Monday, October 31, 2011

No more engineering colleges, states tell AICTE

Two decades ago, just a percentage of aspiring Indian engineers found a seat in a tech school. Now, supply seems to have outstripped demand, with hundreds of thousands of engineering seats in Indian colleges going abegging. State governments now want the country's regulatory body to reject fresh proposals for starting any more engineering colleges.

"We have received letters from the Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Haryana and Chhattisgarh governments telling us not to clear proposals for engineering institutes," said S.S. Mantha, Chairman, All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), the umbrella body for professional education in the country. Maharashtra, too, said sources, is firming up its pitch to AICTE after waking up to the fact that the number of vacant seats in engineering colleges has risen dramatically over the last three years.

AICTE records show that India produced 401,000 engineers in 2003-04, of which 35% were computer engineers. In 2004-05, 1,355 engineering colleges admitted 460,000 students, of which 31% were computer engineers. The number of graduates rose to 520,000 in 2005-06. In five years, the capacity in technology colleges has more than trebled.

India is now home to 3,393 engineering colleges that have 1.48 million seats available. Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh have about 70% tech institutes. When admissions closed this year, AICTE estimated that nearly 200,000 seats were unfilled.

This glut in engineering seats has had experts worried. This year, AICTE relaxed entry norms for tech schools, hoping there would be a rush of students. But despite lowering the minimum score required to join an engineering college, there weren't enough students to fill all seats on offer.

"Seats are going vacant in rural parts of various states. There are no takers for specific engineering programmes, but the core engineering courses of civil, mechanical and electrical still have takers," Mantha added. AICTE has told state governments to pass on copies of perspective plans of all universities, so that the growth of colleges can be mapped and controlled.

Source: The Times of India, October 31, 2011

North Carolina varsity to open India office

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill plans to open an office in India, following in the footsteps of Harvard Business School​ and University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, as it seeks to increase its engagement with Asia’s third largest economy.

The North Carolina university’s Kenan-Flagler Business School will open an office in India within six months, said James Dean, dean of the 92-year-old business school.
“The emerging economies are vital for us; and when we talk of this, we mean India, China and Brazil,” Dean said during a visit to Delhi.

“We will open our India office in one of the big cities of India,” he said, hinting that the office could be in Mumbai or New Delhi. The office will increase the university’s interaction with local companies, help it conduct research, carry out case studies and facilitate faculty and student exchanges. The university does not plan a campus in India immediately.

“At least 10% of our classrooms in the US are filled by Indians; hence, we understand the country and its growing stature,” Dean said in a telephone interview. Kenan-Flagler admits 300 students every year. The institute has devised an elective on India and its economy as part of its on-campus full-time MBA course. “For the last few years, nearly 50-60 students including some Indians are coming here for exposure trips. They interact with business houses for few weeks. We want to expand this engagement for sure,” Dean said.

Some students also come to India on student exchange programmes with institutes such as the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A), and the Management Development Institute (MDI), Gurgaon, for a term that typically stretches for around three months.

Some weeks earlier, Wharton announced it would open an India office in 2012 and engage in executive education, a revenue churner for business schools worldwide. These programmes target professionals and are delivered as either part-time or full-time courses.

Harvard opened its India Research Center (IRC) five years earlier in Mumbai, from where it drives its executive education agenda as well as its research and case study programmes. The Harvard Business Review, the management magazine it publishes, has tied up with the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, to promote its case studies.

Bharat Gulia, senior manager at consulting firm Ernst and Young, said such moves by leading foreign business schools are only logical as India’s economy continues to grow even in the face of a global economic slowdown. “The practical question is where is the opportunity to grow? Professors need consulting and students need exposure. Here, India is a great place,” he said.

Source: Mint, October 31, 2011

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The return of the Lab: Indian biological sciences researchers abroad returning home

Subba Rao Gangi Setty spends much of his time in a small cabin with an old fan whirring above. After arriving in Bangalore in July last year, the cell biologist has set up a lab at the Department of Microbiology and Cell Biology in the Indian Institute of Science to study a disease called the Hermansky-Pudlak Syndrome (HPS), a type of albinism. One of a handful of senior fellows supported by a joint funding programme of the Wellcome Trust, UK, and the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India, Setty, a Green Card holder, returned to a much lower salary and an un-airconditioned office so he could pursue science in India. “I went to government schools and studied on government scholarships. I felt I owed it to my country to come back and do quality science here,” says the 37-year-old from Porumamilla village, Kadappa district, Andhra Pradesh, who spent over a decade in the US — long enough that he now rolls his r’s.

Raring for a change after nine years at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, US, Setty began looking out for opportunities in the biotech industry in 2009. The recession was setting in at the time, but with two Nature papers and several other high-quality publications to his name, he found work at Proteostasis Therapeutics, a small molecule drug company in Boston. For a year, he worked on modulation of cell biological pathways to cure protein folding defects implicated in neurodegenerative diseases. “It was then that I learned about the Wellcome Trust-DBT fellowship. I had been eager to come back to India since 2006, but now, an opportunity presented itself,” he says.

A silver Macbook sits on Setty’s desk. All around, there are piles of boxes. “The department is moving to a new building soon. Hopefully I’ll get more space,” he says. The money here may not compare with what he was making in the US, but a five-year research grant of Rs 4.58 crore fully supports his research programme. (Tissue culture, cell biological reagents and microscopy are pricey). With a newly-put-together team of eight researchers, Setty is now studying protein transport pathways in cells to understand the biology behind HPS and to develop cell biological screens for albinism with lung fibrosis. He has also set up an informal network and support group for people with HPS in India.

“It’s a good time to return to India,” says Vatsala Thirumalai, who leads a group on neural circuits and development at the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), a Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) centre in Bangalore. A research scientist at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, till about a year ago, Thirumalai has set up a zebrafish incubator facility at NCBS to study the development of the brain in embryos. Hundreds of these nearly-transparent fresh water fish swim frantically in special tanks in her lab. Zebrafish are widely used in the biotech industry for drug screening, and Thirumalai, during her post-doctoral research at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, showed that neural networks for swimming develop very early in zebrafish, but are kept dormant until later.

“Earlier, working in India meant you were cut off. Now, I regularly Skype with my collaborator at the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego,” says the 36-year-old, also a Wellcome Trust-DBT India fellow. “Government initiatives like the Ramanujan Fellowship, the Ramalingaswami Fellowship and the DBT-Wellcome Trust Fellowship have helped immensely in attracting talent back to India. Also, India is now a full member of the international Human Frontier Science Program that funds research in life sciences,” she says.

There is a sense among academics that it is easier than ever to obtain funding and forge collaborations in India. A number of factors have contributed to this: cuts in research spend in the US, the Indian Government’s pro-active support to science, a maturing biotech industry, better research output, a new crop of research institutes, and last but not the least, the image of India as an emerging scientific superpower.

Dozens of Indian researchers working in biological sciences are leaving foreign shores for home. This “trickle” of scientists, many of whom own valuable intellectual property, is set to grow considerably in the coming years, says Vijay Chandru, chairman and CEO of Strand Life Sciences—a genomics solutions and bioinformatics company based in Bangalore—and president of the Association of Biotech-led Enterprises (ABLE), a trade body that represents the Indian biotech industry. Chandru, a former computer science professor at IISc, believes that with joint efforts by industry and government, biotech could be the next major ‘reverse brain drain’ sector after IT.

From a small industry in the early 1990s, biotechnology in India has grown to a $4 billion sector of possibility. There are about 350 companies, most of them located in seven clusters across India—Bangalore, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Pune, Delhi, Ahmedabad and Kolkata. “Since 2003, the industry has been growing steadily at over 20 per cent per annum. If we maintain this, we will be a $100 billion industry by 2025,” says Chandru. This growth could be spurred by demand for biosimilars—a new generation of protein-based drugs that could replace important biopharmaceuticals when they go off patent—and an expanding healthcare industry.

Strand Life Sciences, which has about 130 employees working out of an open-plan fifth-floor office in a business park on Bellary Road, Bangalore, has brought back 25 PhDs from the US in the last few years. “We were looking for people who could work with microarrays and high-tech equipment. So we hired researchers from NIH and other known institutes, mostly through referrals,” Chandru says.

Veena Hedatale is one such hire. A plant geneticist by training and a senior scientist at Strand, Hedatale gave three years to the US pharma industry before she decided to move back to Bangalore, where her family lives. An opportunity in the private sector that kept her in sync with happenings in biopharmaceuticals was just what she needed. “There is a huge difference in salaries between India and the US, but I was prepared for that,” says Hedatale, who just completed two years at Strand and hopes to start a product development company of her own one day.

Sushmita Gowri Sreekumar, another aspiring entrepreneur who joined the company about a year ago after completing a PhD programme in Zurich, says she sees a lot of promise in the Indian biotech sector. “When I decided to come back in June 2009, I knew I’d get a job or start my own diagnostics company. The number of institutes and biotech companies coming up in India is reassuring,” says Sreekumar, who has a PhD in cancer genetics.

FMCG majors like Unilever and ITC, too, are lapping up their share of the diaspora pie, says Amitabha Majumdar, a former post-doc at Cornell University, New York, who took up a position as a cell biologist at Unilever’s Whitefield office in January. “This opportunity was an excellent one. And it came at a time when many of my friends were planning to move back to India,” he says. According to Majumdar, Unilever Bangalore has hired at least four Indians from Yale, Oxford and Johns Hopkins Universities in just the last year. “A few years ago, there weren’t many cell biologists in India. Now I know many in Bangalore who are working in the same areas as I am,” says the 38-year-old who is researching immunity in cells. His wife, who just finished her PhD at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, is all set to join Indian biotechnology major Biocon.

Even as pharma and biotech companies in the West are laying off employees, India is looking for quality researchers to fill positions at new biosciences institutes such as the five Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research (IISER), the Translational Health Science and Technology Institute in Faridabad, and the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine (inStem) at NCBS, Bangalore. NCBS alone is responsible for bringing back half-a-dozen researchers in the last couple of years.

John Mercer, a professor at McLaughlin Research Institute, Montana, US, moved to Bangalore two months ago to run a high-throughput mice facility at inStem to help understand the molecular bases of inherited cardiomyopathy—a chronic disease of the heart muscle and one of the leading causes of cardiac death. “I see potential in the willingness of the Indian Government to invest in research. From my perspective, the US and Europe are turning away from their commitment to research and education while India's commitment is increasing,” he says. The project, a collaboration between inStem, NCBS, Mercer’s home institute and Stanford University, among others, is funded entirely by the Indian Government. Mercer, who plans to stay on for two to five years, says he and his wife Colleen Silan are here for “the opportunity and the adventure”.

“A lot of money is being pumped into scientific infrastructure. It’s a positive sign for those looking to come back,” says Thirumalai. Kundan Sengupta agrees. After a six-year-long association with the National Cancer Institute, NIH, Bethesda, Sengupta moved base to Pune in July 2010. Now an assistant professor at IISER, Pune, the intermediate fellow of the Wellcome Trust-DBT India alliance is investigating how a basic biologic question: how do chromosomes find their correct location within a cell? “The growth of the biotech industry as well as the government’s research-oriented policies have encouraged many abroad to return to both academia and industry in India,” he says.

“It’s not just biotech, all of Indian bioscience is attracting diaspora back to India,” says Archana Purushotham, who moved to Bangalore four months ago to join inStem as a visiting scientist. A stroke specialist with experience in neuroimaging and research at Stanford University, Purushotham says inStem provided her with a unique opportunity. “It has truly been an exploratory expedition. As a practising physician who wants to spend a significant portion of time on research, some of it non-clinical, there is not much precedent in India. So it has been a challenge to blend both my worlds, and I am still in the process of trying to get it to work,” she says.

There are other, less obvious, draws. When Kaustuv Datta completed his Masters course from the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai in 1997, there were few good places in India where he could have pursued a PhD, prompting him to join the University of Michigan in the US. After nine years that he spent acquiring a PhD in molecular, cellular and developmental biology, and then doing post-doctoral research at the University of Michigan and the Scripps Research Institute, Datta returned to India in 2010 to join the University of Delhi as an assistant professor. While there is more money and infrastructure for research in the field now, Datta says it is the freedom to pursue “risky projects” at Indian universities that prompted his return.

“Tenure system is very strict in US universities. At the end of five to seven years as a post-doctoral fellow, you are evaluated on the number of papers published in that time and so on and granted tenure. It is a make or break system and prevents people from taking up risky projects. Universities here provide more secure positions, and independence to take up projects as you wish. This is a place where you can find your own identity as a researcher instead of being a post-doctoral fellow abroad working on someone else's ideas,” he says.

There are, however, serious challenges to tapping the biotech diaspora. Biotech research entails considerable capital outlay and doesn’t lend itself to entrepreneurship the way IT does. And unlike IT professionals, biotech researchers often do long post-doctoral stints, so by the time they have established themselves and are ready to move back, they are already pushing 40. “Displacement becomes much harder then. The kids are already grown up and they don’t want to move. To come back to India at such a point in one’s life, the terms have to be very attractive,” says Vijay Chandru, speaking from experience. Sitting in her office surrounded by the smells of the lab, Vatsala Thirumalai is hopeful India will get its due. “As Thomas Friedman would say, the world of biosciences is now truly flat,” she says.

Source: The Indian Express, October 30, 2011

IPS officers undergo strategic training at Cambridge

Eighty senior IPS officers in the ranks of Deputy Inspector-General and Inspector-General on Saturday completed their eight-week course in strategic management at the Cambridge University, United Kingdom. The programme was organised in collaboration with the O.P. Jindal Global University (JGU), Sonepat, near the capital.

The participants, in the first six weeks of training at the National Police Academy, Hyderabad, had lecture-workshop sessions twice daily, capped by weekly examinations and assessments, according to a press release issued by C. Raj Kumar, Vice Chancellor, JGU, and Dean, Jindal Global Law School,

In the U.K., the IPS officers visited the Cambridge and Peterborough Crown Courts to discuss the U.K. justice and legal system with judges of the Crown Court. They also got an opportunity to visit the HMP Edmunds Hill and Highpoint Prison.

The programme was conducted by faculty members from both universities and police practitioners from the U.K., the United States and Australia. The contract for this training was offered to the Cambridge and Jindal universities by the Indian Home Ministry, with the object of strengthening the law enforcement mechanism through knowledge-based policing.

The most important and valuable visit during the U.K. leg was to the House of Commons, where the participants had a discussion with the Minister of State for Police and Criminal Justice, Nick Herbert; the Director, Police Reform and Resources, Home office, Stephan Kershaw; and other members of the Home Affairs Select Committee. The participants visited Birmingham, the centre for the West Midlands Police of the U.K., and the Tally Ho training centre, where they had an interaction with the Chief Constable.

Global issues
The issues covered in these presentations included corruption investigation, counter-terrorism, and interrogation methods. Lectures and workshops covered an even broader range of global issues, with the faculty drawn from the U.S., Australia, U.K. and India representing leading universities and major police agencies from around the world.

The concluding session was attended by Professor Lawrence Sherman, Wolfson Professor of Criminology and Director of Police Executive Education at the University of Cambridge, Professor Raj Kumar, Lord Ian Blair, former London Metropolitan Police Commissioner, and Sanjeev P. Sahni, Head of Education, Jindal Group.

Professor Sherman, who is a co-director of the course, said: “The IPS officers showed an impressive interest in advancing the science of policing by conducting pioneering new experiments in crime prevention on the rigorous model of medical clinical trials. With the JGU's support, the police agencies of India have the best opportunities in the world for producing a geometric increase in the scientific knowledge about effective police practices.”

Evidence-based policing
Professor Raj Kumar said: “I welcome the interest of the IPS officers in the growing field of ‘evidence-based policing', which is a central focus of our Centre for Penology, Criminal Justice and Police Studies at the Jindal Global Law School.” With the completion of training for the third batch, 300 senior IPS officers of the rank DIG and IG have been trained so far under the mid-career training programme.

Source: The Hindu, October 30, 2011

6,500 Indian students deported from Australia due to Visa irregularities

A recent report in Australian media about the cancellation of a whopping 15,066 visas of foreign students has caused a flutter in India. The largest number of students - around 6,500 - who now face deportation, are Indian. While the media report, which appeared in Australia's The Daily Telegraph, is based partly on annual figures for 2010-11 published by the Australian government's Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC), educational consultants and experts in India are not pressing the panic button yet.

Most of them feel that genuine Indian students who comply with the requirements of their visa have no reason to be concerned about deportation. The crackdown by the Australian government, which resulted in a 37% increase in student visa cancellations over the previous year, are part of series of steps being taken to benefit international students and weed out low-quality education service providers.

Many Cases of Visa Expiry
"The visa cancellations have primarily hit Indian students in vocational education training (VET) in Australia who have violated their student visa terms. In some cases, the visas had expired rather than being cancelled. Many Indians joined courses only as a means of getting permanent residence in Australia and were not genuine students," says Harmeet Pental, Regional Director (South Asia), IDP Education, the largest organisation representing Australian universities.

It appears that around 8,000 of the cancelled student visas were cases of visa expiry when the time period ran out. "Students need to ensure they don't get into such a situation. Among the visas which were genuinely cancelled by DIAC, over 2,200 occurred because the students withdrew from their courses," Pental adds.

Even as the DIAC is trying to spruce up the student-immigration process, reforms are also targeted at making things smooth for genuine students. A recent review by former New South Wales minister Michael Knight focuses on a easier visa policy for foreign students.

The Australian government has accepted all the recommendations of the Knight panel that will kick in from the first half of 2012. These include the end of mandatory cancellation of student visas for unsatisfactory attendance, unsatisfactory progress and working in excess of hours allowed. This will allow DIAC to decide cases on individual merit.

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

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Most rural students 2 grades below par in language, maths

Painting a grim picture of the state of primary education in five states of the country, the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) has revealed that 53% of the fifth standard children in rural India can read a second standard level text and 36% can solve a three digit by one digit division problem, thereby suggesting that the situation has hardly changed over the six-year period for which ASER data is available.

Further, the report says that children’s learning levels are far behind what is expected of them. Most of them are at least two grades below the required level of proficiency in both language and mathematics. The study conducted by ASER Centre, UNICEF and UNESCO followed about 30,000 children in 900 schools in Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand and Rajasthan for a period of 15 months to see how much they learn in a year and the factors associated with classroom, school and household lead to better learning.

With 13% of the country’s population under six years of age, India’s annual budget for elementary education stands at Rs. 21,000 crore (Rs. 210 billion) and more than 96% of all children are enrolled in school.

The report found that 20% of children surveyed are first generation school-goers and less than half of all households have any print material available so they don’t have materials to read at home. Though children are expected to be able to read simple words in first standard, ASER said that out of more than 11,500 second standard children tested, less than 30% could read simple words and only three out of every 10 children could fluently read third standard text.

“Even in high performing states, both second and fourth standard children have difficulty writing simple words correctly. Less than 20% could solve a one digit addition word problem. Further, while children in fourth standard could comfortably solve basic arithmetic operations, they struggled with word problems which required them to apply this knowledge,” the report noted.

Source: The Financial Express, October 29, 2011

Blacklisting of banks by UK to hit students, co-op banks

Students aspiring to study in the UK are likely to face hardships due to blacklisting of about 1,950 Indian banks by the UK Border Agency for visa-related purposes. Most of the blacklisted banks are cooperatives located in rural and semi urban areas. The parents of students hailing from rural and semi-urban areas have a tendency to maintain accounts in cooperative banks, this will hit them, say experts.

“Now, the students applying for visas will have to rely on a handful of banks in which they may not operate accounts,'' Ms. Sridevi, a senior functionary of Visu International Ltd., an agency which offers consultancy in admissions abroad and visa process. The visa applicants will have to attach a financial statement for the purpose of verifying applicants' maintenance funds under Tier 4 of the points-based system.

The UK Border Agency maintains a list of financial institutions in some countries that do not satisfactorily verify financial statements. This is the first time that a large number of Indian banks have been included in this. The blacklisting has come at a time when students gear up for visas. The semester-based admission season in the UK universities generally takes place in September and January.

The UK is the second major destination for Indian students after the US for courses in sciences, engineering and management. According to data available with leading consultancies, in 2009 UK had granted about 34,000 students visas which had gone up to over 50,000 in 2010.

Surprisingly, many sound banks were also included in this which shocked many. “The blanket blacklisting of this number of cooperatives banks reflects badly on the country's financial health and regulation globally,'' Mr. B.V.R. Sarma, the Greater Bombay Cooperative Bank Ltd., said. Many middle class families are now holding accounts in urban cooperatives and the blacklisting would create “unnecessary hassle'', he said.

There was strong regulation in the country to guard against any kind of frauds/forgeries as alleged by the UK agency, he added. Other known banks including AP Mahesh Cooperative Urban Bank, Pondicherry Cooperative Urban Bank Ltd. and Saurashtra Cooperative Urban Bank Ltd., have also been blacklisted. “The Government should take up this issue of unwarranted, blanket blacklisting with the UK authorities,'' said an official of AP Mahesh Bank.

Source: The Hindu Business Line, October 29, 2011

Friday, October 28, 2011

IITs dangle carrots to attract faculty

The IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology) might not have reached the sanctioned strength of faculty members to make an ideal report card of 10:1 students-teachers ratio post the capacity expansion, but they are doing all they can to attract best quality talent to their campus. Be it IIT-Delhi (IIT-D), IIT-Bombay (IIT-B), IIT-Kanpur (IIT-K) or new IITs like IIT-Gandhinagar (IIT-Gn), IIT-Hyderabad (IIT-H), institutes are taking measures to attract the next generation of top quality faculty members to their institutes.

From investing in and beefing up the infrastructure in R&D, housing, helping create opportunities for the spouses of faculty members, providing lump sum grants for young faculty for research, building new state-of-the-art sports complex for new campuses, providing up to 25% higher salary through donations for new joinees to offering joining allowances for fresh recruits – institutes are leaving no stone unturned.

As a result, fresh PhDs and post doctorates have started joining the system from some of the best institutes of the world including IITs, Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and universities and institutes such as University of Illinois, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, California Institute of Technology, Max Planck institute, Germany, University of South California, Carnegie Mellon University, Imperial College, London, UK.

"Incentives like these do a world of good in attracting best talent. It is a concerted effort over a period of time that shows results. We are already getting ambitious and high potential candidates who want to work with us," says Prof. Devang Khakhar, Director of IIT-B.

In the last four years, IIT-D, for instance, hired around 107 faculty members from across the world. To retain them, the institute is investing in better infrastructure. A new housing block of 120 flats for faculty members and their families is being built which will be ready soon. In the next 2-3 years it is planning to set up a central research facility that will house the biggest projects across domains at a cost of Rs. 40-50 crore (Rs. 400-500 million).

To retain the faculty, the institute is trying to create opportunities for teachers' spouses with requisite qualifications in incubation and entrepreneurship centres as technical staff or wherever there are vacancies, says R K Shevgaonkar, Director, IIT-D. It also aims to introduce an outreach service under faculty mentorship programme, which will create a pool of talent. "The aim is to groom world-class teachers not only for IITs, but engineering institutes in India in general. It will be a two-tier process which will train teachers for IITs and they in turn will help create a pool of faculty for engineering colleges across India," adds Shevgaonkar.

IIT-B too has investment plans on the same lines. It will invest around Rs. 300 crore (Rs. 3 billion) in the next three years to enhance and augment its current infrastructure with 180 new faculty apartments, lab space, new academic blocks for computer science, nanoelectronics technology, biotechnology and energy. The institute has also cut down on recruitment time with hiring drives being conducted through out the year unlike once a year previously. Now positions get filled within three months of announcing a vacancy, it claims. The institute which has the sanctioned capacity of 800 full-time permanent faculty members and works with 516 faculty members who tutor 8,000 students, however, says it will never hire more than 60 faculty members every year.

"If we are talking about quality, we have to be extremely cautious about who we are hiring. It just cannot be a mad rush to fill up vacancies, but merit of the individual joining IITs," says Devang Khakhar, Director, IIT-B which hired around 90 people in the last four years. Agrees Sanjay G Dhande, Director of IIT-Kanpur, "There has to be aggressive hiring, but not at the cost of quality. It is extremely essential to see that the candidates we hire have great potential, has done some quality research work and is adept at teaching at institutes like IITs."

Starting next January, the institute will offer a joining bonus of Rs. 15,000 per month for the first three years to young faculty members. For encouraging research, it has been offering a one time grant of Rs. 2.5 million to fresh joinees along with a faculty fellowship of Rs. 15,000 per month for three years for the best faculty on campus. And all this in addition to their salaries.

One of the new IITs which came up in 2008, IIT-Gn, has devised a plan to reach out to Indian PhD/Post doctorate students, faculty members across United States and Europe to attract them. In December the institute is hosting a conference where 70 PhDs and Post Doctorates from across the world will come together to talk about how IIT-Gn can become a world class organisation. Higher salaries are also on offer. "With donations we have been able to offer up to 25% higher salary to new faculty members. So while an assistant professor might get Rs. 70,000-75,000 in other IITs (the standard package), we are offering Rs. 85,000-90,000 to them," says Prof. Sudhir K Jain, Director, IIT-Gn.

For its part, IIT-H is betting on its new campus that will come up in 2013 which will provide state-of-the-art housing facilities to its faculty members. It is also building a world class sports complex which is being designed by Japanese architects. Prof. Uday Desai, Director, IIT-H says, "We have invested heavily on research in material science, wireless communication and high performance computer technology. We are also trying to attract donations which can be channelised for the institute's growth and quality research. It can help us in the long run if more people take interest in building world class knowledge centres."

Source: The Economic Times, October 28, 2011

Zee Learn to manage schools owned by government, corporate houses

Zee Learn Ltd., the education firm of Essel Group​, plans to enter a new segment — school outsourcing, or managing schools owned by corporate houses or the government. The company said this is a fresh business opportunity at a time when the country’s education sector is growing rapidly and companies from other sectors also want to invest.

Chief executive officer Sumeet Mehta said Zee Learn is in talks to manage a school of steel manufacturer JSL Stainless Ltd. and some other companies. “We are hoping that 20% of our school business will come from this segment. We will focus on operating and managing schools of leading business houses and making it a key vertical to expand,” said Mehta. “We are in touch with at least four-five other corporates.”

India’s kindergarten to class 12 (K-12) segment was worth $20 billion in 2008, private professional colleges $7 billion and tutorial $5 billion, according to a report by consulting firm CLSA.

The cost of school education has doubled between 2005 and 2011, according to the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham). There are at least 240 million students in India pursuing school education, according to data available with the Union government.

Zee Learn runs 900 play schools, 100 K-12 schools and nearly three dozen animation institutes across the country. It recently tied up with Japan’s Gakken Education to improve science learning in classrooms. By the end of the year to March 2012, the company plans to add 100 playschools and 25 each in the other segments.

Mehta said Zee Learn hopes to have 500 K-12 schools in five years, of which 15-20% will be owned by others. Motiprakash Rath, deputy general manager, corporate communication, JSL Stainless, said the company is in talks with Zee Learn. “Organizations like Zee Learn are specializing in education and we believe that the best result can be extracted by giving the right job to the right people,” Rath said.

Analysts said school outsourcing can help education firms sidestep the difficulties of land acquisition. “For any business expansion, land is a major issue and in case of education firms this is definitely one of the concerns. Hence, some K-12 education players find it convenient to partner with those corporate houses or government bodies that have this facility. What they are following is a management service model,” said Bharat Gulia, senior manager, education practice, at consulting firm Ernst and Young.

Mehta agreed that acquiring land is a concern for Zee Learn, and the company won’t mind expanding to smaller cities and towns, where land acquisition is easier. Zee Learn has already tied up with the Gujarat government to manage 25 municipal schools in Ahmedabad, he said. The agreement was signed some months ago and the company will take over operations after Diwali holidays.

The company’s board has approved a proposal to raise $60 million to support its expansion, Mehta said. He did not say how the money will be raised but added that the option of bringing in private equity firms or other investors is “not off the table”. Zee Learn’s revenue grew 40% in the first half of fiscal 2011-12 to Rs. 220 crore (Rs. 2.2 billion), Mehta said. In the second half, it aims to expand 50-60% to nearly Rs. 300 crore (Rs. 3 billion) as it is expecting its order book to grow.

Source: Mint, October 28, 2011

IIM-C widens its net to catch more students

Every year over 200,000 students take the CAT (Common Entrance Test) examination aiming to join the premier management institutions, but only about 3,000 make it. Some enter the IIMs (Indian Institutes of Management), a few more join other premier institutes like IMS, FMS and others. Those who do not clear the examination settle for other private management institutions, or foreign universities, or choose a different profession.

Here is an opportunity for those others to look at online courses offered by the top management institutes of the country. IIM-Calcutta (IIM-C), which is celebrating its golden jubilee this year, declared an ambitious five-year plan to reach out to more students. The institution has already started offering online courses on management, and plans to do this in full measure. “We are the only institute of this repute, 10 per cent of whose revenue is generated through online programmes,” says Shekhar Chaudhuri, Director of IIM-C.

The institute presently houses 462 students. Its strength can be increased to 700 in the coming years. “Yes, we are developing infrastructure to accommodate more students, and our target is to take 500 students this year. But how far can we increase the strength? We cannot accommodate the thousands of students taking the examination,” says Ajit Balakrishnan, Chairman of the board of governors of IIM-C. "It is not economically viable. [On the other hand,] we can certainly educate thousands through online courses.”

There are always apprehensions among students that online courses are not as effective as full-time courses. But here IIM-C is offering Internet-based courses which will enable an online education in real time. They will be in no way inferior to full-time campus courses, says Chaudhuri. “We designed the courses so that the candidate will also be visiting the campus for a few days to learn,” he adds.

IIM-C has about 600 students on its campus every year, plus about 4,500 through its distance programmes. With the introduction of Internet-based models the institute is expecting to add 2,000 more students this year, and reach out to 5,000 more students in coming years. “The courses offered online are socially motivated to reach out to different geographies and different sections of people who would otherwise miss a quality education,” says Sougata Ray, IIM-C’s Dean.

To address the woes of the manufacturing sector, which complains that the best management people enter the service sector, IIM-C is offering a programme titled “Visionary Leadership in Manufacturing,” in collaboration with IIT-Kanpur and IIT-Madras. The institute is also planning to develop a one-year Advanced Teachers Management programme, that will help institutions across the SAARC region to enhance the quality of their management faculties. These teachers will also participate in doctoral programmes at the institute. IIM-C will also tie up with other universities, foreign and Indian, to develop a diverse faculty and student body. It aims to become an International Centre of Excellence in Management Studies.

Source: Business Standard, October 28, 2011

IIT coaching centres play a board game

With the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) working out the nitty-gritty of the format of a new Joint Entrance Examination (JEE), IIT coaching centres are also firming up their course of action to ensure that their business does not suffer. Kota-based Career Point Systems, for instance, will launch a school curriculum coaching division and also look at partnering with schools to train students on campus. “Seeing the kind of shift the regulatory framework might bring in, we are looking at incorporating some changes in our business model,” says Pramod Maheshwari, the Chairman and Managing Director of Career Point Systems. “We are gearing up to open a school curriculum coaching division by the next academic year. So far we have been preparing students for competitive exams, but now we have decided to partner with schools and prepare them for board exams too,” he adds.

Coaching institutes say they prepare students for high-end examination and though the IITs’ move will reduce the students’ dependence on them, the impact will be short-term. “The changes may impact the business for the initial two years, but things will be back to normal later,” says Maheshwari. “Even today the majority of 12th standard students take tuition. Coaching institutes will now focus more on teaching students in a way that they secure more marks in the board examination as well as in the aptitude tests. Aptitude tests like SAT, GMAT or CAT require a certain kind of training which coaching institutes have been providing,” adds another director from an IIT-JEE coaching institute in Nagpur.

Last month, the IIT council accepted the recommendations of the T. Ramaswami committee report on JEE reforms and also proposed a single entrance test for all engineering colleges, including IITs, National Institutes of Technology (NITs) and private institutions. The IITs say a notification will be issued in a couple of months which will give details of the format to be followed by the IITs while considering a student for a seat — whether to give 50 per cent or 60 per cent weightage to the board exams and the rest to IIT-JEE scores.

There is, however, a slight confusion and uncertainty about the new IIT-JEE pattern that will be put in place in 2013. “Two years down the line, IIT-JEE might be an aptitude test. The details, however, would be made available only after a formal notification in January 2012,” says the director of an IIT who does not wish to be named. “We have also agreed that the weightage for the board exams would apply to all subjects and not a select few. We decided to implement the new system in 2013 because there will be logistical constraint and feasibility issues,” he says, adding that they now have 15 months to get the new format in order.

Over a decade ago, English and engineering drawing, too, were part of the IIT-JEE examination. IITs would even accept state board toppers directly, informs an IIT director. Four IIT directors Business Standard spoke to said that the change in the IIT-JEE format is the need of the hour. “The Chandy committee report had brought out the fact that there is a correlation between school performance and IIT performance,” says a director. “Today, because of the culture of coaching classes, the schooling system has been thrown out of the window to such an extent that students are not even attending school because of the pressure of such training programmes. We hope this will change that,” the director adds.

IIT directors concur that when students graduate from elementary to secondary school, the elementary school performance is taken into account. And, when one goes from secondary to higher secondary, the performance in the secondary school is considered. Similarly, when one graduates from the secondary school system to the tertiary system, that score needs to be taken into account. “The world over, admissions are based on your overall academic performance. Unfortunately, that logic has been reduced to lip service and this causes all kinds of aberration in the education system, which needs to be restored,” says an IIT director.

Industry experts feel that exams like IIT-JEE have been causing difficulties at the school level because these have shifted the focus from school education. Students do not attend school and instead go to these coaching institutes. “Today, school education and board exams are getting neglected due to the pressures of the coaching class,” says Gautam Barua, Director, IIT-Guwahati. “Students focus only on physics, chemistry and biology and don’t learn geography or English which are subjects taught in schools. The ministry has, therefore, convinced the IITs to consider school education in IIT-JEE,” adds Barua.

While the IITs have given an in-principle approval for the change, the final decision will be taken by the IIT-JEE Committee in January next year. IIT-JEE, say IIT directors, has become a craze among students, largely because of the high-paying jobs one lands after an IIT degree. The directors say it will be an uphill task to bring in changes in the pattern. First, a mechanism will have to be put in place to normalise the school results by the numerous boards which the Indian education system follows. While IITs believe that the changes in JEE will bring the focus back on school education, coaching institutes argue that with the standard of teachers in schools not up to the mark, that idea appears far-fetched.

Source: Business Standard, October 28, 2011

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

UK student visa rider for Indians

Britain on Tuesday published a list of nearly 1,900 banks in India — most of them cooperative — whose financial statements will not be accepted for student visa purposes. The move is set to affect thousands of Indian students wanting to study there. The new list has just 85 banks operating in India whose statements will be accepted for purposes of student visas.

As part of the application for student visas Tier 4 under the points- based system applicants have to show evidence of possessing the necessary funds to pursue a course of study and live in the UK for the duration of the course. From November 24, if any applicant provides bank statements from the listed nearly 1,900 Indian banks, showing they have the necessary funds, the application will not be considered.

The list includes banks operating in many states in India. The list of banks whose statements will not be accepted are categorised as “cooperative banks, scheduled urban cooperative banks and nonscheduled urban cooperative banks”. Official sources said the visa officers will accept statements from student visa applicants from international banks, or national banks with a UK private banking presence, or regulated national or state banks that provide a core banking service.

The British home office also published a list of 85 banks operating in India whose statements will be accepted for purposes of student visas. This list of banks includes “scheduled commercial banks”. The drawing up of approved and non-approved list of Indian financial institutions for student visa purposes means that applicants who have accounts in banks mentioned in the nonapproved list will have to open accounts in the 85 banks mentioned in the approved list before applying for the student visas.

A home office statement says: “ The list forms part of the reforms to the student immigration route. The change is to ensure that we can verify that student visa applicants hold the required maintenance funds to support themselves and pay for their course in the UK. Verification checks are made on the basis of documents provided with the student visa application but there have reportedly been many cases when such checks have not been satisfactory, particularly from cooperative or smaller banks.”

Admission to universities such as Cambridge will get difficult as the UK has decided not to accept statements of 1,900 banks.

Source: Press Trust of India, October 26, 2011

Australia cancels 15,066 student visas; Indians hardest hit

Australia has cancelled 15,066 student visas of foreign nationals for breaching visa conditions and over 3,000 face deportation for flunking subjects, with Indians among the hardest hit, reports said on Tuesday. The immigration department has already cancelled 15,066 foreign student visas in the past year, a 37% spike from the previous year.

About 3,624 students are facing deportation for flunking subjects or missing classes and a further 2,235 visas were cancelled on students who quit their original courses and were either working illegally, in some cases in brothels, ‘The Daily Telegraph’ reported.

The report said that one in every five international students is Chinese, while one in every six is Indian. The majority of international students were placed in New South Wales and Victoria. The report said that Indian students have been hit the hardest where as Chinese students were fared better as they were less likely to be studying for a trade. Under the new rules, University graduates will have the right to work here for two years after they graduate, leaving vocational training students to wait on a second tranche of changes, due next year, to find out where they stand.

Of the 332,709 international students in Australia in June, more than half were studying at university, while a third were on vocational training visas studying diploma courses. To receive a visa students must be enrolled in a course and show they can pay tuition and living costs and meet health and English language tests.

Source: The Financial Express, October 26, 2011

Brand building: Top Indian institutes eye global icons

Leading economist Joseph Stiglitz will address the convocation ceremony of the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI), Kolkata, in January 2012, the first time ever that a non-Indian Nobel Prize winner will lecture graduating students at a major Indian institution. The ISI's pursuit of Stiglitz represents a larger trend of the country's institutions increasingly viewing convocation ceremonies as long-term, strategic brand-building exercises, top government officials and academicians said.

“It's a big catch, getting one of the world's leading economists, a Nobel Prize winner, to deliver the convocation address. It certainly helps improve the global branding of the ISI,” said a senior administrator at the ISI, India's leading theoretical and applied statistics school, requesting anonymity. Anya Stiglitz, the Nobel Laureate's wife, and an adjunct professor at Columbia University, confirmed to HT that Stiglitz would be delivering the ISI convocation address. Stiglitz, who won the Nobel Prize in 2001, also teaches at Columbia University.

But Stiglitz is not alone. The Indian Institute of Management, Kozhikode (IIM-K), is desperately trying to get economist Jeffrey Sachs, who teaches at Columbia University's Earth Institute, to deliver its 2012 convocation address, top IIM and government sources said. Sachs has not yet decided, they said.

“It's definitely a trend, one where institutions are going away from sarkari (governmental) convocations to strategic convocations that are more branding events than just occasions to hand over degrees to students,” said an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Director.

The choice of chief guest at convocations has traditionally been largely restricted to the President, Prime Minister, human resource development minister or health minister at most of India's top educational institutions, with the odd exceptions of a few Indian-origin scientists and economists. The perceived need to stay in the government's good books was to blame, senior administrators at some of the country's top institutions said. “You could call it the ji hazoori (Yes Sir) syndrome,” the ISI Kolkata administrator said.

But Indian institutions are now increasingly looking to use convocations to build their institutional brand by getting a globally famous and respected personality as a chief guest. Several months of lobbying are invested in this task each year, sources said. Chief guests who are icons in the field of study in which students are graduating also make convocation addresses more relevant for the graduates, sources argued.

Source: Hindustan Times, October 26, 2011

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

SRM students get NASA award for concept aircraft

In an age when the carbon footprint of frequent fliers has become a global concern, four students of the Department of Aerospace Engineering, SRM Institute of Science and Technology, Chennai, have ranked third in the foreign universities category of an international design competition organised by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Their challenge was to design an environment friendly aircraft.

The four students — Akshay Garg, Surya Kiran Peravalli, Abdul Sayeed Khan and Sweety Pate Prakash — are now all set to go to the NASA’s Aerodynamics Research Centre in Langley, Virginia, on November 15- 16 to present the model designed by them. As part of its Environmentally Responsible Aviation project, NASA had invited students to propose ideas and designs for aircraft of the future that use less fuel, produce less harmful emissions and make less noise.

The contest, open to both US citizens and foreign students, explores technologies that will help mitigate the impact of aviation on the earth’s atmosphere. The SRM quartet, under the guidance of Assistant Professor G. Mahendra Perumal, has developed a conceptual aircraft appropriately named SERA, or SRM Environmentally Responsible Airliner.

The team got to know about the competition on the Net. A senior student advised them to use this opportunity to form a team and prove their credentials in the field of aerospace. “The course had started in 2007 and we hadn’t yet got a big opportunity to showcase our skills,” Prakash, a second- year student, said. “We gathered as a team of four and started working on the problem statement provided in the competition announcement.” The students developed the concept aircraft they named SERA with features such as seating for 200 passengers, higher fuel efficiency, superior aerodynamic performance (shorter take- offs and landings), and lower emissions.

"When we started working on the project and consulted our department, everyone was unsure whether we’d be able to pull it off,” Abdul Sayeed Khan said. “We even got comments like ‘You wouldn’t be able to produce anything worthy of NASA’. But our guide gave us the strength to move on.” Remembering the “sleepless nights we spent to create better technology,” Surya Kiran Peravalli is glad that the team did not give up mid- way. “We never thought of our final result; we stayed focused on the problem statement,” Peravalli said. “If you work hard with total interest and put in all that you have, you will surely be appreciated.” The team is busy getting ready to go to America. “We’ll be back by November 18 and we hope to impress the people at NASA before we come back,” says Khan. “And then we have our future to take care of,” choruses the team.

Source: Mail Today, October 25, 2011

As West Heads South, Ivy Grads Eye India: Want experience in a growing economy

Graduates from the elite Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) may be the cats whiskers in the job market but perhaps not for too much longer. They will now have to vie with their global counterparts from Ivy League universities and other top institutes worldwide for top-drawer placements and compensation.

The most-coveted consulting firms at top B-school campuses in India such as Bain and Co., AT Kearney and Boston Consulting Group say the number of resumes from graduates at top B-schools such as Harvard, Wharton, Kellogg, Stanford, and INSEAD-France has shot up recently. These include largely students of Indian origin although feelers are coming in from non-Indians, too. The good news for graduates from IIMs and other top Indian B-schools is that they still constitute close to 90% of the total hires of such firms, which are among the top choices for students.

"Given the troubled economic scenario in the western world, India seems like a good option," says Sampath Sudarshan Kumar, Partner, Bain & Co. Bain, which hardly ever received resumes from non-Indians, has of late seen such requests for direct hiring into India. "We expect to see more of this as having the China and/or India experience is increasingly becoming important - almost a necessity for career progression," adds Kumar.

At Boston Consulting Group (BCG) India, queries have been increasing from institutes such as Harvard, Stanford and Kellogg. "At the moment it is reactive hiring, but BCG India is planning to look at it more actively," says Ravi Srivastava, Partner and Director, BCG India. AT Kearney in India hires mostly from the IIMs -Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Calcutta, and sometimes Lucknow; it also taps the Indian School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad.

Experience in a Growing Economy
Of late, though, there have been some shifts. Vikas Kaushal, Partner & Vice-President, AT Kearney, says: "It is true that a lot more aspirants from Ivy League institutions and top B- schools now approach us for working in India. For example, at INSEAD in France, the number of queries to work in the India offices of AT Kearney has gone up in the last couple of years. AT Kearney teams in France undertake the recruitment programme in INSEAD and also identify potential candidates for the Indian practice," says Kaushal.

AT Kearney selectively looks at people from leading B-schools such as Wharton, Harvard and others. The firm has also started getting requests from graduates from Western B-schools who want to work in India for a few years. It's good to have India on the CV. There is an increasing set of people who want to work for two-three years. "The interest in getting work experience in a growing economy like India has increased. We get applications where people want to work in India for a few years," says Kaushal.

McKinsey & Company does get a number of applications from students at Ivy Leagues and other top institutes, but has no near-term plan to recruit from there. "We're blessed with great talent in India, and as a firm have the benefit of an excellent global talent pool; so we have no near-term plans to proactively recruit abroad for entry level for India," says Renny Thomas, Partner, McKinsey & Company.

For the Ivy Leaguers and graduates from top B-schools abroad, salaries are Indian. Firms say that pay packets are role-linked and not institute-linked. "Ivy League students will get the same salary as IIM students for the same role," says Kaushal. That effectively means Ivy League students are willing to take a salary cut to work in India. At Bain, none of the overseas candidates is paid differently when compared to equivalent candidates in India.

Source: The Economic Times, October 25, 2011

Monday, October 24, 2011

Centre to set up 1,500 ITIs to tackle skilled labour crunch

The Union Minister for Labour and Employment, Mr. Mallikarjun Kharge, said that 1,500 ITI (Indian Technical Institutes) have been proposed across the country to tackle skilled labour shortage in the 12th Five Year Plan. To a query from presspersons on wage board for journalists, he expressed the hope that it would be solved at the Cabinet meeting scheduled for October 25. The issue would come up in the next Cabinet meeting on October 25, Mr Kharge told presspersons in an informal chat in Coonoor.

Later speaking at the 118th Annual Conference of the United Planters' Association of Southern India (UPASI), Mr. Kharge, reiterated the importance of labour and said the manpower element is indispensable in any industry and more so in the labour-intensive plantation sector.

On the Minimum Wages Act, he said that it differed from State to State, and the State had the power to decide on the minimum wages. “But due to acute shortage of labour, many States had started to amend the minimum wages. It is the responsibility of the State Government to protect the interest of the labourers.

The new generation aspire for white collared jobs and this is resulting in shortage of farm hands, particularly because of the shift that is taking place at present,” he said and assured that the Centre would take all possible steps to improve the plantation sector. The Plantation Labour Act of 1951, he said was amended in 2010 to make it in tune with the present and was not aware of any shortcomings in the Act.

Ms. P. Jayaprada, Member of Parliament, pledged the need for revising the Employment Act and said that she would take up this issue with the Centre. Mr. P. Viswanathan, Member of Parliament, in his address said that tea was neither categorised as agriculture nor industry. There is a need to place tea as an agro-based industry to derive the benefits of both. He said that he has sought extension of the subsidy at enhanced rates for producing orthodox teas, extension of special purpose tea fund with increased cost-marking for proportionate subsidy element to raise subsidy whenever costs went up and not make SPTF as a requirement for granting subsidies.

Source: The Hindu Business Line, October 24, 2011

Sunday, October 23, 2011

300 Tri-Valley students may be sent home

Up to 300 students, a majority of them Indian, are likely to be sent home after United States immigration authorities spent more than nine months investigating the Tri-Valley University (TVU) visa fraud case. Following a meeting held on Friday between Indian officials and their U.S. counterparts at the Department of Homeland Security, Department of State, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Indian Embassy said that more than a thousand students were being considered for transfer to other universities.

Of these 435 transfers have already been approved, 145 have been denied and “about an equal number” were issued with Notices of Intention to Deny (NOID). NOIDs had been issued to the students based on a preliminary examination of the documentation and other circumstances pertaining to the individual students’ cases, sources told The Hindu.

The idea of issuing a NOID was to give students some time to respond as required. U.S. officials have advised that students who have received NOIDs should “reply to the notices in the stipulated time with required and additional information or documents.” This would put the total number of students likely to be told that they had to leave the U.S. in the vicinity of 300. The remaining transfer application cases, another 300 or more in number, were said to still be under examination.

In terms of the progress of the investigation since then, U.S. officials said that the cases of students that have been examined were considered individually “after evaluating all the information provided by the students.” However no timeframe has been provided for wrapping all the cases, although 600-odd cases were said to have been covered in the last six months. Sources said that students who were denied visa and returned to India would not face any restrictions against reapplying for another student, or I-20, visa, adding that in the case of those who re-applied their application would be considered afresh without prejudice to their earlier denial of transfer visa from TVU.

However it is not yet clear whether any formal or written assurances to this effect will be given to the students. This may be a concern because there are some legal circumstances under which students returning to India and reapplying for an I-visa may face a risk of denial based on their past association with the TVU case. The Notice to Appear is a case in point. “Once you leave [the U.S.] after an Notice to Appear is issued, you are automatically considered to be self-deported. After self-deportation you are subject to a minimum five-year ban from re-entering the U.S,” as immigration specialist Attorney Sheela Murthy said. While an NTA is different from a NOID, a written assurance to students may assuage concerns regarding possible debarment from re-entry under a NOID too.

Sources also noted that the process with regard to NOIDs would be that after receipt of the notice the student in question would be required to respond to notice, following which they would get a further intimation as to whether their case has been considered or denied. If denied, the source said, students would have recourse within the framework of U.S. law, possibly entailing the pursuit of justice in a court of law. The case of TVU near the San Francisco area in California came to light in January this year when a sting operation led by ICE closed in on a major visa fraud network run by Susan Xiao-Ping Su (41), then the head of the University.

At the time ICE issued a notice of forfeiture of properties of Su. However with over 95 per cent of the students involved said to be of Indian origin, and a majority from Andhra Pradesh, it was evident that many hundreds of them might be left in legal limbo, facing the prospect of being “removed” and, before that, the humiliation of wearing a radio tag for monitoring. In May, Su was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of visa fraud and money laundering. After last week’s meeting sources also said most of the earlier cases of radio tags had already been cleared and the last six months had seen no new instances of radio tagging. So it was quite likely that there are very few tags on students at this time, if any.

Reflecting on the room for discretion available to U.S. immigration authorities in adjudicating on individual cases, the Indian embassy said that at the meeting on Friday it had sought to impress upon U.S. officials that “the Indian students of TVU have undergone hardship since the closure of the University and that their cases should be viewed with understanding.” In a statement the embassy added that it was continuing its efforts with U.S. authorities aimed at addressing the plight of TVU students.

Source: The Hindu, October 23, 2011

India-born achievers shine in White House honors list

In White House events that underscored both United States' capacity for scholastic absorption from across the world and India's contribution to American advancement, several luminaries of Indian origin have been honored by President Barack Obama this month amid a continuing debate about US intellectual leadership in the so-called knowledge century.

Foreign-born scholars were conspicuous in the White House on Friday when President Obama conferred the National Medals for science, technology and innovation, with India-born scientists prominent among them. As Obama himself noted, three quarters of the dozen honorees were born outside of the US (three of them from India), and "they searched for the best universities and the most advanced labs -- and they found them here, because America is the best place in the world to do the work that they do."

The three India-born scholars honored were New York University's Srinivasa SR Vardhan, Purdue University's Rakesh Agarwal and North Carolina State Univeristy's B Jayant Baliga; the last two originally from IIT. Their honors follow another White House event earlier this month when the US President welcomed three winners of the Google Science Fair to the Oval Office, all of whom happened to be young women, and two of them - Shree Bose and Naomi Shah - of Indian-origin.

(Earlier this week, Obama also honored Indian-American activist Vijaya Lakshmi Emani posthumously in a White House ceremony with the Presidential Citizens Medal for her work on domestic abuse in the Indian-American community. Andhra-born Emani, a trailblazer for women's rights, died in a road accident in 2009.)

At Friday's event, Obama himself recalled his meeting with Shree, wryly joking about "her first experiment in second grade trying to turn spinach blue...and in fourth grade, she built a remote-controlled garbage can." But for the Google science fair, at the age of 17, he noted that she discovered a promising new way to improve treatment for ovarian cancer. "And she also told me very matter-of-factly that she'll be going to medical school and getting a doctorate, and I suspect she will do so. She did not lack confidence," he remarked amid laughter.

There were similar lighthearted moments about the senior honorees with the US President joking that they make "all of us really embarrassed about our old science projects." But on a more serious note, he said because of their work, "we are one step closer to curing diseases like cancer and Parkinson's...soldiers can see the enemy at night and grandparents can see the pictures of their grandchildren instantly and constantly. Planes are safer, satellites are cheaper, and our energy grid is more efficient, thanks to the breakthroughs they have made."

Indeed, among the honorees was Rakesh Agarwal, a Purdue University engineer who was chosen for the technology award for improving energy efficiency and reduced the cost of gas liquefaction and separation. His work has helped electronic device manufacturing, liquefied gas production and the supply of industrial gases for diverse industries. Baliga was recognized for development and commercialization of the Insulated Gate Bipolar Transistor and other power semiconductor devices that are extensively used in transportation, lighting, medicine, defense, and renewable energy generation systems. Vardhan an alumnus of Presidency College, Chennai and the Indian Statistical Institute, won the award for his work in probability theory, especially his work on large deviations from expected random behavior, which has revolutionized this field of study during the second half of the twentieth century and become a cornerstone of both pure and applied probability.

Source: The Times of India (Online Edition), October 23, 2011

Saturday, October 22, 2011

NIFT ties up with New York college

The National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) has tied up with the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York, for a dual degree under-graduate programmes. According to an official statement, all selected students from NIFT would avail of the opportunity to obtain a joint degree awarded by NIFT and FIT. The agreement will be implemented at the earliest for the benefit of the NIFT students.

Union Minister of Commerce, Industry and Textiles Anand Sharma said the objective of forging a strong global connect and offering international academic exposure to its students has been instrumental in NIFT undertaking a commendable initiative of establishing academic linkages with the New York-based fashion institute in the form of dual degree.

In fact, NIFT was established in 1986 in collaboration with FIT with the assistance of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). At the initial stage, NIFT entered into a decade-long agreement for academic and infrastructural support. Since then, NIFT has seen tremendous growth with 15 centres and the expansion of international and domestic linkages.

Source: The Hindu, October 22, 2011

Friday, October 21, 2011

MBA Admissions: Queues at top US B-schools turn shorter

The gangbuster growth of business school applications during the recession appears to be a thing of the past for two-year full-time MBA programs. This year, application volume was down at 21 of the top 30 full-time MBA programs, according to data collected by Bloomberg Businessweek. The decline in applications is a trend that appears to be accelerating, with eight additional schools reporting declines in application volume this year over 2010.

Applications were down at seven of the top 10 business schools, including the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business, Harvard Business School, and Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management.

Stanford saw the biggest dip in application volume of the top 10 schools, with 586 fewer applications this year, an 8 per cent decline from 2010. Still, some of the top 30 schools managed to buck the downward trend. Dartmouth University's Tuck School of Business, University of Michigan's Ross School of Business and University of California, Los Angeles' Anderson School of Management, reported substantial increases in applications, with each school receiving more than 200 applications over last year's total.

The downward spiral in application volume at the top 30 schools is mirrored in the business school world at large: 67 per cent of two-year full-time MBA programs surveyed by the Graduate Management Admission Counil (GMAC) reported a decrease in applications this year, up from 47 per cent in 2010. A skittish economy, coupled with candidates unwilling to leave their jobs, may be causing some to hold off applying to business school, GMAC noted in its latest survey of application trends. "The impact of economic uncertainty on admissions trends for full-time MBA programs may still be underway," GMAC said in the report.

The smaller pipeline of MBA applications this year meant that getting into some of the top business schools has become easier. Two-thirds of the top 30 business schools admitted a larger percentage of applicants this year, up from one-third the year before. The University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management had the biggest slip in selectivity of the top 30 schools, admitting nearly 41 per cent of students, up from 30 per cent in 2010. More typical were the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business and Brigham Young University's Marriott School of Management, both of which saw selectivity slip five percentage points. Even Stanford, the most selective of the top 30 business schools, became slightly easier to get into, accepting 7 per cent of all applicants, up one percentage point from 2010.

Source: The Economic Times (Courtesy - Bloomberg Businessweek), October 21, 2011

AIIMS doctors overworked, no research

Hamstrung by an acute staff shortage and increasing overload of patients, at least one-third of the faculty members at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) are compelled to work even on Sundays and other holidays. The first-of-its-kind study, which looked at how doctors on an average spend their time, has thrown up interesting findings.

With three in four faculty members feeling that the official working hours are inadequate for finishing their routine work, the study conducted by the institute's department of hospital administration found that on an average, a member works for 55 hours and 47 minutes far in excess of official working hours of 42 hours and 30 minutes in a week. In absolute numbers, it works out to 13 hours 27 minutes or 31.2% excess time.

Surgery and allied speciality faculty members spend more than 50% excess time as compared to their peers in medicine, who spend almost 38% of extra time. Para-clinical and clinical departments' faculty members spend 16% and 26% extra time, respectively. All of them have to report to work before time, stay beyond the working hours, work on off days like Sundays and other holidays.

The study, conducted by Dr Shakti Kumar Gupta (HOD, hospital administration) and Dr U S Garg, found that faculty members on an average spent most of their time seeing patients. Consequently, teaching or pursuing research took a beating. Around 26.2% of the time of an average faculty member was spent on teaching, research (25.2%), patient care (31.2%) and administrative work (17.1%). The faculty, on an average, availed just 32.5 days of vacation in a year against the authorized annual leave of 74 days.

More than 60% of the faculty members reported coming to work before the start of official working hours every day varying between one and two hours. Similarly, more than half of them stayed beyond the official working hours every day up to at least two hours. "Most of the departments in AIIMS are grossly understaffed. Though 629 faculty positions are authorized at AIIMS, only 434 are filled - a deficiency of more than 30%," the study said.

Three-fourth of the faculty members interviewed felt that their department was understaffed. About 90% of the faculty disagrees that AIIMS has adequate strength. Faculty members told TOI that one of the main reasons for doctors finding no time for research or to socialize is due to tremendous patient load. Nearly 10,000 patients a day attend OPDs alone. Around 94.6% of the faculty said they have not undergone any formal induction training programme on joining AIIMS as a faculty member.

"Faculty in pre-clinical departments spent an average of 26.1% extra time over and above their official working hours in the institute. Faculty in para clinical departments spent an average of 16.7% extra time and spent just 26% time on research-related activities. Faculty in clinical departments spent an average of 38.2% extra time over and above their official working hours with 21.3% time on research related activities and 39.84% time on patient care related activity," the study said.

Male faculty members spent an average of 38.6% extra time over and above their official working hours for the purpose of teaching, research, patient care and institute-related activities. Female faculty members, on the other hand, spent an average of 14.1% extra time.

An AIIMS faculty member said, "We sacrifice our personal time for the good of the nation. AIIMS is a tertiary care referral institute par excellence providing the best in terms of education, research and patient care in the country. The proportion of time the faculty spends plays a major role in determining the quality of research, education and patient care."

Source: The Times of India, October 21, 2011

Thursday, October 20, 2011

BlackBerry maker knocks on engineering colleges' doors for apps

BlackBerry, which is considered to be the phone of the businessmen and professionals, seems to have set its eyes on the youth. While launching models to attract them, the Canadian company Research In Motion (RIM) has begun an initiative to keep the youth engaged in developing apps (applications) for the BlackBerry community across the world.

The company has decided to tap the engineering students in India to strengthen the developer ecosystem. “We have already 2,000 applications specially developed for Indian market by local developers. There are over 26,000 developers in India,” Ms. Annie Mathew, Head (Alliances and Developer Relations) of RIM India, said.

Addressing a press conference, she said the company had launched a pilot in Tamil Nadu where in engineering students from 10 universities were invited to take part in the BlackBerry Summit. “They will be given relevant tools to develop Apps. They will get prizes at the end of the competition,” she said.

The company, which covers 625 telecom networks across the world, saw no act of sabotage in disruption of services that had kept millions of users out of the Web for a few days. The firm was getting to ready spend a fortune on the applications that it was going to offer for free for its users beginning Wednesday night.

The $100 candy of applications was aimed at pacifying the outraged users across the world. The BlackBerry users were getting messages from the firm about the freebie. People could choose from a bouquet of applications drawn from various segments of utility. When asked what could be the financial impact of the outage, RIM representatives said that they were yet to estimate that. “But we will have to pay to developers of the apps that we are giving free of cost,” they said.

Source: The Hindu Business Line, October 20, 2011

Learning & Earning: Pharma firms match research needs with aspirations of class 12 pass outs

Foot soldiers in the war against disease can come from unexpected places. In 2008, when the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) launched its 'open source drug discovery' (OSDD) movement, it invited stakeholders - scientists, researchers, industry representatives - to participate in formulating new drugs to combat ailments like TB. The most surprising contribution came from students, mostly graduates.

Today, of the 4,000-odd people registered with OSDD, a little over half are students, engaged in activities from advocacy to lab work. "It has been a big discovery for us," says OSDD Project Director Zakir Thomas. "We thought we [at OSDD] were dealing with sophisticated problems that required input from sophisticated sources, like established institutes," he says. "But the students really surprised us." They did not just come from the metros. Having worked closely with scores of youngsters, Thomas has some advice for pharma companies. "If you are looking for new, innovative solutions, reach out to students, especially those in rural India," he says. "There's a huge talent base out there."

For pharma giants Lupin Pharmaceuticals and Dr Reddy's Laboratories, this merely confirms what they already know. Both companies run work-cum-education programmes for fresh-out-of-school youngsters from rural and small town India. Essentially, class XII graduates join the company as interns; alongside, they also study for a BSc degree in industrial drug sciences, offered by the companies through tie-ups with universities. The students attend classes over the weekend, while working at regular jobs in the companies' plants through the week.

Company closes a talent gap ...
Divakar Kaza, President (HR) at Lupin, says his company's Learn-and-Earn programme is a two-way street. It gives youngsters from economically-depressed families the chance to study further and skill themselves - and take home a stipend of Rs. 7,000 per month. It helps Lupin close a crucial talent gap: finding capable people to take care of some basic, but key, tasks. "The BSc and MSc graduates who join us prefer to become researchers or move to high-end lab work," says Kaza. "We find it difficult to source people as lab assistants, backroom staff and/or teams to carry out quality control. These are less glamorous, but crucial, jobs that keep the plant working smoothly."

Ganesh Nikam, Director of Biojobz, a bio-pharma staffing company , says that many pharma companies are struggling with this talent gap. "The BSc and MSc graduates who come in at the entry-level think of themselves as scientists, who would rather work from the comfort of the lab and do production," he says. "They feel regulatory tasks like quality control are beneath them."

Vijay Kothiwale, Vice-President (Works) at Lupin, says: "Finding people and making them employable is a challenge. With the Learners [the youngsters enrolled with Learn-and-Earn], we can train them up and create our own talent base, and also be sure of a high calibre of employees." Farooq M Shaikh, Deputy General Manager (HR) at Lupin's Tarapur plant, adds that in some cases the youngsters, with minimal training, handle certain divisions on their own, like the solvent recovery unit. "About 70% of our Learners function as back-up staff. When someone is absent, they step in," Shaikh adds. In their first two years, the Learners are rotated through every department.

Eventually, says Kothiwale, this kind of captive talent brings stability to the organisation. In the last six months, Lupin has recruited more than 300 youngsters for its plants in Tarapur, Goa and Indore; next year, it plans to extend this programme to plants its Mandideep (near Bhopal) and Aurangabad. A few months ago, the company organised its first recruitment drive for Learn-and-Earn, and invited applicants to walk-in interviews at a central location - Sholapur town for the Tarapur plant; Kolhapur for Goa.

... And students chart a career
Lupin believes in spreading the net wide. "There is talent in every corner of the country," says Kaza. "If we limit ourselves to metros, we will lose out on good people." One criterion for selection, however, is that the candidate should live within a 500-km radius of the plant, and never be more than a six-hour journey from home. That way, the youngsters will feel close enough to their families, and be persuaded to return to work when they go on leave.

Jobs are harder to come by in the hinterland, which is why Lupin's recruitment team has to sift through 10-15 times the number of applicants per position. For the 108 jobs in Tarapur, the team screened over 3,000 applications. Youngsters who live in the catchment areas of these plants are mostly children of poor farmers, factory workers and labourers who can only dream of a career, given their financial situation.

Like brothers Sanjay and Ashok Kholya, who moved to Tarapur from Uttarakhand two years ago when a strike shut down their father's factory. Last year, they scored in the high eighties in their Class XII finals. "Between our father losing his job and our mother sick with diabetes, there was no way we could have continued with our studies," says Sanjay, 18. So when they heard about Learnand-Earn, they jumped at the chance. Today, Sanjay works in the quality assurance department, while Ashok helps with research on new drugs. Every month, they take home almost Rs. 12,000 between them. At the end of three years, they will not only have a permanent position at Lupin, but also a BSc degree. "We see ourselves building a talent pipeline for all pharma companies with this initiative," says Kaza. "If, after being trained, some youngsters want to join another company, that's ok."

Rohit Pandit, 21, sees Learn-and-Earn as his shot at becoming a microbiologist. Pandit's mother has asthma, his aunt and uncle have high blood pressure and diabetes. So, while he spends his days at Tarapur culturing bacteria, Pandit dreams of finding alternative cures. His colleague, Aarti Dadmani, 19, sees her Lupin stint as an escape. Her parents wanted her to marry and pulled her out of college. "I wanted to study further, and make a career for myself," she says. "But my parents have no source of income. Now, besides studying, I also send money home."

Empowering youngsters
At Dr Reddy's, the self-managed team (SMT) is a multi-skilled entity of mainly high-school graduates which, with some handholding by a group of mentors, runs the plant with minimal supervision. The youngsters, aged 17-19 years, take their own decisions - whether about plant operations, or how they would like to juggle work and classes.

"The idea is to increase efficiency in manufacturing by reducing the number of layers [of hierarchy in the organisation," says Atul Dhavle, senior director, HR. "Your success in the marketplace depends on how swiftly you respond to the customer. Having a lean organisation helps reduce delivery time." It also helped cut the workforce by a third - from 120 to 40 - and reduce overheads in the company's plant at Baddi, Himachal Pradesh. The company first started an SMT in the Yanam plant (near Pondicherry) in 2002, and later at Baddi. Both have been setting new productivity records. Dhavle says a good production target is 240 people producing 100 million tablets a month.

A year after it was set up, the Yanam plant produced 160 million tablets a month, with a 40-50 member SMT. Baddi recently reported a 10% drop in overheads and a zero-accident year. Now, Dr Reddy's plans to introduce SMTs in all its new plants, starting with Vizag later this year. Like Lupin, Dr Reddy's focuses on creating local employment as well. Youngsters for the SMTs are drawn from places within a 100-km radius of the plant. They spend the first two years understanding the pharmacy business, both through weekend classes and stints with every department at the plant.

Typically, they handle packaging, warehousing, quality control and assurance functions, besides helping with technology transfer. "After two years of training, they are absorbed into the company as regular employees," adds Dhavle. Some become mentors for the next batches of youngsters coming in. "The idea of the SMT appealed to us because it empowers first-level people," says KB Sankara Rao, head of Integrated Product Development Organisation at Dr Reddy's "When there are four or five layers, people don't feel ownership. With the SMTs, the youngsters feel responsible, accountable and, therefore, a sense of ownership."

Source: The Economic Times, October 20, 2011

Engineering Change: 35% cut-off for entry to IITs, PSUs to recruit on GATE score

Candidates aspiring to crack JEE (Joint Entrance Exam) 2012 will have to score at least 10% marks in each of the three subjects and a minimum aggregate of 35% to figure on the common rank list for admission to IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology). The Joint Admission Board (JAB) of IITs decided to fix the minimum marks required to crack JEE in a meeting on Tuesday. Last time, the minimum qualifying marks in JEE were worked out after calculating the average of marks scored by all the candidates who wrote the exam.

According to JAB, the decision will make the system more transparent while making it easier to set their goals in the examination. "Earlier, the minimum marks required to qualify in JEE varied from year to year as it was calculated as the average performance of everybody who wrote the examination. So, the students did not really know the qualifying marks," said Prof. G.B. Reddy, organizing chairman, JEE 2012. He added, "But now the candidates will have an advantage. They may not be equally good in all subjects. So, they can work towards scoring at least 10% in the subject they are weak at and then work on their strengths." JEE has two sections each having a paper in physics, chemistry and mathematics. Reddy said average score or the qualifying marks was a little over 10% in JEE 2011.

In another major change, the maharatna and the navratna public sector undertakings (PSUs) have decided to recruit fresh graduates of various engineering colleges based on their Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE) score from next year's placement season. For example, the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC), a maharatna company, has written to engineering colleges saying they will recruit candidates based on their GATE score, group discussions and the interview and asked the institutes to encourage students to appear for GATE.

The PSUs say this will make a qualitative difference in the recruitments and that it will set a standardized process, but the engineering institutes are divided over the matter. While confirming recruitments will be based on GATE score, Deepna Mehta, a spokesperson of NTPC, said: "We won't conduct our own exams for recruitment and will rely on GATE score followed by GDs and interviews. Though, for the time being, we will continue our campus visits, it will be restricted. This to encourage recruitments based on GATE score." An HR official of Power Grid Corporation of India Limited, a navratna company, said, "Setting eligibility criteria based on GATE score will ensure credibility and give qualitative impetus to the process."

Source: The Times of India, October 20, 2011

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