. According to Kumar, Harvard University also responded positively to help the state government in setting up a world-class training centre. “Harvard University's in-principle approval is the result of the government's regular interaction with its officials.”

The move comes at a time when the Centre is yet to pass the Foreign Education Bill which would allow foreign universities to have campuses in India. Union human resource development minister Kapil Sibal had tabled the much-awaited Foreign Education Institutions (Regulation of Entry And Operations) Bill, 2010 in the Lok Sabha on May 3, 2010. The Bill is aimed at regulating the entry and operation of foreign educational institutions which are imparting, or intend to impart, higher education in India. It will also permits foreign education providers to set up campuses in he country and offer degree courses. The Bill will not only bring in the much needed investment in the education sector, but will also draw foreign students and help India arrest brain drain.

Harvard has had a long association with India. Harvard Business School, for instance, has been conducting executive education or management development programmes in India since 2008, but out of five-star hotels. It has also been planning to have a classroom of its own for its executive education programmes. Indian corporate honchos, including Ratan Tata and Anand Mahindra, were reported to be helping the top institute find one.

HBS, which is ranked higher than all Indian B-schools, is looking for a permanent classroom is and that is likely to put more pressure on executive education programmes offered by Indian B-schools. On an average, such programmes comprise around 35 per cent of the revenue stream for most leading B-schools in the country.

Source: Business Standard, September 29, 2011

Higher education subsidy plan misses target

An ambitious scheme to make higher-education loans more attractive to poor students has failed to achieve its target because of inadequate marketing and the lack of coordination between various agencies.

The scheme was launched in 2010 by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) and gives full interest subsidy (a student will not have to pay the interest for the loan he or she avails) to students from families earning less than Rs. 450,000 a year. The interest subsidy is valid for the length of the course the student is enrolled for as well as a moratorium of either one year or six months after employment, whichever is earlier.

An HRD ministry document says that only 40% of the budgeted amount was used in FY2011. “In the previous financial year, a total of claim of sum of Rs. 203.28 crore (Rs. 2.03 billion) was reimbursed to Canara Bank​ out of the total budget of Rs. 500 crore (Rs. 5 billion),” says the document, a copy of which has been reviewed by Mint.

Canara Bank is the nodal agency for the subsidy scheme, following a decision by the Indian Banks’ Association (IBA). Other banks lending to students under the scheme can claim the subsidy from Canara Bank, which in turn gets reimbursed by the MHRD. The MHRD has allocated a budget of Rs. 640 crore (Rs. 6.4 billion) this fiscal for the subsidy scheme.

“Proper utilization of the fund requires coordination among banks, state governments and the MHRD,” the ministry note added. A MHRD official said the scheme has not received enough attention because of poor awareness and lack of support from banks and state governments. “Till recently less than 15 states have notified a designated authority who can give students an income certificate,” the official said, requesting anonymity. He refused to name the states. The official added that though interest rates on education loan are higher than those for vehicle and home loans, some banks hesitate to sanction education loans, branding them “risky”. Another official in the MHRD said the ministry has informed the finance ministry and IBA about this and “hopes to see a better result by the end of this year”.

India wants to increase its higher education enrolment by nearly 30 million in a decade. Currently around 15 million studying for college degrees in India, around 12.4% of those eligible. Of these, less than one-tenth take student loans, according to official data.

Geeta Bhukal, education minister of Haryana, said the scheme is good but it needs wider publicity. “Many don’t know how to avail (of the loans). The publicity has to be much more prominent,” she said. However, the minister said that she is not sure whether her state has notified any designated authority for the scheme or not. “I need to check it.” An official with Central Bank of India​ said that many states are yet to notify a designate authority for issuing the income certificate, which is posing problem. “It’s a cumbersome process to lodge claims as all the data has to be collated from all the branches by the central office and then passed to Canara Bank,” he said, requesting not to be named as he is not authorised to speak to media.

A Canara bank official, who too did not want to be named, said the figures are provisional as they had given banks’ time till 31 August to claim the subsidy. “We are providing sufficient publicity but the main issue is that many of the states are yet to notify the authority who can issue the income certificate to the eligible candidates”, he said. “We are still collating the data and the final amount could be more than Rs. 200 crore (Rs. 2 billion)”, he added.

A finance ministry official said his ministry has asked “banks to promptly inform loan seekers meeting the income criterion that they are eligible for the subsidy. Most banks are doing it. But there are a few instances where this is not happening.”

Source: Mint, September 29, 2011

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

ISB Hyderabad to set up incubator for entrepreneurs

Hyderabad-based Indian School of Business (ISB) is all set to establish an entrepreneurship incubator for its students, alumni and even outsiders. The institute only has a virtual incubator, called K-Hub, at present, which supports the start-ups and growth of high technology ventures.

“With more than 20% of the students being involved in entrepreneurship in some way or the other, there is huge growth happening in this area. Hence, we are working on a physical incubator model,” said Prof. Kavil Ramachandran, professor of family business and entrepreneurship at ISB.

The incubator, which will take at least one year to come into being, will help those with an entrepreneurial bent of mind, those who run family businesses and others who want to set up their own ventures by mentoring them through the start-up and growth phases. Besides idea validation, the incubator will help in business plan preparation, strategy creation and business development support.

The current K-Hub is a hybrid business incubator created in collaboration with the Andhra Pradesh government. It provides virtual incubation support to new and emerging SMEs. Through specialised mentoring, the programme aims to accelerate growth and self-sufficiency of these enterprises. More than 100 SMEs have already benefitted from the programme.

“Setting up the physical incubator is a priority item for the institute and it will be based on the virtual incubator model,” said Ramachandran. The incubator will be initially set up at ISB’s Hyderabad campus and may be extended to its upcoming Mohali campus later.

Source: The Financial Express, September 27, 2011

India hopes to achieve WHO’s doctor-people ratio by 2028

India will take at least 17 more years before it can reach the World Health Organization's (WHO) recommended norm of one doctor per 1,000 people. The Planning Commission's high-level expert group (HLEG) on universal health coverage (UHC) - headed by Dr. K. Srinath Reddy - has predicted the availability of one allopathic doctor per 1,000 people by 2028. It has suggested setting up 187 medical colleges in 17 high focus states during the 12th and 13th Five-Year Plans to achieve the target.

HLEG estimates that the number of allopathic doctors registered with the Medical Council of India (MCI) has increased since 1974 to 612,000 in 2011 - a ratio of one doctor for 1,953 people or a density of 0.5 doctors per 1,000 people. The nation has a density of one medical college per 3.84 million. There are 315 medical colleges that are located in 188 of 642 districts.

There is only one medical college for a population of 11.5 million in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh (9.5 million), Madhya Pradesh (7.3 lmillion) and Rajasthan (6.8 million). Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu each have one medical college for a population of 1.5 million, 1.6 million and 1.9 million, respectively.

The HLEG has proposed a phased addition of 187 colleges. It expects that by 2015 under phase A, 59 new medical colleges will admit students in 15 states like Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Meghalaya, Orissa, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. By 2017, 13 of these states will have an additional 70 medical colleges, and by 2022, another 58 institutes will be built in two additional phases (2017-2020 and 2020-2022).

By 2022, India will have one medical college per 2.5 million population in all states except Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. The implementation of HLEG's recommendations will enable the additional availability of 102,000 doctors by 2017, and another 190,000 doctors between 2017 and 2022. "With this rate of growth, it is expected that the HLEG target of one doctor per 1,000 will be achieved by 2028," the report says.

It recommends that along with establishment of new medical colleges, the admission capacities of existing colleges in the public sector should also be increased. Partnerships with the private sector should be encouraged, with conditional reservation of 50% of seats for local candidates, fixed admission fees and government reimbursement of fees for local candidates. The revised MBBS curriculum proposed by the MCI (Medical Council of India) should be refined to put greater focus on preventive, promotive and rehabilitative healthcare.

"Measures such as a compulsory posting of one year for all MBBS graduates immediately after internship, with 10% extra marks weightage for one year of rural service and 20% extra marks for two years of rural service in the post-graduate entrance examination should be included," the report suggests.

The World Health Statistics Report (2011) says, the density of doctors in India is six for a population of 10,000. India is ranked 52 among 57 countries facing human resource crunch in healthcare. Between 2001 and 2005, India had a doctor: population ratio of 0.5 per 1,000 population in comparison to 0.3 in Thailand, Sri Lanka (0.4), China (1.6), the UK (5.4), the US (5.5) and Cuba (5.9).

The nation has the largest number of medical colleges in the world, with an annual churning rate of over 30,000 doctors and 18,000 specialists. However, the average annual output is 100 graduates per medical college in comparison to 110 in North America, Central Europe (125), Western Europe (149) and Eastern Europe (220). China, which has 188 colleges, produces 1,75, 000 doctors annually, with an average of 930 graduates per institute.

Source: The Times of India, September 27, 2011

IITs gear up for a bright start to placements; first-time hirers queue up

India Inc. may well be treading with caution on hiring this year, but on the campuses of India's premier Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), there is an air of optimism around final placements. Registrations at IIT-Bombay, Delhi and Madras outshine or maintain last year's numbers, and first-time hirers are pouring in for placements, scheduled in December. "Companies are upbeat and there is no reason hiring will stop; in fact it may even increase," says Kushal Sen, Placement Head, IIT-Delhi. Over 150 companies have registered with IIT Delhi as of September 22.

A similar number of firms had registered last year. IIT Madras currently has 100 firms registered in their placement portal compared with last year's 60, says Ramesh Babu, Placement Head. Foreign companies such as Japan's NTT Communications and Infoaxe from the US, have registered for the first time this year. Among the Indian first-timers are FMC Technologies , Broadcom India, MN Dastur, eGain, Essex Lake Group and Tribi Systems. NIIT University wants to hire PhD students, says Babu. Finisar from Malaysia, which hired last year, has confirmed this year as well.

Singapore's Sumitomo has been visiting the campus since 2009 and has also registered this year. Company profiles reveal that global salaries can go up to as much as $60,000, says Babu. R&D and engineering firm King Abdullaziz from Saudi Arabia, which had hired students for 96,000 Saudi riyals last year, is yet to register, but the institute is hopeful. At IIT-Bombay, 100 companies had registered till August, and by December, the institute expects to cross last year's 250-mark.

Ravi Sinha, Placement Head, did not divulge the names of the companies, but expects firms from Japan, Korea, North America and few European nations. Work Applications, a Japanese enterprise resource management firm, has approached IIT-Bombay for the first time, says Sinha. Companies that are interested in hiring students from the IITs expected to get the requisite approvals from the placement committee and then sign into the placement portals. They have to mention the job profile, location and salary, based on which students can decide which firm's interview to take.

All those who register do not necessarily come for the placements , which last till June. Not just the IITs, but Kolkata-based Jadavpur University too has its share of first-timers - Tokyo-headquartered IT firm Job Tessio and Abu Dhabi's iron and steel firm Al Ghurair Group are in the process of selecting students. The Japanese firm is expected to offer Rs. 3.1 million per year while the latter will take care of accommodation, food and travel expenses of its employees, besides paying a salary of Rs. 360,000, according to Siddharth Bhattacharya, officer of placement and training.

Source: The Economic Times, September 27, 2011

Private engineering colleges mull 15-30% fee hike

Less than 10 days after the council of Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) announced a four-fold increase in fees, private engineering colleges are mulling a hike of 15 to 30 per cent. Kolkata-based Institute of Engineering Management (IEM), for instance, has plans to hike fees from the current Rs. 70,000 to Rs. 110,000 yearly.

“Based on just the fees, the expenditure at an IIT student is pegged at about Rs. 250,000 yearly,” points out Dipak Chatterjee, Director, Kolkata-based Institute of Engineering Management (IEM). “Of this, till now Rs. 200,000 will be government subsidies. How can they, then, expect us to provide quality engineers at less than Rs. 70,000 yearly?”

He says most other private engineering colleges in the state are soon likely to follow suit. “We will approach the state government for up to a 40 per cent increase in fees once the plans for hiking the fees in the IITs are finalised,” adds Chatterjee.

The story is similar at Bangalore’s RV College of Engineering, one of the better known engineering institutions. Its trust is planning a fee hike from the current Rs. 75,000 to Rs. 125,000 per student per year. “Currently,” says principal B S Satyanarayana, “45 per cent of the students pay up to Rs. 30,000, 5 per cent pay no fees and 50 per cent pay about Rs. 75,000. We are going to ask the higher band to be increased to Rs. 125,000 from the next session.”

Even Ahmedabad-based Nirma Institute of Technology (NIT) recently hiked its fee from Rs. 240,000 to nearly Rs, 300,000 for all its four-year engineering degree courses, including mechanical, electronics and electrical steams. According to an institute source, the fee hike was a “routine move”. It has “nothing to do with what IITs did”.

Over 60 private engineering colleges in the western state have been demanding a hike in fees for more than a year now, citing issues of increasing expenditure and need to expand. The move to hike the fees in IITs is expected to give more teeth to the demand. But the fee hike, when implemented, is likely to have to a stronger impact given that while the all 15 IITs put together have about 10,000 seats, private engineering colleges have over 500,000 seats across more than 2,200 institutions.

That fees hike in private engineering colleges is a contentious issue is well documented. The Karnataka government had set up the B. Padmaraj Committee to recommend the formula for fee hike in Karnataka. The state, incidentally, is the second largest producer of engineers in India and has over 100,000 seats across 200 institutions.

“The approved student teacher ratio set by the AICTE [All India Council of Technical Research] is 15/1,” points out Satyanarayana. “The target ratio set by the IITs, is 10/1. For private engineering colleges to achieve the IIT target ratio, the annual fees should at least by Rs. 125,000 yearly.”

Another director, of a leading engineering college in Bangalore, says increasing the fees has become a matter of compulsion, following the order to implement the Sixth Paying Commission salaries. According to current rules, private engineering colleges can hike fees subject to the state government’s approval. However, according to industry experts, there are ways to work around the rules, given the fact that fees figures as reflected on balance sheets are often augmented by research and infrastructure expenses among others.

“If one talks about just expenditures,” reveals Ajay Antony, Director, IIT JEE and AIEEE, at TIME Institute, “a student at a private engineering college spends up to 30,000 more yearly by way of expenses as compared to an IIT. Just 40 per cent of the overall expense incurred by the student goes toward fees. Nevertheless more hike will inevitably follow.”

Source: Business Standard, September 27, 2011

Monday, September 26, 2011

UNSW: ‘Want to partner Indian varsities, not compete against them’

University of New South Wales (UNSW), Australia, is exploring partnership opportunities with top Indian educational institutions and businesses. While it does not intend to open an India campus or offer tailored corporate degrees, it is looking at research avenues in collaboration with centres of academic excellence in the country. On his recent visit to India to meet leading institutions and government representatives, UNSW President and Vice-Chancellor, Fred Hilmer, spoke to Piyali Mandal & Nivedita Mookerji about student safety on Australian campuses, competition from other countries in the race for being a popular overseas education destination and visa reforms, among other things. Edited excerpts:

Do you think the recent incidents of attacks on Indian students in Australia have had an adverse impact on the latter as an education destination?
The media reports were quite damaging. They were based on relatively few incidents. The negative sentiment is unfortunate. When you are here, Australia is invisible. You see it as one place. However, in reality, it is a very big and diverse country. At our campus, we have had no issues regarding students’ safety. A word-of-mouth from the people who have been at our campus is very important. You know, these things happen and you have to live with them. We will have to continue telling our story.

Has there been any backlash? Has the number of students gone down since the incidents?
The number was certainly higher earlier. Earlier, India was number four in terms of students’ enrollment. It has now slipped to the fifth spot.

What initiatives have you taken to instill confidence in people vis-à-vis education in Australia?
We are talking to educational institutions, agents and the government here. I hope they will get a better sense of things and realise that Australia is a good place to study. We are working with different government organisations regarding the flow of students back and forth. We have had anumber of conversations. During this visit, I am meeting the secretary of higher education and representatives from the University Grants Commission.

We have worked very closely with the Australian government on the student visa programme. The new recommendations will support high quality students. A favourable student visa programme is a critical part of the Australian policy. There is nothing stronger than the students studying in Australia going back to their country and vice versa.

What is the proportion of Indian students studying in your university on full fee? Do you propose to increase the number of scholarships?
Usually, most students from India are on full fee. Yes, we are looking at increasing the number of scholarships. We would moderately increase these for research programmes.

The US and the UK remain among the most favoured destinations for Indian students. Where does Australia stand in comparison? In addition, do you see any threat from Asian countries like Singapore?

Australia fell back a little after the bad publicity. I think we are seeing strong interest again. Every country has its own problems. I just came back from the UK, which is very troubled. In the US, funding for a number of universities is being cut. Australia has a relatively strong position. Our government is increasing funding for education. Moreover, when you pass out of college, you can get a job in the country. The Australian economy is good; they (students) will not find it difficult to get a job. As far as Singapore is concerned, we do not see it as a threat. Asian students like the experience of studying in Australia. It gives them a truly international experience.

What kind of collaborations are you looking at in India?
We are an MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) style university. So, the bulk of our collaborations would be in science and technology. We have a collaboration with the Prasad Rao Eye Institute. We are meeting officials from the Indian Institute of Science and expect some collaboration there. We are also working on a Masters of Public Health programme in collaboration with the Christian Medical University, Vellore. We had a number of discussions with Kapil Sibal, the education minister. We are also in talks with the IITs and IIMs. We are at an initial stage of discussion with IIM-Ahmedabad, for partnership around our flagship MBA programme.

Is there any timeline for these initiatives?
We plan to start such programmes in the next two-three years.

You talked about educational institutes. What about the corporate sector? Are you planning to collaborate with them as well?
We will hold discussions with corporate India in November. Our team is setting up a series of meetings with top-end corporate and industry leaders here. We are looking at building internship models. Under these, our students will have access to the corporate across India. However, we will not do any tailored corporate degree. It is very unlikely. We might conduct such courses in partnership with Indian educational institutes, but not with a corporate entity.

You are so bullish on the Indian education sector. Are you planning to open a campus in India?
We believe in the partnership model. Universities, by nature, are local and we do better when we work with other universities like partners. It is mutually beneficial. Education is not a business. It is not a business market. The sector is generally very heavily regulated. We want to collaborate with universities and not compete against them to get more students.

You have seen the corporate world closely during your association with Fairfax and Pacific Powers, among others. What is your take on the Australian business engagement in India?
These are still early days. India and Australia had been a bit off each other’s radar for some time. There is enormous opportunity in the information technology and energy sector, among others. The build-up will come from the history of engagement in education.

You were one of the architects of competition reforms in Australia, which later became the role model for the Competition Commission of India. Your thoughts on that?
If you look at the benefits of pursuing these (competitive reforms) aggressively and holistically, they are very significant. In the late 80s and early 90s, Australia had lower economic growth than the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. Then, if you look at growth in the early 90s and through the early part of this century — the period we did all the competitive regulation — we grew above them consistently and had inflation below the OECD rate. So, the virtue is dual, that of good growth and low inflation.

You have to have a longterm view. Even as we started the process of reforms in the late 80s, we were able to bring in a lot of the laws only in the early 90s and it took some years. But, if you look back, if you have a 15-20 years’ view, this is probably one of the most significant areas of economic reforms we have undertaken.

What lesson should India draw from all this?
The lesson for India is to be patient and stay on course.

Source: Business Standard, September 26, 2011

Planning Commission backs shortened medical degree for rural areas

The controversial three-and-a-half year long medical degree --- Bachelor of Rural Medicine and Surgery (BRMS) --- has now got the backing of Planning Commission's all powerful high level expert group on universal health coverage.

The panel has in its report (finalized on Sunday and available with TOI) "endorsed" the all new BRMS cadre and said that as a career progression incentive, they should be promoted to the level of public health officers after 10 years of service.

According to the panel, by 2022, India should actually have BRMS colleges in all districts with populations of over 500,000. The course should focus on "high quality of competence in preventive, promotive and rehabilitative services required for rural populations with focus on primary health care."

It also recommended that it should be mandated through legislation that a graduate of the BRMS programme is licensed to serve only in specific notified areas in the government health system. The panel however was clear that the BRMS was not a mini-MBBS but rather a unique training programme aimed at the basic health care needs of its target population.

According to the Union health ministry, vulnerable populations in rural, tribal and hilly areas are extremely under-served. In 2006, only 26% of doctors in India resided in rural areas, serving 72% of India's population. Another study found that the urban density of doctors is nearly four times that in rural areas, and that of nurses is three times higher than rural areas.

As of March 2010, undue delays in recruitments resulted in high vacancies even in available posts at health centres - over 34% for male health workers are not in position, while 38% of radiographer posts, 16% of laboratory technician posts, 31% of specialist posts, 20% of pharmacist posts, 17% of ANM posts and 10% of doctor posts are vacant.

Overall, human resources in health shortfalls range from 63% for specialists to 10% for allopathic doctors. The past few decades have also seen the disappearance of certain cadres - village health guides and traditional birth attendants, first instituted in 1986. "They have now decreased to a point of non-existence," the report said.

The panel said, "The BRMS degree should be linked to State Health Sciences Universities. BRMS students should be taught in local settings where they live and work and the faculty should be drawn both from existing teaching institutions and retired teachers. The faculty should include non-physician specialists from the fields of public health and social sciences."

According to the panel, it is expected that full coverage of BRMSs at the sub-centre will be achieved by 2030. In order to support the production of this cadre, the panel recommended the production of 172 BRMS colleges in phase A, 163 BRMS colleges in Phase B and 213 BRMS colleges in Phase C.

"This would enable positioning of rural health practitioners at 114,000 SHCs by the year 2022 and facilitate outreach to underserved rural populations. Similarly, nurse practitioners will be positioned to serve vulnerable urban population," the panel said.

Source: The Times of India, September 26, 2011

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Assam court finds MBBS admission criterion irrational

The Gauhati High Court has found the Medical Council of India (MCI) eligibility criterion for MBBS aspirants from the scheduled castes and tribes "irrational and in violation of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution", officials said Sunday. According to MCI regulations, MBBS aspirants from these categories must secure at least 40 per cent marks in the combined competitive examinations or joint entrance examinations (JEE). The union health ministry and the MCI had earlier refused to further relax the criterion for north-eastern tribes and scheduled caste students.

A senior Tripura health department official said around 31 MBBS seats were lying vacant in the government-run medical college in Agartala and in the Tripura quota in other states because no student secured the minimum in the JEE this year in the state.

Some students and guardians have filed a writ petition in the Gauhati High Court against the MCI regulations. "The High Court has asked the authorities to admit those students in the MBBS courses within a week against their respective quota of seats," the official said, quoting the court order passed Friday in Guwahati. "The division bench of the court, comprising I.A. Ansari and C.R. Sarma, said in their ruling that state secondary board examination results were sufficient," the official said.

"Though the MCI regulations had been upheld by the Supreme Court in its various verdicts, the fact of the matter remains that in the decisions, cited and relied upon, the constitutionality of the regulation have been put to challenge," the court is reported as saying. "When the issue has not specifically been raised and has not been decided, the constitutionality of the MCI's regulation remains open for challenge on the ground of its irrationality," the high court said.

Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, responding to a letter of Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar, has communicated the centre's decision to follow the MCI guidelines. Azad had said: "Though the health ministry agrees in principle that there is need to make enabling conditions to encourage the underprivileged sections of the society, so far as medical education is concerned, it is felt that diluting the qualifying criteria would neither be feasible not desirable."

Source: The Economic Times (Online Edition), September 25, 2011

Immigration fraud by US colleges causing worries once again

It's that time of the year when hundreds of students from India pack their bags to go and join colleges and universities in the US. And though, like previous years, there has been an increase in the number of Indians going to campuses in the US, two incidents of raids by US immigration authorities on colleges for fraudulent practices, which involved a large number of Indian students, in the past few months are causing concern.

Early this year, in January, US immigration authorities raided Tri-Valley University in California, alleging that the school's founder and president, Susan Xiao-Ping Su, was issuing US student visas to foreign nationals willing to pay for them. Over 95% of Tri-Valley's 1,500 students were from India, and the institution listed out the same address for over half of them. Later, in July, the University of Northern Virginia too was raided by the US law enforcement authorities on grounds of alleged visa fraud and here too, hundreds of the students were from India.

These two cases appear to be just the tip of the iceberg, and most immigration lawyers and experts in the US now feel that more and more such dubious colleges and universities will come under the scanner of the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS). And it is well-known that a large number of students in such institutions are from India, particularly from Andhra Pradesh.

More Raids Likely
A recent article in the influential The Chronicle of Higher Education in the US suggests that Tri-Valley is only the beginning and there are many other colleges, most of them unaccredited, which are exploiting byzantine federal regulations, enrolling almost exclusively foreign students and charging them upward of $3,000 for a chance to work in the US.

"They flourish in California and Virginia, where regulations are lax, and many of their practices - for instance, holding some classes on only three weekends per semester - are unconventional, to say the least. These colleges usher in thousands of foreign students and generate millions of dollars in profits because they have the power, bestowed by the US government, to help students get visas," the Chronicle article said.

During a trip to India last month, Reta Jo Lewis, the special representative for global intergovernmental affairs with the state department, said the DHS had the lead on many more universities in the US, which were guilty of such fraudulent practices.

Misuse of Student Visas
Immigration experts in India and in the US point out that the modus operandi among Indian students who are flouting rules follows a common pattern. In most of the cases, the I-20 form, which is required for a student visa, is issued by a different college, than the one the students finally land up in. The easy transfer norms are made use of by professionals from India who are mostly headed to the US to look for work. In most cases, they are not young students and the sham universities facilitate their illegal stay in the US in exchange for huge amounts of money.

"Genuine students from India, who are aiming to study in the US, should expand their consideration set of potential institutions beyond traditional top institutions as suggested by rankings. However, they should also recognise that there is a wide spectrum of quality of institutions ranging from Harvard University to Tri-Valley University. The key is to make informed choices and treat any short-cuts promised by 'study abroad' agents or institutions with caution. Students should make sure that the institution they plan to study in is listed in the US Department of Education's website and preferably accredited by one of the six regional accrediting agencies," says Rahul Choudaha, director of development & innovation, World Education Services, New York.

Even as the US embassy in Delhi has recently announced a 20% increase in the number of student visa applications this year in India from a year ago, there have also been warnings against lack of physical attendance at colleges in the US, failure to maintain full course-load and unauthorised employment. Many student visa applicants felt that there were more questions asked at interviews at the embassy and consulates this year and the process of getting an F1 student visa took longer than previous years.

Source: The Economic Times (Online Edition), September 25, 2011

Saturday, September 24, 2011

IIM-Calcutta to tap corporates for funds

The Indian Institute of Management-Calcutta (IIM-C) is planning to tap Indian corporates for funds to complete some of its infrastructural projects following increased intake of students over the last three years. "The student intake has gone up. This year the total intake is around 450 students. Earlier, the intake was around 260 students," IIM-C Director Shekhar Chaudhuri said.

"We are building around 530,000 sq. ft. of new facility. Half of the project is over. We have built 14 classrooms out of 19 planned. Two new hostels are under construction. The total project outlay is around Rs. 195 crore (Rs. 1.95 billion)," he added. He said the institute has decided to approach corporates for Rs. 50 crore (Rs. 500 million) to complete the infrastructural projects.

Dean and strategic management professor Sougata Ray said: "We have spent from our internal accruals and our corpus. We would like to have some balance in our corpus built over the years and hence the decision to tap the corporates." Asked about the response of Indian corporates, Chaudhuri said: "We have not approached any corporate till now to gauge their response."

Institute officials said corporate philanthropy for higher education in India is not popular though some Indian groups have made donations to foreign universities. "Making donations to foreign business schools by Indian groups may also be a brand building strategy," an official said.

Speaking of finances, Chaudhuri said the institute is self-sufficient in funds generation and has not received any funds from the government since 2003 for day-to-day activities. "Our revenue is around Rs. 100 crore (Rs. 1 billion). We are earning good revenue - around Rs. 30 crore (Rs. 300 million) - from our long duration corporate training program," Chaudhuri said.

According to Ray, all the IIMs are planning to join hands to bring out a high quality management magazine on the lines of Harvard Business Review. "It may take around a year to come out. The magazine's name is yet to be finalised. It could be Indian Management Review," Ray said.

Citing various business school ranking surveys, Ray said IIM-C has moved upwards one slot and is now number two among management institutes in the country. Chaudhuri said the institute has decided focus on research work as a major strategic initiative. "We have increased funding for research and also the stipend for post doctoral students. In the faculty promotion, weightage for research work will be given," he said.

Meanwhile, like the Chennai Chapter of IIM-C Alumni Association that conducts marketing workshop for the students, the Bangalore chapter of IIM-C Alumni Association has decided to hold an entrepreneur workshop mainly focusing on social entrepreneurs. The first workshop is slated next month and it will be an annual event. There are many IIM-C alumni who have turned social entrepreneurs, Ray said.

Sources: The Hindu, September 24, 2011 &

IIT-Bombay students defer protest

Students of the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, (IIT-B) have planned a series of non-violent protests against the IIT Council’s new admission proposal. A boycott of classes, initially planned for September 23, has now been postponed to October 14.

A group called on social networking site Facebook is spearheading the protests. “We are requesting not just the IITs, but also students of classes 11 and 12 from other colleges, professors and teachers to join our protest,” said an IIT student associated with the group. The group’s main concern is that the quality of IITs would be affected by the new proposal and lead to an untested selection process.

Other IITs have not been actively involved in the movement due to the fact that their examinations are on and their placement season is approaching. “I have supported the cause on Facebook, but cannot go beyond that due to the ongoing examinations,” said an IIT Kharagpur student. Though IIT Delhi has not registered any official protest, scrapping of IIT-JEE is the talk across the campus. “We will boycott classes. We may also resort to wearing black shirts and not having mess food as a part of our non-violent protests. The protests will continue until the necessary changes are made. We want to send a strong message to the IIT Council,” said an IIT-Bombay student who did not wish to be named.

The much-debated proposals of the IIT Council chaired by Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal, which include scrapping of the IIT-JEE examination, having a common entrance test and giving equal weight to Class XII board examination results, will be implemented from 2013-14. An IIT Bombay student said: “The move that has been introduced is definitely not the best one. There are very few people who are interested in engineering. A special aptitude is clearly required for getting into an IIT, which cannot be achieved merely by scoring good marks in Class XII. The new system is also not free of problems.”

The alumni, too, have been involved in the protests. “Examinations are going on in several IITs and that is why it was pushed out to October 14. The call is for boycotting classrooms in spirit; the classes can still be held in ground, labs, people can give exams, study for exams, study outside class room. We and the students will be writing mails to all professors, MP, MLAs, seniors, government and any email/address we can get hold of,” said an ex-IIT Kharagpur student associated with the protests.

The sentiment shared by most of the students is that as IIT JEE is an application based exam in synchronization with engineering requirement, giving 75 per cent weightage to XII exam which is more of a rote learning will impact the kind of student intake. The inclusion of social science subjects like history, geography etc in the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) is a move that is detested by students.

One student said, “It is totally non sense to include social sciences in IIT entrance. For engineering, logical and analytical brains are required. Those interested in social sciences can pursue it separately.” He also added that rather than providing poor brilliant students with free IIT coaching so that they can also clear it, Sibal is destroying the already institutionalized pattern of exam doing away with even the elite brilliant students.

Source: Business Standar, September 24, 2011

Friday, September 23, 2011

IIMs call more companies for summer internship

The Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) have decided to enhance the pool of recruiters to hedge the risks from the worsening global economic situation. While some of the IIMs have increased the batch size, which called for more number of recruiters, others have a diversified set of students who have different preferences due to which the prestigious institutes have approached more number of companies for the summer internship process in November.

IIM-Calcutta, one of the oldest IIMs, though is concerned with the macroeconomic environment, is hedging on public sector units with whom it has a long-term view for a corporate relationship. “The internship is an eight-week training and the response from companies is no reason for alarm. The macroeconomic indicators are worrisome and students are always apprehensive till they have a job in hand,” said Prof. Amit Dhiman, Placements Chairman at IIM-C.

IIM-Ahmedabad is still waiting for the placement season to begin but maintains that it has approached new companies to recruit from campus and contacting firms who have previously not recruited from IIM-A. “We usually have 120-130 companies participating in the summer placement process. The number of companies we interact with before the process is larger than this. Our batch size is increasing — the current PGP batch has 380 students — as such, we will have more companies visit our campus. Also, there are companies from new areas and verticals that are keen on hiring MBA students that come in every year,” corroboarted Sapna Agarwal, head of career development services at IIM-Bangalore.

At IIM-Indore, more than 150 firms have been approached for the summer internship process and the institute is looking at over 25% increase in the pool of new recruiters. As per the media committee of the institute, the number of new recruiters approached is larger but that is largely due to the increased batch size.

IIM-Kozhikode has observed 2% of the companies being uncertain of recruitment activities as a result of the economic environment. “Even in companies that have expressed concern, it is primarily due to internal re-organisation of the functions as a response to the changing economic scenario. However, such companies continue to be involved in live projects and other such activities,” said a student from the institute’s placement team.

Same is the case with the new IIM at Rohtak which has touched base with 108 companies to introduce the institute to the respective organisations and also initiate a long-term relationship with them. “We have contacted more companies this year as compared to last year since our batch size has expanded from 48 to 124 students,” explained Pritam Agrawal, member of the public relations cell at the new IIM in Rohtak.

Students’ fears may also get reflected in the type of profiles they expect from the placement process. More a function of the growing diversity of student profiles on campus than the economic scenario, newer profiles are expected to be up for grabs this time at IIM-Lucknow with a greater representation of chartered accountants, doctors, lawyers in addition to engineering and commerce graduates. Hence, the institutes expect more roles in sales and marketing, finance, operations, IT, health management and human relations to open up.

IIM-L is also expecting a turnout of more than 150 recruiters for the summer process compared with the placements for the 2012 batch where 163 firms recruited from the institute with a total of 456 offers being made to a batch of 414. “It is our constant endeavor to increase corporate presence on campus for which we are also approaching new recruiters. The overall response has been positive, especially considering the current macroeconomic scenario. The companies have actually shown more interest in our campus,” said a student from the recruitment cell of IIM-L.

Both finance and marketing are the two most preferred verticals for summers and that trend is likely to continue at IIM-I. Once the first-year students get selected for summer internships, the final placements for the second year students will begin in 4-5 months. “We are cautious and concerned and have our fingers crossed for the final placements which may not reflect the slowdown,” Dhiman concluded.

Source: The Financial Express, September 23, 2011

IIM-Shillong to roll out executive MBA with China edge

IIM-Shillong (IIM-S) will roll out a one-year post-graduate executive MBA course with a six-month stay in China, with the aim of attracting foreign students. The course will focus on how to do business in and with China. China is one of the biggest trading partners of India as well as the European Union. IIM-S has tied up with Ocean University of China for the course.

"The course will give students exposure to both the countries as it requires a six-month stay in China and the remaining six months in Shillong," says IIM-Shillong Director Ashoke Dutta. "We are targeting global students, especially from Europe and the US with this course, which will be rolled out by the year-end," he adds. The student intake will be around 30.

The course will give students an insight into China's business environment and culture, besides case studies of businesses that are flourishing there and performance of various corporations. There will also be field visits. The students will stay in the Ocean University campus in Qingdao. "I'm sure this programme will get an overwhelming response. We have not decided the fee structure yet but it should be around Rs. 1.5 million per student," adds Dutta.

IIM-S will also initiate a seven-day advanced management programme on China for senior management executives and bureaucrats. The course is likely to start from November this year, and the student intake is likely to be around 25. IIM-S plans to approach the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region for supporting this programme. It had earlier introduced a two-week certificate course on Chinese for students, as the second language in the curriculum. "The success of the Chinese language programme has encouraged us to introduce China-specific courses. Multinational companies prefer to employ students who know foreign languages," Dutta adds.

Source: The Economic Times, September 23, 2011

Australia eases visa rules for students

The Australian government on Thursday said it would streamline the visa processing arrangements for students, including those from India, enrolling for universities in the country. The changes follow a review of the student visa programme led by former New South Wales Labour government minister Michael Knight.

The new visa rules announced on Thursday will be applicable from the second semester of 2012. Under the streamlined arrangements, international students enrolled in courses at the level of bachelor degree or higher will be treated as lower risk applicants regardless of their country of origin. The rules announced are expected to help entrench Australia as a preferred destination for international students.

Australian overseas students’ enrolments have been sliding down in the backdrop of high Australian Dollar value, tighter immigration rules and post Indian student attack issues. “The reforms will assist in ensuring Australia remains an attractive study option and will offer practical support for international education providers that have been under pressure as a result of the high Australian dollar,” Senator Chris Evans, Minister for Tertiary education, skills, job and workplace relations said.

Under the new rules, the financial requirements for student visas will be eased and applicants will need about 36,000 dollars less in their bank account than they do now. “This reduction in the assessment level (AL) financial requirements will particularly assist a significant number of Vocational Education and Training and private education providers,” Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Chris Bowen said. A two- to four-year post-study work visa will also be available for university graduates depending on the level of study completed.

Other work visa options, such as the Temporary Skilled 457 visa and the Skilled Graduate Visa, continue to be available to graduates and to employers looking to meet genuine skills needs. However, the student visa criteria will be tightened slightly so applicants will have to prove they are genuine students and genuine about returning home.

In December 2010, the Government commissioned the Knight to review the Student Visa program to enhance the quality, integrity and competitiveness of Australia’s international education sector. Knight consulted with almost 300 stakeholders in Australia, India, China and Malaysia, and considered more than 200 submissions.

The government has accepted all 41 recommendations in the Knight Review, with the majority proposed to be implemented through 2012-13 so that key recommendations can come into effect before second semester 2012.

Source: Business Standard, September 23, 2011

Australian universities reach out to India

As the dust settles on the furore surrounding attacks on Indian students, which has strained bilateral relations and threatened Australia’s multi-billion dollar education export sector, Australian universities are going all out to engage with Indian educational institutions.

This isn’t all that surprising considering that the number of offshore applicants from India fell from 18,514 in the 2009-10 financial year to just 6,875 in 2010-11, a drop of 63 per cent. From setting up joint academic and research collaborations to offering scholarships and exchanges, universities are keen to re-build Australia’s reputation as a convivial and safe study destination.

“As countries, we have so much to offer each other when it comes to education and knowledge partnerships. The University of New South Wales (UNSW) like many Australian universities is investing human and capital resources in deepening, strengthening and broadening our engagement with a cross-section of universities in India”, says UNSW’s Pro-ViceChancellor (International), Jennie Lang, who is in Delhi with the UNSW Vice-Chancellor Frederick Hilmer, to discuss long-term engagement strategies for partnerships.

UNSW has recently announced a joint Master’s degree in Optometry with the LV Prasad Eye Institute in Hyderabad, and set up a Nehru Chair in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. Earlier, the Australasian Legal Information Institute, a joint facility of UNSW and the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) Faculties of Law, helped develop the Legal Information Institute of India.

“Academic engagement is an important stepping stone towards rebuilding trust and creating a stronger relationship between the two countries,” says the University of Sydney’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor International, Professor John Hearn. Between 2007 and 2010, the University of Sydney’s International Programme Development Fund has allocated AU$ 98,788 to initiate research collaboration with Indian institutions in the fields of agriculture, medicine, science, engineering and Information Technology.

Macquarie University in Sydney on the other hand has initiated a number of cooperative partnerships with some of the top Indian business universities including the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A) and Calcutta (IIM-C), Xavier Labour Relations Institute (XLRI), NarseeMonjee Institute of Management Studies (NMIMS), and the SP Jain Institute of Management and Research.

Karthik Kesavan, who hails from Chennai, arrived at Melbourne’s LaTrobe University when the students’ attacks issue was at its peak two years ago but has experienced little of the upheavals that were reported at the time. “I find generally people are warm and friendly. I have not experienced any of kind racism. Although, when I speak to friends back home, a vast majority still feel Australia is not a safe place”, says Kesavan, who is in the final semester of a Bachelor’s degree in Animal and Veterinary Bio-sciences.

He has been working as a Livestock supervisor in a Poultry Farm to pay for the nearly AU$ 60,000 three-year course fee and he would like to stay on in Australia. “There are plenty of jobs available in my field of study here, but tougher immigration rules pose a challenge”, adds Kesavan. Changes to the Australian skilled migration programme, tightening of student visa rules and financial stability requirements, closure of dodgy private colleges and a surging Australian dollar have all contributed to low enrolments from India.

There are 61,549 overseas Indian students enrolled in Australian educational institutions as at year-to-date July 2011 out of a total of 487,704 international students from nearly 200 countries. Education is Australia’s third largest export after iron ore and coal and the largest services export worth AU$ 18.3 billion.

Still, a range of initiatives are being taken to foster higher education links between the two countries. For example, the Australia-India University Shadowing Pilot, funded by the Australian Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR), will provide full support for up to five Australian and up to five Indian university executives in a particular administrative or academic discipline to undertake acapacity building shadowing exchange in 2012. In July, the India Australia Vice Chancellors’ and Senior University Executives’ Workshop held in Delhi agreed to promote greater institutional collaboration, credit transfer, student and staff mobility, and joint research.

Flinders University has exchange and research links amongst others with Madras Christian College, Manipal University, National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bangalore, and Indian Institute of Horticulture, Bangalore. The University of Adelaide has research partnerships with Indian institutions on wheat and rice breeding, weed management in rice, and evaluation of genetically modified cereal crops.

Top scientists have benefited from the Australia-India Strategic Research Fund (AISFR), a joint initiative of the Australian and Indian governments. Until June 2011, more than 90 joint research projects and workshops, valued at over AU$ 30 million, have been awarded AISFR grants.

The deepening engagement with Indian researchers is in part facilitated by the Australia India Institute (AII) at the University of Melbourne, with founding partners UNSW and LaTrobe University where a Masters level International Relations course is jointly taught by the three universities to all students, including the ones in Delhi.

Starting in 2012, 10 top scholars from India will be awarded AUD$ 90,000 each to do a PhD at one of Victoria’s nine universities under the new Victoria India Doctoral Scholarships Program launched by the State Government of Victoria and the AII. The State Government has also sponsored a Chair in Contemporary Indian Studies at the University of Melbourne for three years.

Source: Business Standard, September 23, 2011

Thursday, September 22, 2011

CAT 2011 is far more structured

With several changes introduced in the pattern of conducting the CAT 2011, students across India are wondering whether the examination would get easier or tougher. In an interview with Vinit Koneru, Vice Chairman & Co-founder of CL Educate Ltd. (formerly Career Launcher) Gautam Puri says what students could expect. Edited excerpts:

What should candidates expect this year?
As compared to the challenge of an examination in an undefined environment, CAT 2011 will be relatively easy. CAT in its earlier versions had a number of unpredictables, including the number of questions and undefined sectional time limits. Now, the paper is far more structured, and hence, easier. While preparing for CAT 2011 keep these essentials in mind: Firstly, cover all topics and prepare across the length and breadth of subjects.

With just 60 questions you will not have much to choose from. Secondly, focus on accuracy, when in doubt leave the question; resist the temptation to attempt when you are unsure. With just 60 questions, every incorrect answer is criminal. Also, go back to the papers of the early 1990s as the questions today are very similar to what we had seen in them. There is merit in going through them and practicing on those papers.

With the new IIMs, has the competition increased?
The new IIMs add to the number of quality MBA seats available to aspiring candidates. Thus it’s good news for students sitting for the exam. The competition is as tough as the aspirant sitting next to you, so a student must remember to put his best foot forward.

Given the current global slowdown, do you expect the number of applicants to rise or fall?
With around 180,000 applicants writing the CAT in 2010, the number is expected to remain the same or go up marginally. This is a result of the fact that this year the JMET and FMS entrance have been scrapped and are now aligned with the CAT. Thus, students wanting to join FMS or the management courses at the IITs would be required to compulsorily sit for the CAT. While there is a global slowdown, India and China are coming to the forefront and are least affected by the same. With the focus of the world on these economies, job opportunities and demand for MBA are expected to increase in India.

How can India's management education be compared to that of foreign universities?
At the top end of management, Indian institutes are as good or even better. However, the real difference kicks in as we move down the ladder. In India we see a steep drop in quality of management education as we move down below the top 50 or 60 institutes or at best top 100 institutes. This steep drop in quality is not seen internationally. Among the top universities, Indian institutes differ from international institutes on three aspects: Reflection of batch diversity where most Indian institutes have primarily male population and a dominant presence of engineering graduates. While internationally, the gender mix is far better and MBA students come from a variety of academic fields. Institutes in India have 99.9 per cent Indian students, while internationally in an MBA programme you would find people from diverse backgrounds and nationalities thus lending an added international flavor to the programme.

Is the current structure of management institutions good for the country and the students?
The structure of management institutes in India has produced corporate leaders of note, who have achieved recognition internationally. Today the IIM alumni are spread across the globe leading the world's largest organisations across a multitude of sectors. Thus, without doubt these institutions serve the country well.we need to see a significant change in the remaining institutes.

Source: Business Standard, September 22, 2011

Weak rupee to cost Indian students dear

If the rising cost of education was not bad enough, the rupee hitting a two-year low against the US dollar will leave Indian students poorer by anywhere between Rs. 50,000 and Rs. 100,000, especially for those who have delayed paying their fees to foreign universities this July.

It is estimated that around 8-10 per cent of Indian students going to the US end up paying their fees late. Students planning for next year's admission will also have to pay more for TOEFL, GRE and GMAT application forms, apart from the admission forms of foreign universities that range anywhere between $50 and $500, varying from institute to institute.

The Indian rupee weakened to a two-year low to touch Rs. 48.23 per US dollar yesterday, and experts fear it will fall further. While most universities and institutes in the US begin the admission processes in July and August, foreign education consultants say students will have to pay more to institutes which start their admission process in September.

“On an average, Indian students have to pay fees of $12,000-20,000 per semester at US universities. With the rupee weakening against the US dollar, students will now have to pay Rs. 30,000 to Rs. 50,000 more as overall expenses will rise,” says Dinesh Gehlot, assistant vice president, Credila Financial Services. An HDFC Ltd. company, Credila provides loans for students for overseas education.

Of about 130,000 students that go abroad for studies from India every year, about 100,000 go to the US, followed by Britain, Australia and South East Asia, among other countries. According to industry estimates, the quantum of currency that goes abroad is about Rs. 1,800 crore (Rs. 18 billion).

“By this logic, per student expenditure is pegged at Rs. 1.8 million a year. Most students deal with this based on loans and scholarships. At current rates, doing a simple mathematical valuation on the rate of rupee devaluation, the expenses will go up by about Rs. 100,000. The best way to avoid this in the long term, suggest academics, is the introduction of forward contracts in the loan agreements which functions as an insurance,” says Arup Datta, associate director, PricewaterhouseCoopers.

For a student going abroad for studies, the financial institutions pay the fees directly to universities as part of the former's education loan. “We also deposit certain amount every six months for the students’ living expenses while their pocket expenses are borne by them. The weakening of the rupee will impact payment of fees as well as living expenses which we will replenish for students seeking admissions now,” says Gehlot.

According to overseas education consultants, even the Great Britain Pound (GBP) has appreciated against the Indian rupee, thereby impacting students seeking admissions in universities in the UK. “Since the rupee has weakened in September it is now too late for students to have second thoughts about going abroad. Instead, students will have to fight it out and pay an extra Rs. 50,000 to Rs. 100,000 for fees that average around Rs. 1.3 million to Rs. 1.5 million” says Mansoor Amin, director of Chennai-based Linking Overseas, a foreign education consulting firm.

However, some say this is a short-term effect. “Most students tend to make payments of fees on a term basis. Hence, they will be able to deflect a major impact. Though, it will cost them more to buy foreign exchange and expenses will go up automatically. But minor fluctuations like these are a norm, and they will not have a major impact,” says Anup Sinha, professor, economics department, IIM-Calcutta (IIM-C). “Also, at the undergraduate level, students going abroad come from family backgrounds where this would make no impact at all,” says Gautam Puri, managing director, Career Launcher.

Source: Business Standard, September 22, 2011

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Mandarin onthe menu at Indian B-schools

It makes eminent sense: if you are going to be a master of the universe, it would help to know the language (or languages) spoken by most of its inhabitants. Several Indian business schools are offering students the option of learning Mandarin, and at least one of them has made it mandatory for its students to learn the language. Even mathematically, that should give these students an advantage: assuming that a student at an Indian B-school knows Hindi, English and Mandarin, he or she will be able to communicate with at least half the world’s population.

Bala V. Balachandran, founder of the Great Lakes Institute of Management in Chennai, said that knowledge of Hindi, English and Mandarin is a great advantage for any young manager. “You have to learn the language of the country which is leading or going to lead the global economy,” said Balachandran, whose school has made it mandatory for all students to learn Mandarin.

China’s economic surge over the past decade has also prompted several schools to offer a course in Mandarin. The Chinese economy is the second largest in the world (after the US). “Looking at the emerging world order, it’s important that a business manager understands the language of a country that has a huge say in the global economy,” said a spokesperson for the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Shillong, which offers a course in Mandarin.

Trade between India and China is growing at 40% a year and was $60 billion (Rs. 2.9 trillion today) last year, Mint reported last week, citing Industrial and Commercial Bank of China president Yang Kaisheng. “China is emerging as a huge economy and bigger things in trade and business are set to happen between India and China. By imparting Mandarin to our students, we are expanding the horizon,” added the IIM-Shillong spokesperson.

Other schools and institutions offering a course in Mandarin include Mumbai’s Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies and Centum Learning Ltd., an associate of Bharti Airtel Ltd. that offers postgraduate programmes in management. IIM-Kozhikode planned to start offering a course in Mandarin this year, but couldn’t for a variety of reasons, and could “have something from next year”, according to the B-school’s chairman of international exchanges and strategy, M.K. Nandakumar.

Knowledge of Mandarin could also help students land better jobs. IIM-Shillong’s spokesperson said that while the school didn’t try to leverage the Mandarin course during the last placement season, it may consider doing so. “It may not have an immediate effect, but (it) will benefit (students) in due course,” said Easwar Krishna Iyer, director of admissions at Great Lakes.

Interestingly, the Union government-controlled Central Board of Secondary Education expressed its intention to start a language course in Mandarin last year, though nothing has come of it.

Source: Mint, September 21, 2011

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Government funds 80% IIT expenses, students pay back a fraction

Over 80 per cent of the financial needs of the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and their entire capital costs are currently funded by the government. The tuition fee collected from a BTech student is Rs. 200,000 over four years; the expenditure is about Rs. 800,000. The over-dependence on government funds, coupled with the widening gap between actual costs incurred and tuition fee charged, has long been considered a major deterrent to the IITs’ efforts at financially independence. This is one of the key aspects cited in a government report. The IIT Council has now recommended a conditional fee hike to Rs. 200,000 yearly, subject to approval by the Union Ministry of Finance.

“The root of the autonomy challenge lies in the inability of the IITs to be financially independent... Being largely funded by the government, the IITs are subjected to government spending regulations and audit. The IITs’ ability to invest is also constrained by the spending curbs of the government. This has put the IITs at a disadvantage compared to many reputed universities around the world which have full financial autonomy,” said the report, filed by a committee appointed by the Minstry of Human Resource Development (MHRD).

The revenue sources of the seven best established IITs include student fees, government receipts, investments and others (entrance exam fee, library fee, sponsorships etc). Their total operating revenues was Rs. 942 crore (Rs. 9.42 billion) in 2009 and Rs. 1,283 crore (Rs. 12.83 billion) in 2010, with 82 per cent coming as grants from the government. The return on endowments and investments as well as donations from alumni account for about three per cent of the operating revenues “as against 10-40 per cent for top US universities”. Experts said increasing the tuition fee is just one way of raising funds. “Industrial consultancy and generation of income from IPR are two areas where the IITs must concentrate more,” said an IIT-Bombay alumnus.

The committee had also recommended that all ministries provide a minimum of 20 per cent overheads without a ceiling on the research and development projects sanctioned to the IITs. “This is necessary to avoid strain on institute resources as they undertake enlarged R&D activities. Most US universities charge overheads to the tune of 50 per cent. Industrial consultancy and royalty, alumni and industrial grants/donations and continuing education programmes, would be some other modes for enhancing IIT finances,” the report said.

Source: The Indian Express, September 20, 2011

IIT Kharagpur, US varsity develop low-cost rapid blood test kit

In partnership with the University of California–Irvine in the US, the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur (IIT-Kgp), has developed a rapid diagnostic test (RDT) device that will bring down to Rs. 20 the cost of blood tests to detect diseases such as malaria, dengue and tuberculosis.

Though not considered a gold standard by doctors, RDT devices generate immediate results and do not need skilled operators. They are popular in areas where healthcare facilities are limited. Going forward, the one developed at Kharagpur could be adapted to conduct more complex tests to detect even HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), said researchers at the institute.

The device has delivered 100% accurate results at laboratories in the institute, said Suman Chakraborty, professor at IIT-Kgp’s mechanical engineering department, who is leading the research. Clinical trials are to be begin within a month in partnership with JSV Innovations Pvt. Ltd, a firm co-promoted by Dr. Satadal Saha—a Kolkata-based general surgeon.

Codenamed “Laboratory on CD”, Chakraborty started his research on this RDT device in 2005 in “active collaboration” with Prof. Marc Madou’s BioMEMS (biological micro-electrical mechanical systems) laboratory at University of California–Irvine. The BioMEMS laboratory’s website says it “applies miniaturization science to solve chemical and biological problems with an emphasis on molecular biology and energy”. It is partnering at least three IITs in research—Kanpur, Kharagpur and Hyderabad.

The Indo-US Science and Technology Forum, an autonomous society founded in March 2000 jointly by the US and Indian governments also facilitated the research, according to Chakraborty. He and his team have developed a microfluidic compact disc (CD), which when rotated with a simple motor, delivers blood samples into separate chambers filled with different reagents through microchannels embedded in the CD. Results are derived from the sample’s reaction with the reagents.

Besides trained technicians, conventional tests require more reagents than this RDT device, making them more expensive, according to Chakraborty. “This device could be a game changer considering the condition of healthcare facilities in India,” said JSV Innovations’s Saha, who along with two other doctors have built three hospitals in West Bengal targeted at people in rural and semi-urban areas. “Many people die in remote villages because of delay in detecting killer diseases. This device, being portable and easy to operate, could do wonders,” Saha added. To be sure, there are at least 20 RDTs available across the world to detect malaria, according to a 2008 World Health Organization estimate. RDT devices are available for dengue and tuberculosis as well.

Over the next few months, clinical trials of IIT-Kgp’s RDT device will be conducted with excess samples drawn from medical camps in Kolkata and West Midnapore district, according to Saha. On conclusion of the clinical trials, IIT-Kgp, Madou’s BioMEMS laboratory and JSV Innovations will jointly seek patents for the device, according to Chakraborty.

Saha, who is likely to have a key role in commercial exploitation of the device, said he is opposed to the involvement of a large pharmaceutical firm in distributing it. Such an arrangement could undermine the key objective of the research, which is affordability, according to him.

Source: Mint, September 20, 2011

Pearson scouts for acquisitions

Pearson Education Services, the K-12 education services provider arm of global education company Pearson is eyeing buys in the tutoring and school management space to expand its footprint across the country. The company has its sights trained on acquisition that will be valued lesser than the company’s previous buy out of of Rs. 577 crore (Rs. 5.77 billion), which was one of the largest acquisitions in the Indian education sector. “Our inorganic growth plans will focus on adding tutoring centres and managing more number of schools. We expect to close at least one acquisition in this financial year. We are evaluating four to five targets at present,” said Meena Ganesh, CEO and MD, Pearson Education Services.

PES’ current market offerings include school management services, by way of which they manage, operate and build high quality schools across the country, online tutoring that offers quality online tuitions to students across the world at very affordable prices, ICT solutions known as DigiClass for both schools and higher education institutions and technology aided coaching classes and test preparation services for various entrance board exams and entrance exams like CET, AIEEE, IIT-JEE and AIPMT, among others. The company has 60 centres offering tutoring services in India which are located in Kerala and Karnataka and the expansion plans will look at adding 2-3 states to its portfolio to offer education services through VSAT.

In India, it specialises in publication of academic and reference books in the fields of computer science, engineering, business and management, trade, higher education and competitive examination. In the school management space, the firm is managing and operating 23 schools and intends to take the number to 100 by its inorganic growth plans. “We are also looking at launching online tutoring in India soon to provide affordable online tuition to students as this market is growing rapidly,” Ganesh added.

Source: The Financial Express, September 20, 2011

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