Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Northeast India opens doors to private universities with a Rs. 3 billion investment

Policymakers in northeast India are finally creating a framework and inviting private investors in higher education, filling a glaring shortage that has in the past seen students in the region migrating to the rest of the country. The sector has till date received investments to the tune of Rs. 300 crore (Rs. 3 billion), and projects worth Rs. 200 crore (Rs. 2 billion) are in the pipeline. At least three to four private universities are looking to soon start operations.

"There is a huge demand for higher education institutions. Our foray in this sector has been met with a very positive response from students," says Stephen Mavely, Vice Chancellor of Don Bosco University in Guwahati. Some of the initiatives are in the public private partnership mode. Meghalaya, for instance, has inked a memorandum of understanding with International Finance Corporation for starting the Shillong Medical College.

The Assam government, in partnership with the Tata Group and Oil India Limited (OIL), is starting the Indian Institute of Information Technology and Advanced Sciences (IIITAS), which, says Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, will cover the advanced and applied sciences. "Emphasis would be on industry-interface research and development relevant to Assam, besides skill development, helping the youth of the state to be employable here and elsewhere."

While the Centre will hold a 57.5% stake in the project, the state government will hold 35%, and the Tata Group and OIL will hold the remaining stake, says education minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma. "Our initial estimate for this project was around Rs. 127 crore (Rs. 1.27 billion), but this will now go up," he says.

Nearly 375,311 persons from the the region migrated to other states in 2007-2008, according to an National Skill Development Council (NSCD) study on development and employment generation potential of the northeastern states. The majority of migrants were from Assam, followed by Sikkim and Tripura. In an attempt to keep the flock home, Assam and Meghalaya have seen at least five private universities starting courses. The privately-run Kaziranga University will commence MBA and engineering courses in Assam by July this year.

Anil Saraf, vice president of the Northeastern Knowledge Foundation, which is starting the university, says the group is initially investing around Rs. 100 crore (Rs. 1 billion) into the project, but will scale up the investment to nearly Rs. 300 crore in the next few years. The campus, on 50 acres, hopes to attract students from Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal. "We will also collaborate with foreign universities and initiate joint programmes and research," says Saraf.

There is a lot of demand for engineers in northeast India as huge projects in the infrastructure sector are being implemented here, adds SK Mahanta, CEO of MMS Advisory, a higher education consultancy. "Students in engineering colleges of the region are getting good campus placements," he adds. Several new universities, piloted by local promoters, are in the pipeline, he says.

Source: The Economic Times, February 21, 2012

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