Monday, April 30, 2012

'There is a dip worldwide in MBA applications'

Peter Tufano, Dean and Professor of Finance and Andrew White, Associate Dean of Executive Education, Said Business School, University of Oxford, speak to Ruchi Chopda and Shashank Venkat of Education Times on the current trends and the future of their respective fields.

How can international students, specifically Indians, leverage the Euro zone crisis to their advantage?
In business, both booms and busts give rise to opportunities. The current economic malaise will create opportunities for international students who are well-trained and creative. The exact form of these opportunities is not as clear. They could lie in finding new ways to channel capital across borders, starting new ventures, or simply being able to do "normal" jobs in an increasingly global world.

Have the fundamentals of financial education changed post the current economic crisis?
The fundamentals of a solid financial education have not changed markedly in the wake of the current economic crisis. A solid education should focus on tradeoffs between risk and return, appreciate how the rules of the game influence economic performance, and understand how institutional arrangements can influence incentives. Economic crisis over the last 15 years have focused attention on the extreme interconnectivity of markets, the extent to which incentives matter, and the compact between society and business. Curriculum is adjusting to these realities. For example, our Master's of Law and Finance Programme probes how laws, regulations, institutions, incentives, and markets interact to fund governments and businesses.

How are universities across UK coping with the fall in applications vis-a-vis non-affordability of education for local students and tightening of visa norms for international students?
I can't speak of general trends in UK higher education, but there is a dip worldwide in MBA applications. We are closely examining our programmes to ensure that best business education is delivered. The opportunities and challenges facing business are quite complex and students need education that goes beyond simple skills training. By tapping into the depth and breadth of expertise across the University, we can address these needs. For example, our Oxford 1+1 MBA Programme allows students to craft a two-year Oxford experience that combines depth of study in an area such as the environment or computing or contemporary India with the breadth of our highly ranked MBA programme.

The "Week of Action" has seen thousands of students protest against rising costs of higher education. Your views on how a middle path can be reached?
Higher education is expensive to provide. A vibrant higher education sector must continue to generate new ideas and insights in the form of research, which is also costly. There are some initiatives that can lower the cost of teaching, for example through online learning. If we want to make education available more broadly, we need to borrow-either in the form of government funding, or through government or private fellowships or loans-all of which would be repaid in various ways through a more educated and productive workforce.

According to a recent survey by Times Higher Education, Asian universities are increasingly challenging the domination of US and UK. What according to you are the reasons for this?
Higher education is increasingly becoming global. For example, international students comprise over 90% of Oxford's MBA programme. This diverse class enriches the student experience. But this trend also means that students from US or UK will look elsewhere to study. At the same time, the growth of the Indian and Chinese economies creates great demands for business training and domestic schools. They have created excellent programmes to meet this demand. This suggests that rankings will be much more fluid than in the past. For business education as a whole, this is a largely positive trend-competition will force us all to work harder.

Source: The Times of India (Education Times), April 30, 2012

Education stocks aren't toppers any more

A few years ago, education was the hot new sector that every investor — from retail to private equity — wanted a slice of. But the secondary market has not been all that excited, at least in recent times. Consider these numbers. Companies such as Educomp, Everonn and Aptech that had enjoyed price-earnings multiples of 60-99 times in 2008 (investors were willing pay Rs. 60-99 for every rupee of per share earnings) are now trading at single digit valuations. Even as more education-related companies are listed on the bourses now, investors aren't willing to pay high price to own a share of them.

Why have multiples collapsed?
It isn't the profit growth that is the problem. Companies in the education space have seen their profits surge 3-5 times in the last three years. “The listed basket of education players is still relatively small and each of them has their own unique issues, which led to a de-rating of the stocks,” explained Mr Nikhil Vora, Managing Director, IDFC Securities. He pointed to corporate governance issues in Educomp and promoter issues in Everonn.

In the case of Educomp, questions about the company's rapid pace of growth and stake sales by the promoters were raised by analysts, leading to a de-rating. The (erstwhile) promoter of Everonn was arrested by the CBI for allegedly trying to bribe an income-tax official. He was subsequently granted bail. Then he resigned from the company.

But governance issues apart, companies that got listed in the last couple of years (such as Career Point and Edserv Softsystems) have seen their multiples crash too. The loss of the ‘scarcity' value could be one reason. “While there is a fantastic growth opportunity in this space around K-12 schools, higher education, education services such as testing, coaching classes and education-focussed technology players, private equity players are learning with each incremental investment.

“The sector continues to be attractive for PE investors although in my view valuations may start getting moderated given the overall macro economy trends coupled with a moderated IPO market,” said Mr Raja Lahiri, Partner, Transaction Advisory, Grant Thornton India. There also have been exits from prominent education companies by private equity players in recent years. Educomp and Everonn saw private equity funds exit. Gaja Capital made an exit from Educomp in March 2011 while New Vernon made a complete exit from Everonn over the past one year.

Tutorial companies MT Educare and Career Point which made IPOs in the past year saw private equity investors such as Helix Investments and Franklin Templeton Private Equity, respectively, offload some shares. “It's still a little early for meaningful PE exits as education as a theme caught on only in the last couple of years. Apart from Pearson-Tutor Vista and some IPOs of education companies such as Tree House, there haven't been any large-scale PE exits in this space per se. “Of course, there have been cases of partial exits by players during IPOs, which would be driven by liquidity needs of private equity players,” explained Mr Raja Lahiri. The sector is attracting some new investors though.

Pockets of value
As per data provided by Grant Thornton India, the sector had attracted about $395 million worth M&A and PE investments in 2011 up from $266 million in 2010. Within the space, those involved in coaching for competitive exams, such as FIIT-JEE, Career Launcher and IMS, have seen private equity investments. A non-regulated space, the $6.4-billion coaching class market is one of the larger opportunities, but not without its challenges.

“There is limited value creation potential in the space as scalability is a challenge in 80 per cent of the market (tuitions). “In the remaining that offer coaching for aptitude-based entrance exams to engineering/professional courses, scalability is an issue,” felt Mr Nikhil Vora.

Source: The Hindu Business Line, April 30, 2012

Meta College to impart students hands-on training

The launch of Meta College will be the most ambitious venture among the many changes proposed in the new academic session at Delhi University (DU). The varsity has decided to start a course - B.Tech. in humanities - from this July. Students pursuing the course will be free to design their own curriculum and study in multiple colleges, which are brought on board by the university as part of Meta College. A DU official said the course aims at shifting the focus of education from learning by rote to hands-on training. DU has also got together with Jamia Millia Islamia to start a Meta University in the new session.

"We have a proposal to start B.Tech. in humanities for developing a Meta College. The academic and executive councils are yet to approve it. Once cleared, the course will be launched through the cluster innovation centre. We will tie up with colleges for the course. Students will be allowed to study at different colleges for completing the degree," said Vice-Chancellor Dinesh Singh. He said the course will consist of a variety of components and students can take up different subjects at various colleges depending on the expertise of faculty, availability of infrastructure and facilities.

"Students will get to experience the culture and facilities of different colleges. We will try to make an equitable distribution. The course will focus on learning through mentoring in groups and project work," said Singh. DU had launched another B.Tech. course in innovation in mathematics and IT last year as part of the cluster innovation centre. B.Tech. in humanities will now be launched to give shape to the Meta College. With a duration of four years, the new course will have 20 seats. Admissions are likely to be based on an entrance test and interview. From this year, only those getting enrolled at a DU college in the first year will be eligible to apply for B.Tech. in humanities. "The course will be oriented towards learning about society through extensive project works," the vice-chancellor said.

Source: The Times of India, April 30, 2012

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Funding crunch looms over Indian law schools

The National Law School of India University (NLSIU) Bangalore may face a funding gap of Rs. 20 million this fiscal year after the Karnataka state government cut its grant by 50% from Rs. 40 million last year. NLSIU was established in 1987 as the first of India’s flagship national law universities (NLUs). “We’ll have to cut down on expenditure, the service will not be as good as it is today, and you have to reduce employees,” surmises NLSIU’s registrar V. Nagaraj about what would happen if the shortfall is not met. “And if the UGC (University Grants Commission) doesn’t give the money, then the maintenance of the buildings will be poor.”

Between 2011 and 2012, NLSIU’s total expenditure has risen 31%. Over a period of five years, costs have spiralled by 160%, according to the college accounts, obtained under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. The lion’s share went towards paying salaries, with costs on this account more than tripling to Rs. 86.6 million last year from Rs. 26.6 million four years ago. NLSIU is increasing its class sizes, which requires additional teaching capacity, and teacher salaries were increased under UGC’s Sixth Pay Commission report.

Attracting highly skilled lawyers to teaching remains a challenge, admitted Nagaraj. It isn’t just a question of salaries — senior professors with 20 to 25 years of experience are paid amounts comparable with starting salaries for fresh law school graduates at corporate law firms — but there also needs to be meaningful continuing skill development and training of professors. While investment in teachers and college infrastructure is vital, some argue that many NLUs are now becoming too reliant on state government budgets, the availability of UGC cash and their own commercial activities.

NLSIU’s founder N.R. Madhava Menon made a deliberate and strategic choice when starting the law school not to chase major government funding in order to safeguard autonomy, recounts Ranbir Singh, the founding vice-chancellor of National Law University (NLU) Delhi and former vice-chancellor of the National Academy of Legal Studies and Research (NALSAR) in Hyderabad. “Since it was the first (national) law school, probably it worked,” he said.

After former law minister H.R. Bhardwaj took over as governor of Karnataka in 2009, more funding started to flow from the state to NLSIU, he said. In 2011-12, NLSIU was given a Rs. 20 million grant by the Karnataka government for maintenance, while another Rs. 20 million subsidized students from communities such as the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. Both of those amounts will now be halved, Nagaraj said, which was confirmed by Siddaiah, principal secretary of Karnataka’s higher education department. An NLSIU-type law school is a badge of prestige for a state. “All national law schools are born with much fanfare,” says Faizan Mustafa, the founding vice-chancellor of National Law University of Orissa, which was set up in 2009. Last month, Mustafa moved to Andhra Pradesh to become vice-chancellor of NALSAR.

Since 2005, as many as 10 new national law schools have been set up in India. Funds to establish the campus, infrastructure and covering initial capital expenditure can be abundant at the start. “Most of the law schools—they are going on the initial grant being given,” says Nagaraj. “If the government continues to support them, I think they’ll survive, otherwise it is difficult to support the institution.” Mustafa explains that some state governments argue that an NLU should fund itself through tuition fees and that UGC should be responsible for additional money because the schools are national institutions. UGC says that funding NLUs is a state government responsibility.

Singh and other vice-chancellors of law schools have lobbied the government for continued UGC funding. Given straitened circumstances, many national law schools have been forced to work harder to make ends meet, partly by beginning to think more like businesses. “It depends on the importance they give a law school in a particular state,” notes Singh, adding that the Delhi state government will grant another Rs. 150 million to the five-year-old NLU Delhi in the coming year. “Delhi has been very comfortable.” The state government has entirely paid for and constructed the campus in the Dwarka area, which Singh says is worth roughly Rs. 2 billion.

The Gujarat state government has supported the Gujarat National Law University (GNLU) in Gandhinagar. Net assets as of 31 March 2011 stood at Rs. 1.12 billion, compared with NLSIU’s Rs. 490 million. Vice-chancellor Bimal Patel says that between 2009 and 2013, Gujarat provided around Rs. 1.5 billion to set up the school, including its new 50 acre campus and other infrastructure.

“When GNLU was established in 2004, the government gave Rs. 100 million as corpus because at that time GNLU was just beginning,” he said. “The funds are given for the capital expenditure. For projects/programmes/activities, too, GNLU gets financial assistance from the government and PSUs (public sector undertakings). However, there is no particular budget line which specifies, like in NLS Bangalore, that GNLU will get ‘x’ amount from the Gujarat government for recurrent expenditure.”

On the whole, Patel seems more than satisfied with the current fiscal condition of the college vis-à-vis the state government. “I would say that the (Gujarat government) support system has been overwhelming.” Nevertheless, costs are rising rapidly at GNLU, too. In 2010-11, total expenses stood at around Rs. 82 million, having increased 40% from the 2009-10 expenses of Rs. 59 million, according to its audited accounts for the year disclosed under an RTI. A big share of that in 2010-11 — around Rs. 31 million —was spent on staff salaries that increased 33% year-on-year.

GNLU benefits from having around 800 students — largest student body of any national law school, and recovered around Rs. 36 million from residential student tuition fees in 2010-11. Together with other income from students or through additional diploma programmes, GNLU generated around Rs. 69 million, almost covering its expenses.

In 2007-08 at NLSIU, residential student tuition fees used to make up nearly half of the college revenue; in 2011-12, such fees were projected to account for less than a quarter of revenue, after growing by only 38% to around Rs. 43 million. NLSIU has long bet heavily on distance education programmes to boost its finances. In 2005-06, distance education at NLSIU already made up 26% of the total income, generating a respectable Rs. 15 million from five courses, with directly related expenses coming to only Rs. 2.3 million.

By 2011-12, the single largest part of NLSIU’s income was coming from six distance education programmes, which were projected to generate revenue of Rs. 60 million at a direct cost to the college of less than Rs. 10 million. Indeed, for the college, the overheads of distance education are minimal, with teachers and facilities already available on tap. The majority of such courses are taught online and students, many of whom include non-lawyers working full-time jobs, only visit the Bangalore campus once a month.

The NLSIU brand name carries a lot of value on a diploma and the most popular course is the two-year Master’s programme in business law, which pulled in Rs. 43 million in 2010-11. The runner-up is the intellectual property (IP) rights course, which earned Rs. 6.4 million. NLSIU is to launch a diploma course on cyber law next year, but there will be difficulties in scaling up, says Nagaraj. “Distance education is going really well, but we have to further strengthen that, and there are so many other complications,” he says, noting that costs were rising and further investment was required to computerize and enhance the courses. And, he adds, in all their offerings, national law schools have to meet the mandate of “creating legal awareness”.

In September 2011, a scathing judicial report criticized the state of the administration of NALSAR Hyderabad. The judges also homed in on “fund-generating distance education” that had spread “dissatisfaction among its students and faculty”, although they recognized that law colleges were under pressure to earn revenue.

Other creative approaches to raising funds are also being tried, including the sale of school-branded merchandise to students. Money is also being raised through donations from industry and lawyers to sponsor events and gold medals for students. The amount, though, is pale in comparison with endowments at US universities. At GNLU, Patel says, faculty members are given the option of contributing 10% of their salaries to an alumni fund.

NLUs are confronted by a conflict about their role — business or social utility? “We want to reform legal education in the country and want to stabilize that, and we want to improve the facilities,” says Nagaraj. “The (national) law school philosophy is not making of profit.”

Source: Mint, April 26, 2012

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Doctors slam Azad order, say not enough PG seats, job opportunities

India produces 40,525 medical graduates who vie for 16,088 post graduate seats every year. The medical education pyramid tapers drastically after that — only 1,555 seats in superspecialities like M.Ch. (Master of Chirurgiae) and DM (Doctor of Medicine). Research-based medical specialities like immunology, genetics and physiology are in their infancy in the country with little or no scope for one trained in them to do meaningful work here.

Given this reality, Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad’s whip on Monday against medicine students working in the US invited scathing criticism from the medical community, which said that the blanket decision to not process papers for a work visa in the US would only redirect brain drain. They held that in the absence of adequate medical training facilities in the country, the diktat may be high on populism but made little medical or administrative sense.

Azad had said that doctors going to the US for higher studies would have to now sign a bond that they would come back immediately after the course and not work in that country. There would be no option to make a payment to skip the condition.

“Expecting doctors to return to the country after finishing their studies is legitimate but this has to be supplemented by a well-developed framework for their guaranteed and gainful employment so that their knowledge and skills are adequately utilised either in AIIMS-like institutes or the district hospitals or in course of the extensive upgradation planned for medical institutes. It is important to couple regulation with an enabling environment and a positive pullback factor,” said Dr K S Reddy, former head of the department of cardiology, AIIMS (All India Institute of Medical Sciences), who headed a high-level expert group on universal healthcare.

Moreover medicine is one discipline where education is often half of the training, the other half being experience, said Dr P K Dash, consultant oncologist at Indraprastha Apollo and a former topper at AIIMS of research-based specialities. “There cannot be a blanket diktat on not to work abroad. If a doctor goes to train in disciplines like pharmacovigilance and immunology which are almost non-existent in India, they won’t even be able to apply those skills here because there are no facilities. There are so many departments in the US that do not exist here. What will such people do?”

A former AIIMS doctor who worked for 30 years in a US university said the assumption that brain drain is only of the best is only half true because the stiff competition in PG and superspeciality courses means that a lot of doctors leaving the country are actually from tier two cities and second or third rate medical colleges who are unable to get through to a course of their choice here. The solution to the problem cannot lie in forcing people to come back here, it would lie in investing in medical education, the doctor said.

Terming Azad’s announcement as a “political” one, a senior doctor in MAMC (Maulana Azad Medical College) said the government’s heart is in the right place, but the head isn’t. “It is logical that anybody — not just a doctor — who has had a subsidised education should serve the country. But it is equally logical that should they repay that money, they should be free to work anywhere. So the bond should be optional and the money raised from the payouts should be used exclusively for medical education.”

The key to the debate, agreed Dr Anoop Misra, director and head, department of diabetes and metabolic diseases, Fortis Hospital and former professor of medicine at AIIMS, is investment in medical education. “Issue of brain drain is of great importance to India, both from point of view of making Indian medical science robust and economically. A surer way of tackling this problem is building and maintaining academically oriented state-of-the-art medical centres, providing better working environment and increasing emoluments of doctors.”

Source: The Indian Express, April 25, 2012

No change in visa policy towards Indian students: US

The US has said that there is no change in its policy towards issuing visas to Indian students. "I don't think we've changed our policy with regard to the way we interview applicants," State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters at her daily news conference.

"I think what we are doing is making sure that the sponsoring organisations truly are what they say they are in the United States; that if they say that they are bringing students over to educate them, that they intend to educate them, not put them to work, et cetera," she said.

Nuland said the US supports the recent initiative of opening community colleges in India on the pattern of those here. Last week, education ministers of four Indian States - Punjab, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, and Jammu and Kashmir, visited several US cities to have a first hand experience of the community colleges here.

"Well, obviously, we support this initiative. We have been working with the Indian side to flesh out the initiative that was agreed between the President and the Prime Minister through our Education Bureau here. And obviously, we are responsible for the visa issuance for the various folks studying in the United States," Nuland said.

Source: The Economic Times (Online Edition), April 25, 2012

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

New IIMs line up innovative courses

The new Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) are rolling out innovative courses to emerge out of the shadows of their older counterparts and address needs of the larger community. The institutes at Rohtak, Ranchi, Raipur, Trichy and Udaipur are creating unique models that bank on the IIM image as well as locational advantages.

While the flagship PGP programme will continue to be the mainstay of these institutes, the focus will also be on a host of other initiatives developed according to individual competence. These include everything from centres of excellence in areas like energy management, resource management and education management to programmes in areas of social and economic significance like public health, public policy and manufacturing management.

"With stagnation in enrollment in the West, several internationally-reputed schools are eyeing the Indian market for more students. In this context, we cannot be yet another business school offering the typical US model of education," says IIM-Ranchi Director MJ Xavier. The institute believes in a fusion of East, West and the region (Jharkhand, Bihar) and has identified a few areas of growth, namely: East (Indian management, inclusivity and sustainability), West (neuro management) and regional (energy management, public health, mining and public policy).

For neuromanagement, IIM-Ranchi has tied up with the Central institute of Psychiatry while for business analytics, it has entered into a tie-up with IBM, and recruited faculty for both courses. "In 2013, we are launching an 18-month part-time energy management programme in collaboration with a leading US university, as well as a certified public health worker programme. We are yet to find partners for the mining programmes while we propose to tie up with a UK university and offer programmes for bureaucrats soon in the area of public policy," says Xavier.

IIM-Rohtak Director P. Rameshan says that over the next few years, the institute intends to focus and develop expertise in areas in which the older IIMs have shown neglect. These are aligned with the future growth requirements of India and include global expansion of Indian businesses, manufacturing excellence, social entrepreneurship, excellence in agriculture, excellence in services, developmental excellence, and urban management. "IIM-Rohtak also intends to scale up its programmes from time to time in alignment with the growth needs of India," says Rameshan. "Each IIT is different, so is each NIT, so is each IIM," says KPMG Head (Education) Narayanan Ramaswamy.

For instance, he adds, IIM-Calcutta has always been known for its quantitative strength. The idea is to leverage the IIM brand but over and above that, build a differentiator that is specific to the institute. "You have to provide a reason why someone needs to come to you. These new IIMs have the right approach," he says. IIM-Trichy is considering a foray into areas of social and economic significance. For the near future, it has identified manufacturing and education management. The institute is planning to launch a oneyear full-time programme in manufacturing management in collaboration with IIT-Bombay.

"The main objective of the programme would be to groom the best engineers with a minimum of five years' experience on the shop floor to take up pivotal roles in manufacturing. National Manufacturing Competitiveness Council has agreed to support this programme," says Director Prafulla Agnihotri. IIM-Trichy is also planning to start a Centre for Education Management, which will look after the needs of the profession by conducting research, offering consultancy as well as counselling services to the educational institutes. IIM-Udaipur, on its part, will go in for applied research focused on specific regional issues.

"We want to make a difference to the region and are going to work with the Rajasthan state government in figuring out ways in which we can do so," says IIM-Udaipur Director Janat Shah. IMU plans to set up three centres of excellence: Center for Development Management where it plans to work with Udaipur-based NGOs; Centre for Tourism that takes advantage of the Udaipur location and Center for entrepreneurship and Innovation. Evidently, development in tune with the region's requirements is high on the agenda of the new IIMs. In keeping with Chattisgarh's role as a power hub, IIM-Raipur too plans to set up a centre of energy management for extensive research in the field. Also on the anvil is another centre for innovation and entrepreneurship. "Additionally, we will have a centre for resource management.

Chattisgarh has huge natural resources, with around 44% of forest cover; we have to address these issues in the larger interest," says IIM-Raipur Director BS Sahay. "IIMs are created for a bigger purpose than just an MBA," he says. Specialised courses rolled out by the institutes will serve as another revenue stream, especially for the future, but, they say, this not the main aim. "Our focus really is to build competency. If revenue were the only thing we were looking for, there are other avenues like distance education which are much more lucrative," says IIM-Ranchi's Xavier.

Source: The Economic Times, April 24, 2012

Graduates from top B-schools, IITs make a beeline for e-tailing companies

Raj Kuruhuri, 24, has been working for e-commerce start-up for over a month now. Kuruhuri, who graduated from Indian Institute of Management (IIM)-Indore this year, opted to join the online deals site that started only in late 2010, rejecting offers from major technology players. The meteoric rise of the e-commerce segment in the last one year is driving sharp minds from the country’s premier B-schools and engineering colleges to be a part of the sunrise industry.

This year, Snapdeal made over 20 offers across IIMs and 75 at IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology), e-tailer of books and electronics Flipkart hired 120 graduates from IITs and 23 from IIMs and other top B-schools. Online fashion store Myntra hired seven IIT graduates, five from Indian School of Business (ISB), and two from the IIMs this year. Naaptol, which was among the first-timers at the IIM campuses this year, made 15 offers across leading management schools, including Narsee Moonjee and ISB, all of which were accepted.

Industry experts point out that it is the prospect of bigger responsibilities and faster growth that are driving the graduates to look for opportunities in the e-commerce space. “I was looking at various sunrise sectors, but I was particularly interested in e-commerce because of the pace at which it is growing. What worried me about joining an established firm, is that I feared getting lost amongst 150,000 other employees, without ever knowing what my work was actually amounting to,” says Kuruhuri. In his one-month stint with BuyThePrice, Kuruhuri has laid his hands across departments, including sales, operations, promotions and category development. “This in a big firm would be unimaginable. Also, the people you work with drive a lot of passion into you, because their lives are built around their organisations,” he says.

This year, of the total 423 offers at IIM-Bangalore, 4% were from the e-commerce firms. The first-timers among the e-commerce companies this year at IIM campuses include RedBus, Valyoo Technologies, Via, and Naaptol. “We went to the IIMs for the first time this year. A total of 15 offers were made across the top-tier B-schools, all of which were accepted. Average salaries for IIM grads was R12 lakh, others were R6-9 lakh. We hired 10 IIT graduates with a package of about Rs. 600,000-900,000 as well,” says e-commerce head Sachin Singhal. The company has a staff strength of 1,500 and is adding 70 people every month.

According to an IIM-B report, the e-commerce sector this year was represented by Flipkart, InfoEdge, Snapdeal and Amazon. Flipkart recruited six students offering senior manager profile in sales and marketing, and supply chain. Companies feel that there aren’t many experienced people in the e-commerce space yet, and supply and demand are not proportionate. “The obvious place to look for is these colleges, where they may not be experienced in the field, but are definitely bright enough to work in it,” adds Sachin.

Recruiters point out that the age profile of the candidates from top B-schools are between 25-30 years and they look for jobs that offer areas to explore. They have a huge appetite for learning and start-ups give them that opportunity. Notwithstanding the global recessionary trends, 2011 witnessed a resurgence of the e-commerce sector. The largest investments in the space till date came last year when raised $40 million from Bessemer Venture Partners and raised $40 million from a group of investors led by Norwest Venture Partners and Intel Capital. In all, in 2011, this space saw 32 investments.

“In the last one year, the sector was successful in attracting a lot of funding from major VC/PE players that equipped the e-commerce players to pay heavy cheques to get talents from top management and engineering institutes. Money, and at the same time chance to do something new and exciting attracts these candidates,” said Sangeeta Lala, Senior Vice-President (Sourcing), of staffing company TeamLease Services.

Average salary offered by an e-commerce company to an IIM graduate varies between Rs. 1.2-1.5 million. While at IITs it is between Rs.700,000-1 million. “Salaries for tech and management freshers have been in the range of Rs. 1.2-1.5 million annually plus ESOPs and other benefits. For laterals, compensation was adjusted accordingly. At ISB it was in the range of Rs. 2-2.5 million because of lateral hires,” says Myntra.

“This year, we have made about 20 offers across IIMs and 75 in IITs. We have hired from top-tier schools for functions across marketing, sales, operations, product management, and vendor management. This year for the first time we visited IIM campuses,” said head of marketing at Sandeep Komaravelley. Snapdeal, which currently has 1,200 people, started its operations in February 2010.

However, some are of the opinion that it is not always that start-ups can match the offers of other big players but try to match them with benefits like ESOPs. “Start-ups can’t always match salaries quoted by the biggies, but we do tend to make up with perks like ESOPs. This has more to do than providing a monetary value. It instills a sense of entitlement, and ownership, and in many ways makes people want to do better,” says founder and CEO Ranjith Boyanapalli. The firm made two offers in IIM, Indore and Ahmedabad this year and both were accepted. Operational for two years now, the company currently has about 70 employees.
Source: The Financial Express, April 24, 2012

Doctors going to US for studies will have to sign bond for return

The government today said any doctor going to the US for higher medical studies would have to sign a bond with it before leaving and honour the document by returning to India after finishing the study period. "From this year onwards, any student going for further medical education to the US will have to give us a bond that he will come back after finishing the studies. In the last three years, 3000 doctors went abroad for studies and did not return. Now if a student does not come back from the US, he won't be allowed to practice there," Union Minister for Health Ghulam Nabi Azad said.

He said the US from this year onwards is insisting on a government NOC to every student enrolling with an American institute for studies. "No other country except the US is asking for this NOC. Those who apply to go to the US for studies from 2012, will have to give us a bond saying they would come back after finishing the studies. If they don't fulfill the bond obligation, we can write to the US to deny the student permission to practice," Azad told reporters here.

The minister also expressed the hope that the MCI (Medical Council of India) will give its approval to the proposed three-year Bachelor of Rural Health Car
e course, which seeks to create a separate cadre of public health professionals in the country to serve in rural areas. He said the doctors' organisations were not interested in the course. "Doctors' organisations are opposing the course. I have no hesitation in saying that they have a vested interest to increase their practice," Azad said.

Azad said there was a paucity of doctors in primary health centres as doctors only wanted to stay in urban areas. "The rural health care course was ready two years ago. The curriculum is also ready. States are free to implement the course, as Assam is doing, but we wanted the MCI's recognition to ensure uniform standards for the course across India. We hope the MCI will move fast on it," he said.

The course, Azad said, would create professionals above the level of paramedics and below the level of MBBS doctors. The move is aimed at not just taming the quacks, who have a field day in rural areas in the absence of adequate medical facilities there, but also provide good medical aid to the rural population at their doorstep. It is being opposed by doctors' lobby as patients from rural areas rush to private practitioners in urban areas, even as doctors' organisations feel the creation of a new set of professionals would confuse the population and lead to devaluing the doctors, official sources said.

Source: The Times of India, April 24, 2012

IIT-Bombay part of NYU-led consortium to build campus in New York

The Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IIT-B) will be part of a consortium of world class academic institutions that has been selected to set up an applied sciences campus in Brooklyn, under an initiative launched by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to strengthen the city's global competitiveness in the field of science and engineering.

New York University was selected as the second winner of the city's 'Applied Sciences NYC Initiative', the first being Cornell University and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, which are creating an engineering campus on Roosevelt Island. Bloomberg said the "historic agreement" between the city and the consortium of the academic institutions and private technology companies would lead to the creation of the 'NYU Center for Urban Science and Progress' (CUSP) in Brooklyn.

The NYU-Polytechnic Institute of New York University led consortium includes Carnegie Mellon University, City University of New York, University of Toronto, University of Warwick, IIT-Bombay, as well as technology giants IBM and Cisco, and will grant academic degrees in engineering and sciences. The centre would focus on research and development of technology to address critical challenges facing cities, including infrastructure, tech integration, energy efficiency, transportation congestion, public safety and public health.

"Each of the academic partners of NYU and NYU-Poly - Carnegie Mellon, University of Warwick and IIT-B, are known for their strong applied science and engineering programmes, and each has a solid track record of research commercialisation, as well as industry collaborations and partnerships," the NYC Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) said in a statement here today. IBM and Cisco would each provide a million dollars a year in financial and in-kind support. IIT-B Director Devang Khakhar said the issues facing Mumbai would provide unique new insights and be a source of ideas for the work of the Center.

"The Centre presents a great new opportunity to address the challenges of megacities by the generation of new knowledge using New York City as its laboratory and by imparting education with a focus on the planning, building and managing megacities," Khakhar said in the statement. "The work of the Centre will benefit New York City directly and will provide a template to address many issues of megacities. "We look forward to contributing actively as a consortium member of the Centre through the participation of our faculty who specialize in the fields of engineering and science related to urban studies," Khakhar added.

According to an economic impact analysis conducted by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), CUSP would generate more than US$ 5.5 billion in overall economic activity over the next three decades as well as US$ 597 million in total tax revenue. The campus alone would help create up to 2,200 construction jobs and up to 900 permanent jobs. It is expected to generate nearly 200 spin-off companies over the time period, projecting to create up to an additional 4,600 permanent jobs.

Theoretical physicist Steven Koonin, who has served as Undersecretary of Energy for Science and as Provost of the California Institute of Technology has been named as CUSP's inaugural director.

Bloomberg said the "cutting-egdge" centre would focus on research and science that would give a huge boost to the city's economy and establish New York as a "global hub of science, research, innovation and world-class urban solutions for the future". New York University President John Sexton said through CUSP, New York would become a "living laboratory, a source of research, a test-bed for new ideas, and the economic beneficiary of our researchers' discoveries".

The NYU proposal was selected through a highly competitive process. The proposal envisioned solutions for the world's growing cities in the 21st century. As part of the agreement with the city, NYU has identified as its preferred location for CUSP a 460,000-square-foot city-owned office building in downtown Brooklyn that is currently partially occupied by the New York Police Department.

NYU is expected to complete the renovation of the building in the summer of 2017 for the first NYU CUSP class to begin by September 2017. However, CUSP would immediately begin operations by leasing and renovating a different space in Brooklyn for the first phase of the programme, which will accept its inaugural class in September 2013.

The centre would include classrooms, laboratory space and an incubator for businesses spun off by CUSP or CUSP-related research. It is projected that approximately 530 graduate and doctoral students would attend CUSP, including approximately 430 Masters candidates and 100 PhD candidates. There will be 50 full-time faculty and researchers at CUSP comprising tenured faculty, contract faculty, research scientists and senior researchers from industry.

Senior US Senator from New York Charles Schumer said the world class engineering and applied science schools that are part of the project will "only strengthen the city's position as a leader in high-tech, and a premier destination for the talented and ambitious young people looking to make their mark in the new global economy".

In July 2011, NYCEDC had issued a request for proposal seeking a university, institution or consortium to develop and operate a new or expanded applied sciences campus in the city. In October, the city received seven responses from 17 world-class institutions. The city selected the consortium led by Cornell and the Technion in December giving it land on Roosevelt Island and USD 100 million in capital to build a two billion dollar tech campus.

Source: The Economic Times (Online Edition), April 24, 2012

Monday, April 23, 2012

Have work experience, get easy admission to B-schools

Students with prior work experience have an edge in B-school admissions. An improved “class-room experience” and perceived ease of placements, are primary reasons behind the trend. Official sources in Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) in Kolkata, Lucknow and Rohtak and, XLRI-Jamshedpur confirm that the share of such students has increased to 60-70 per cent of the batch size. The ratio was as low as 30-40 per cent till about two-to-three years ago.

According to Prof. Amit Dhiman, Chairperson, Placement, IIM-Calcutta, the 2010 batch, which was just placed, had 34 per cent freshers and 66 per cent students with work experience. “There has been a rise in the number of students joining IIM-C with prior experience. While a majority of these students have an average experience of 10 months-to-two years, close to 15 per cent of them had work-experience of more than 36 months,” he said.

Apart from an increase in students with work experience, there has also been a rise in the average tenure of such professional experience. According to Prof. Soumendranath Bagchi, Chairperson, Admissions, XLRI, the average experience tenure has increased from 10 months to 2-3 years. Only five per cent of the institute's students are freshers.

Quality of Class
According to Mr Pranit Upadhyay, Student Placement Co-ordinator, IIM-Rohtak, students with diverse work experience enrich the class experience. “A majority of the learning at B-schools happen through peer learning and it helps to have a batch of experienced people as that opens up scope for debate and discussions,” he said.

Close to 60 per cent of IIM-Rohtak's first batch (2010-12) had students with prior experience, which has gone up to 70 per cent for the 2011-13 batch. “People with experience have clear aspiration and better communication skills. Internationally, freshers cannot get into a B-school. We are trying to move towards that,” Professor Rajesh Aithal, Chairman, Placement, IIM-Lucknow, said.

Lateral placement, Better Salary
With the increase in share of students with work experience, management schools are placing more stress on lateral placement, where candidates are offered roles depending upon the nature and duration of their experience. The average pay package for students with experience is comparatively higher than that of a fresher, Mr Upadhyay said.

Source: The Hindu Business Line, April 23, 2012

Number of "innovation universities" reduced

The Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has watered down its ambitious plans of setting up 14 new "innovation universities". Not only has it dropped the numerical target, it has now reworked its concept to allow existing universities to be classified as innovation universities after a change in their governance structure. The reworked proposal is likely to be taken up by the Cabinet at its next meeting. Universities will not only have knowledge clusters, but also build linkages with research institutions and industry. These universities will focus on research-oriented innovations in design, development and delivery.

The Planning Commission, which is also working on some restructuring of the higher education sector as part of the 12th Five Year Plan process, suggested the change in the proposal. It now allows for existing universities and institutes to be upgraded to the status of universities for research and innovation after changes in governance structure. The Plan panel had raised objections to the idea of thematic universities, arguing that there are almost no world-class universities set up on a thematic basis. The MHRD has made it clear that even the theme-based universities will need to promote inter-disciplinary learning and research.

Over the last two years, there had been talk of setting up innovation universities focused on environment and ecology, culture and sports. However, none of these discussions progressed, even though several universities in the US and the UK expressed an interest in setting up innovation universities. There were apprehensions that resources would flow to the proposed innovation universities while the existing ones would not be helped to perform better. These apprehensions prompted the change in the concept of innovation universities.

The Sam Pitroda-headed National Knowledge Commission (NKC) had suggested that each of the 14 varsities be earmarked Rs. 200 crore (Rs. 2 billion) annually.

Source: The Economic Times, April 23, 2012

Sunday, April 22, 2012

We will double intake of PhD students: IIT-Delhi Director

More than 300 students and faculty members showcased their technical know-how and craftsmanship at the Innovation Exhibition organised by the Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi (IIT-D). The institute's Director, R K Shevgaonkar, spoke about the exhibition and research opportunities for students in India:

How is such an exhibition relevant to those outside the precincts of this institute?
This kind of an exhibition is proof of the extensive research done by students and faculty members at IIT. There are lots of science students and aspiring engineers who would be interested. The second aim is to invite young people to try their hand at research and development in India.

There is a growing belief among students that research opportunities are limited in India, which makes the West seem more lucrative. How is that ever likely to change?
That’s not true. This mindset is now changing. Earlier, in a class of 50, almost 20 students would come to us for recommendations because they were applying abroad. That number has now come down to five. India is one of the best places to carry out research work because a PhD student is given infinite opportunities to explore his field of study.

Do you think that more funds need to be pumped by the government into research in Indian universities?
Money is definitely required. But the Ministry of Human Resource Development [MHRD] gives funding for the basic infrastructure. The funding for research is usually provided by other agencies, such as the Department of Biotechnology and the Department of Space or Department of Atomic Energy. Students should actually take a look at the CSIR or DRDO labs to get a fair idea of the extent of research that can be undertaken in India.

So what role are the IITs playing to encourage students to take up research?
From the next academic year, we will double the intake of students in PhD courses. Currently, about 200 PhD scholars graduate every year. We are going to increase that number to 400 from next year and we hope to increase it further to 1,000.

There were complaints that there was a massive shortfall of teaching staff. How prudent is it to invite more PhD scholars when you don't have the required number of teachers?
That complaint has come from undergraduate students. Originally, the teacher-student ratio was 1:10. Now, because of the OBC expansion, the number of students has significantly increased. We are trying to fill that gap and are going to go to the US soon to recruit some faculty members.

Source: Hindustan Times, April 22, 2012

IIT-Delhi students display innovative concepts

If your mobile phone runs out of battery and there is no electric point around, IIT-Delhi's green-ion charger can prove to be a life-saver. A student at Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi (IIT-D) is working on an eco-friendly charger that runs on kinetic energy. Simply put, it can produce an electric current when moved. So wearing it on the knee and walking ahead will be enough to charge your phone.

"The internal mechanism of the device is ready and it can produce a current of up to 5 volts, which is enough to charge a mobile phone. I am planning to design this device in the form of a pen. It will generate a current whenever the user moves forward, Also, one can just move it in a particular way with hands to charge a phone while travelling" said Gulmohar Khan, a first-year student pursuing master of design. Khan's project was one among several innovative ideas and research works put forth by IIT-Delhi on Saturday in its eighth edition of 'Open House'. Nearly 400 projects were on display at the event, which had about 2,000 visitors.
"The response to the projects has been good this time considering the rush of visitors, " said IIT-D Director R. Shevgaonkar. The responsive camouflage textiles developed by Muksit Ahamed Chowdhury from the department of textile technology attracted many visitors. The fabric made by Chaudhury changes colours and produces heat. He said the fabric was ideal for defence operations and can be used for making garments, tents or safety spots. The ceiling fan developed by Naveen Kumar and his team from the mechanical engineering department was a huge draw.

"This fan can be used even in winters as it will keep the room warm. We have attached heating coils to the blades of the fan, which are connected to power supply through separate connections. The fan will make the air warm when its blades rotate," said Kumar. The coils can be detached to use the fan in summer. "It will cost only around Rs. 500 more than a normal fan," he added. A team of five from civil engineering department is attempting to use wastepaper to build bridges. The students insist that waste paper and an adhesive mix can be joined in a unique way to form a light-weight bridge.

Source: The Times of India, April 22, 2012

Saturday, April 21, 2012

IISc joins GreenTouch to reduce carbon footprint

In a move that could accelerate the process of reducing the carbon footprint, the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore has joined GreenTouch.

GreenTouch is a consortium of technology companies (like Alcatel Lucent), non-governmental researchers and academics that focus on communication and data networks, which form the backbone of the Internet. Typically, telecom and cell tower infrastructure companies emit a lot of carbons and are looking at ways to reduce it.

“With the expertise of IISc, we will be able to work at newer ways to reducing this carbon footprint. At present, this is at alarming levels and needs to be brought down by 15 per cent,” said Dr Gee Rittenhouse, Chief Operating Officer of Alcatel-Lucent's Software, Services and Solutions Group.

Students at IISc will work on projects that are specific to GreenTouch that would centre around ways to increase energy efficiency in wireless communication. The former Vice-President of Bell Labs Wireless Research added that carbon emissions emanated by networking equipments such as routers and base station antennas need to be reduced.

The Information and Communication Technology (ICT) industry currently accounts for two per cent of worldwide carbon emissions, and that figure is expected to at least double over the next decade as more people seek to connect with each other, according to analysts. The students in IISc will also work on future architecture of networks.

“Modern day networks are optimised for performance and not energy efficiency. A network optimised for performance and energy implies a very different design and architecture and this precisely what is needed to be sustainable going forward,” said Dr Rittenhouse. He added that the consortium would bring in technologies such as Large Scale Antenna System (LSAS) that can harness the power of thousands of antennas without increase in additional power.

Growth of Internet usage is expected to drive growth in wireless access usage in India, which has more than 800 million cellphone subscribers.

Source: The Hindu Business Line, April 21, 2012

IIT-Kharagpur to open extension centre at Chhattisgarh

The Indian Institute of Technology-Kharagpur (IIT-K) has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Chhattisgarh government to open an Extension Centre in the State to impart quality improvement and knowledge up-gradation training to the universities and college teachers.

This will be Chhattisgarh’s first centre for excellence in human resource development and it will offer part-time programmes leading to awards or qualifications at the Masters’ and higher or equivalent levels, within the framework of IIT-K’s academic norms and regulations, for teachers at all levels serving universities and colleges and polytechnics. The course will also be open for engineers, scientists and other professionals employed with the State government or any of its agencies or public authorities in the State; and professionals who may be outside public employment but residing in Chhattisgarh.

The Extension Centre will conduct programmes for imparting training and developing entrepreneurship in the State and partner with the State or entrepreneurs and industry for developing grassroots-level technologies, to promote rural employment, encourage new opportunities in rural livelihoods, aid in improving rural health, rural education, rural development, rural economy as well as rural entrepreneurship. Under the agreement, Chhattisgarh will make available the requisite land, buildings and related infrastructure, including furniture etc. as per the norms set by IIT Kharagpur, to enable the Institute to start the Centre while the IIT will be free to decide on the fee structure, syllabi and issuance of certificates.

The IIT Kharagpur will offer M.Tech. programmes in the video conferencing mode, through the Centre, during the weekends to suitably qualified candidates working in engineering colleges, State government agencies and public/ private industries in the State.

Source: The Hindu, April 21, 2012

Friday, April 20, 2012

TIFR: Dishing out pure sciences

Midway up the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT) numbered C-6, a 125-tonne radiowave dish receiver appears overhead and 29 other telescopes scanning the sky come into sight. Suresh Sabhapathy, coordinator of the Servo control system that points the dishes towards various celestial bodies, is our guide to the site in Khodad, Maharashtra. Up here, there is deafening silence across the arc of the dishes because “we listen, we only listen, we don’t speak,” says Sabhapathy.

It is not merely the view that is breathtaking, but the realization of what it takes to keep hold of that marginal edge Indian science has achieved here: low-cost, indigenous innovation that must keep pushing new frontiers. This edge is what the team of 11 men here has its eye on. For the first time since it was set up at a cost of Rs. 40 crore (Rs. 400 million) in the early 1990s, the GMRT is receiving a full-scale upgrade this year that will cost pretty much the same. The upgrade will “deal with technological obsolescence and continue keeping the competitive edge for Indian science,” says Yashwant Gupta, dean, GMRT.

The 30 dishes operate individually as telescopes and collectively, they make the GMRT the largest radio telescope in the 150-1,500 Mhz frequency in the world. In this facility of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) --- which 2011 Nobel Prize winner Brian Schmidt called “the best in the world” (Asian Scientist magazine, January) ---pure research stretches its limited resources. S. Sureshkumar, senior design engineer for the GMRT’s fibre optic communication systems, says: “Even a satellite only explores the orbit. The opportunity to design instruments capable of mapping galaxies beyond is what challenges us to create.”

The GMRT, one of TIFR’s — and India’s — largest projects to date, represents the fundamentals of an institute dedicated to the sheer joy of scientific play. The scale and localization of its upgrade, with everything being made indigenously, stands for how the TIFR has shaped, and is currently renegotiating, pure sciences in India, even as it seeks The Next Big Thing.

Defining pure
Set up in Colaba, Mumbai, in June 1945 under the guidance of the respected scientist and educationist Homi Bhabha, the TIFR remains one of India’s few bastions of pure sciences. Here, commercial constraints do not cloud projects. Bids for apparatus, even entire labs, receive funding and do not need to be dedicated to a single outcome.

Inter-departmental collaboration is encouraged, to the extent that Bhabha’s famous “Wednesday lectures”—where the faculty attends a common lecture session of other researchers’ ongoing works—continue even today. Almost no hypothesis is too wild a goose to chase.

“In play is the frontier of all scientific discovery,” Prof. Mustansir Barma, Director, TIFR, says. Its researchers must achieve a sabbatical at any other research organization once every five years in order to stay competitive. This is the only conditionality imposed.

Prof C. N. R. Rao, national research professor, honorary president and Llinus Pauling research professor, Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research, Bangalore, says: “TIFR is a well-endowed institution where scientists need not worry much about funding and support for their ideas and projects. It is unique in this regard. TIFR should be one of the world’s best institutes for research.”

The breadth of perspective it achieves from its collaborative functioning is unique. It is the difference between a single radiowave satellite, and all 30 of them, mapping the same celestial body. With it comes the realization that a change in definitions, silos, approaches, is as necessary as maintaining the purity of the bloodline.

“Pure sciences in the 1940s and 1950s were not what they are today. While we are careful not to allow applications of science to muddy the water, in that we are dedicated to pure sciences, there is the danger of the other—rejecting something because it may be applied,” Prof. Barma says.

TIFR’s reputation has been boosted by results — the closest temperature to absolute zero was achieved in the basement here, India’s first computers were built here, as were the first micro waves—both (computers and micro waves) were later hived off to commercial corporations. More importantly, “because of these results, funding and support is easier for us than for most,” Prof. Barma says. As Prof. Gupta of the GMRT explains, “We are trusted.”

New boundaries
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, while inaugurating the 99th Indian Science Congress in January, and outlining the 12th Five Year Plan objectives, said India’s new goals depend upon achieving improved scientific infrastructure and large key projects such as the India-based Neutrino Observatory. The 12th Plan proposes to increase spending on science from 1% of the gross domestic product to 2%.

At the TIFR, anticipation is high. In previous decades, scientists say, there were few funds for them to even attend international conferences or experiment, among other limitations. With the increased spending, as Prof G. Ravindrakumar, a scientist in the TIFR’s department of atomic and nuclear energy, puts it, “There are no more excuses for not achieving spectacular results in science.” This is also what Prof. Rao means when he qualifies his praise of TIFR, “Yet it has to strive hard to be on top of scientific institutions in the world.”

Results vs play
“We astrophysicists have a saying: All the knowledge uncovered by radio astrophysicists in the world is still not sufficient to light a single electric bulb,” says Divya Oberoi, an astrophysicist who has just returned from the Haystack Observatory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US, to work on the GMRT upgrade. In a world of applied science with commercial stakes, where technological advances are as rapid as obsolescence, the fundamental is painstaking. “You see something you did has had an impact many years later,” Prof. Barma says.

Much of TIFR’s willingness to take the risk of wandering through science in this painstaking fashion stems from Bhabha’s theory that the best results in science come from the library and the canteen. Prof. Barma explains: “A biologist and a laser physicist were having tea. The physicist told his friend about his finding that when you shoot lasers at small metal particles, you get a huge burst of X-rays which are tunable. But he couldn’t prepare particles of exactly the same size. The biologist said: ‘But we have bacteria and they are all the same size.’ And they began to work together.”

Only in TIFR, scientists say, is such random interplay encouraged. The biologist was Krishanu Ray and the physicists, M. Krishnamurthy and Prof. G. Ravindrakumar, at TIFR’s Ultrashort Pulse High Intensity Laser Laboratory (UPHILL). When using E. coli bacteria, they found the output was 60 times the expected in photon terms. The scientists have applied for a patent and are chasing the possibilities of this opening a whole new field of study. “I cannot imagine any laser plasma physicist working with a biologist anywhere else,” Krishnamurthy says. Ray is a physicist-turned-biologist and Krishnamurthy a chemist-turned-physicist. They say at TIFR that you don’t become a physicist just because you happened to study physics.

Such perspective is drawing young Indian thinkers in science back home. Mandar Deshmukh, 37, returned from his studies at Cornell and Harvard Universities in 2006 to set up the first clean room in the nanotechnology lab. He heads the graphene group — experiments with this material, known as the “rock star” of materials science, won two scientists, Russo-British Konstantin Novoselov and Dutch Andre Geim, the 2010 Nobel Prize in physics.

Deshmukh laughs off the hype. “People knew about graphene in theory, but it is only now that they are able to isolate the base atom, not just for graphite but for pretty much the whole class of materials. Again, the priorities of our country were different,” he says. In 2011, the graphene group at TIFR became the first group to quantify the unusual ability of graphene to contract as it is heated.

“We don’t have the number of scientists the US has and whatever we do will never really have that scale of impact,” Prof. Barma says. “It’s only in the last 10 years that the funding has started picking up. Many things that were unimaginable 10 years ago are possible today. It would be nice if we had a R&D culture nationally. Having said that, it will take some time.” Nobody knows what doors to the universe the GMRT upgrade will open. As dean Gupta puts it, “Serendipity is an important part of all astronomy.” In the meanwhile, in repeatedly asking the fundamental question rests all scientific progress.

Source: Mint, April 20, 2012

ISB earns Rs. 600 million through executive education programmes

The Indian School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad earned Rs. 60 crore (Rs. 600 million) from executive education programmes during 2011-12. “We are now the largest provider of executive education in India, offering open enrolment programmes as well as customised programmes to suit the specific needs of corporates,’’ Mr Deepak Chandra, Deputy Dean, ISB told Business Line.

During the last year, the premier business school trained over 4,000 senior executives through 125 programmes. Apart from its 50-odd regular faculty members, ISB has empanelled 150 visiting faculty from industry and academic institutions across the globe. The duration of the programmes generally range from three days to about a month depending on the nature of the course.

Apart from corporates, ISB also offers programmes to officials in Government and public sector enterprises and even politicians. A group of legislatures drawn from different State assemblies were coached last year in leadership and other aspects of public policy. "The response for this was very good," Mr Deepak Chandra said.

ISB also went global in executive education by entering into a memorandum of understanding with Karachi-based Institute of Business Admninistration (IBA) to commence programmes from June 2012. "We will also expand our international footprint to Bangladesh, Iran, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, Turkey, Mexico and Nigeria," the Deputy Dean added.

Source: The Hindu Business Line, April 20, 2012

CORE plans to invest Rs. 2.25 billion in vocational education

Education company Core Education and Technologies Ltd plans to invest at least Rs. 225 crore (Rs. 2.25 billion) to open a chain of vocational education institutes across India to train some three million people over the next five years. “The company understands the existing skill gap in India and thus the market potential, said Sanjeev Mansotra,” Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Core Education.

“As an end-to-end solution provider, we would like to focus a lot on vocational education. We will invest some Rs. 225 crore (Rs. 2.25 billion) and expect a revenue between Rs. 550 crore (Rs. 5 billion) and Rs. 600 crore (Rs. 6 billion) by the end of five years from now,” Mansotra said. “India needs an additional 140 million skilled workers across industry segments,” Mansotra added.

Vocational training in India is a $20 billion business opportunity per year, according to a July 2011 report by Kotak Securities Ltd. Around 475 million people will need training by fiscal 2022, it said. Vocational education has also emerged as one of the top priorities for the Indian government as it seeks to meet the skilled manpower requirement of the world’s second-fastest growing major economy.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has set a target of training 500 million people by 2022 and the central government has already allocated Rs. 2,500 crore (Rs. 25 billion) to the national skill development fund since 2009-10. Besides, several ministries are also deploying resources for skilling India’s workforce.

Mansotra said Core Education will raise funds from three main sources — internal accruals, public-private tie-ups with government agencies and a possible loan from the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC). An NSDC spokesperson said that the board is yet to take a final call on Core Education’s proposal. If the company ties up with NSDC it has to assure at least 80% placement.

Core Education may not adopt the franchise model for its educational institutes. It instead plans to set up 150 “company owned centres” across the country. Construction, automobile, healthcare, retail, hospitality, information technology (IT) and IT enabled services will be the key focus areas for the company.

“We will follow the source, train, place model by working closely with industry and government bodies,” Mansotra said. Skill training providers need to focus on quality education, said experts. “Skill is a huge challenge and this needs to be tackled on a mass scale without hampering quality,” said Rituparna Chakraborty, co-founder and vice-president of staffing firm Teamlease Services Pvt. Ltd. “Currently, we struggle to get enough right candidates. Our rejection rate is quite high.”

Source: Mint, April 20, 2012

IIT-Delhi scouts for a second home

A six-member team of faculty members and officials from Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi (IIT-D) on Thursday visited some plots in and around Jhajjar near Gurgaon to identify a site for the proposed campus expansion plans of the institute. The team, comprising IIT-Delhi Director R K Shevgaonkar, Deputy Director M Balakrishnan and former Director Surendra Prasad, visited three sites around Jhajjar and has zeroed in on a site “relatively close to Gurgaon”. The land is likely to be used as a research facility as the current campus, which has about 250 acres of functional area, is not not enough for the research needs of the institute.

Deputy Director (Faculty) of IIT-Delhi Professor M Balakrishnan said, “They (Haryana government) has been very positive in their response. They have shown us some sites but there are still many details that need to be looked at. It is really premature right now.” He said that at the current campus, many faculty members “did not have the kind of space required for their research. The proposed site is next to the second campus of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS),” the official said. He added AIIMS has already constructed a boundary wall around the site.

Former IIT-Delhi Director Surendra Prasad had announced during the institute’s Golden Jubilee celebrations in August 2011 that the Haryana government had offered 100 acres of land — free of cost — to IIT-Delhi to built a second campus. He had also said that the funding for the expansion will have to be generated by the institute itself as “this was an IIT-Delhi initiative” and not one of MHRD (Ministry of Human Resource Development).

Professor Balakrishnan said, “We are yet to look into the details of revenue generation and the facilities that may be developed at the new campus.” Early last year, the New York City had also offered IIT-Delhi space to open a campus there but the institute had declined saying that they “wanted to expand within the country first before going abroad.”

Source: The Indian Express, April 20, 2012

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Studying abroad: Top destinations change student visa rules

Studying abroad has become both easier and tougher, depending on the country you are looking at. Some of the world’s top study destinations for Indian students, like the UK, USA and Australia, have announced a slew of changes to their student visa regime. But these have not adversely impacted the number of students determined to get foreign degrees.

Keen on attracting serious students and the best talent, as opposed to those who come to the country looking for easy paying jobs, the UK government wants students to show evidence of a greater amount of funds to support themselves during the tenure of the course applied for. Under the Tier-IV application (general category), students will have to show that they have funds for the full course in the first academic year. To study in inner London, they must show funds of £800-£1,000 a month for a minimum period of nine months. For outer London, the limit has been raised from £600 to £800 a month. In addition, students will have to show a limit of £1,000 to be paid as deposit for accommodation and maintenance.

This is not all. From April, the ‘Post Study Work’ option will not be available to new applicants. This scheme allowed students to work in the UK for two years after they finished their studies. The British High Commission has informed that the UK government has replaced this scheme with a new programme, wherein only “talented” international students graduating from a UK university will get the opportunity to stay on and work. For this, they will have to obtain a skilled job offer from a accredited employer, with a salary of at least £20,000 per annum.

“No doubt, the hike in visa fees by UK is very high, but if you are an international student, then you factor all this in,” says Natasha Chopra of The Chopras, a New Delhi-based foreign education consultancy. “The rationale behind these changes is to stop the abuse of student visas. Students are not deterred by these changes because those who have the marks and the means will surely look abroad for higher studies,” she said. Chopra says every year the number of students who enroll to her institute for various programmes to study abroad grows 20 per cent. Students, she adds, consider various factors, such as the quality of education and infrastructure, before they select a particular destination.

“It is vital that we continue to attract the brightest and the best international students, but we have to be more selective about who can come here and for how long they can stay,” says UK immigration minister Damian Green. “In the past, too many students have come to the UK to work rather than study. This abuse must end.”

Starting April 13, the US government has also raised the visa fee for students from $140 to $160 under both the ‘Academic’ and ‘Vocational’ categories. “While there are year-on-year changes, upwards or downwards, depending on several local factors, the long-term trend of Indian students going to the US for higher education has been growing,” says Diya Dutt, deputy director, United States-India Educational Foundation. “In 2000, there were about 54,000 students from India in the US. In 2011, there were nearly 104,897. On the whole, I notice that students still do want to go on to US for higher studies,” Dutt adds. The number is only expected to increase in the coming years.

Australia, meanwhile, has eased its visa regime. From January this year, the visa fee has been decreased by five per cent. Now, the visa fee for student under the ‘Skilled (Recognised Graduate)’ and “Skilled Graduate” categories is $315, while for all other students it is $535.

Starting March 24, the Australian government has made several other changes to improve the quality, integrity and competitiveness of its international education sector and student visa programme. Australia, which had around 73,000 Indian students in 2011, also plans to introduce the Post Study Work visa from 2013, says an Australian high commission spokesperson. “Australian higher education institutions are increasingly engaging with India through joint research, joint degrees, twinning arrangements and credit recognition. Australian institutions are interested in developments concerning India’s Foreign Education Providers Bill,” the spokesperson says.

Another sought-after destination for Indian students is Canada for which the visa fee has remained the same. A study permit for Canada costs Rs. 6,125, or C$ 125. Canada has, in fact, emerged as one of the leading destinations for higher education among Indian students. Students here are allowed to apply for an off-campus work permit after six months of full-time study at a participating educational facility. Over 12,000 study permits were issued to Indian students in 2011, which is more than thrice the number in 2008.

“Around 200,000 international students choose Canada every year. More and more Indian students are seeing Canada as a destination for a world-class, globally-recognised education, at an affordable cost, in an open, tolerant, safe and multicultural environment,” says Simon Cridland, head, advocacy, High Commission of Canada.

Source: Business Standard, April 19, 2012

We have a long-term vision: Educomp Solutions

When Shantanu Prakash graduated from Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A) in 1988 and floated Educomp Solutions, entrepreneurship was a term largely used only in books. Over two decades later, his venture has not only diversified into various education segments but also inspired other companies to tap the education market. In a chat with Disha Kanwar, he talks about changes in his business strategy and why Educomp is betting big on the rural sector. Edited excerpts:

There are several new players in the market. Has that impacted your market share?
The 10,000 private schools using Smart Class have helped us establish our credibility. We have 85 per cent of the market share. We have a long-term vision. We take long-term bets.

Analysts say Smart Class margins are under pressure...
Of 100,000 private schools in India, 10,000 schools use Smart Classes. At the current pace, it will take us 10 years to go to all schools. India is a market of volumes and we want to leverage that. As a deliberate move to increase consumer base, we have decreased margins in Smart Class to 35 per cent from 45. In the third quarter, we sold to about 10,000 class rooms; our fourth quarter has seen addition of 18-20,000 class rooms.

What is your strategy?
We want to increase our customer base. We believe in reducing the price and inducing mass consumption. We also invest a huge amount — Rs. 500-600 million — in research and development, which gives us an amazing edge. Take Smart Class as an example. Educomp has almost nine years of experience in selling and marketing this product. My guess is that our investment in R&D for intellectual property development is more than the revenue of all our competitors combined. Our R&D centre in Noida employs around 400 people who develop digital educational content.

You are looking at tapping the hinterlands...
Educomp has presence in many towns seldom heard of by people. Educomp has a sales force of about 600 people, and we have presence in some very small and remote parts of the country. Through methods like VSAT (very small aperture terminal) technology teaching, we attempt to bring the expertise of renowned teachers in metros to small towns and rural areas.

Educomp recently bagged a project worth Rs. 2.09 billion from the government of Assam. How are its other such ventures doing?
The Edureach division of Educomp manages tenders and RFPs (request for proposal) related to government school contracts. This contract is from Edureach ICT Information and Communications Technology division. We are also in higher education, e-learning, etc. The government pays for our component in such schools. As our model is subscription based on a quarterly basis, we are increasing our volumes at a fast pace. We are currently in 12,000 government schools in 14 states. Our margins and revenue from the 10,000 private schools are much more than those from government schools.

Educomp is investing in formal education, which is not giving them immediate returns due to a long gestation period. How does Educomp see this in the long run?
There are only a few institutions in India known for their educational excellence. But we need to have both, quality and quantity.

Source: Business Standard, April 19, 2012

Canada varsity keen on library partnership with IITs

A Canadian university is moving towards library and research partnerships with two Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs). The University of Alberta (UA) is expecting to share digitised materials in diverse areas such as medicine, engineering and literature with IIT, Ropar, and IIT Roorkee, a university spokesperson told Business Line.

Ms Margaret Law, Director of International Relations with the university libraries, was in India recently. According to her, the institutions may work out specific ways in which they could share rare copies of digitised materials. “This will be with librarians from the IITs and their Canadian counterparts,” Ms Law said.

She felt the university library needed to support those beyond western perspectives on medicine, engineering, or any other fields. In her efforts to enhance research capacities at the University of Alberta, she felt the need to build an infrastructure base by helping develop expertise in librarianship and build library collections worldwide.

For example, IIT Ropar offers a course on Canadian literature but have a very limited collection. “We're going to help them build a good Canadian literature collection”, Ms Law said. IIT, Ropar, in turn will help the Canadian university build a library of Indian traditional medicine. “We have a number of researchers in Canada, who are interested in global health issues and we have a special collection that's specifically focused on indigenous traditions and health practices”.

Source: The Hindu Business Line, April 19, 2012

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Tax breather for foreign varsities in distance learning courses

The Delhi bench of the Income-tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT) has held that payment received by a foreign university for offering distance educational courses in India is not taxable. In the case of Hughes Escorts Communication Ltd (HECL), the taxpayer, the tribunal in March rejected the income-tax department's contention that the income received by a foreign university under affiliate agreement to provide distance education is in the nature of royalty and, therefore, liable for taxation at the rate of 15% under the provisions of the tax treaty between India and the US.

HECL has an agreement with Tower Innovative Learning Solutions (TILS) Inc USA, a wholly owned subsidiary of eCornell University, to market, promote and provide ancillary services in connection with the distance learning courses offered by the university in India. HECL assists in registering students for eCornell and in collection of fees for its course content.

The ITAT held that in order to consider a payment as royalty, the transaction should have been in the nature of transfer of any right, title, copyright, patent, trade mark, service mark, trade secret and other intellectual property or proprietary rights, which was not the case in the transaction under consideration.

The tribunal said the role of the Indian company was confined to registering students and providing infrastructure for accessing the course material offered by the foreign university. HECL collects Rs. 165,000 per student, of which $2,100 is remitted to eCornell for the course content and $350 as registration charges.

Source: The Economic Times, April 18, 2012

Management education sees a meltdown

A complaint letter written by a third year student against a now shut-management school, on an online consumer complaint forum embodies what seems to be ailing the current management education scenario in India. According to the student, the same professor was taking classes on subjects as varied as finance, information technology and economics. There were additional fraudulent activities in arranging student loans, and leasing students out as free employees in the name of internships, among other things.

There are a whole host of other reasons that have turned students off B-Schools — so much so, that over 70 of them across the country closed down over the last year. For an industry which, according to data by research consultancy, KPMG, was mushrooming at 1600 per cent over the past two decades, this is more than just worrisome.

Whether it is the economic malaise, the grandiose acts of frauds by global corporates such as Enron in the last decade or the fact that many MBAs were undoubtedly behind the sub-prime meltdown, the fact is that the number of applicants that take the Common Admission Test (CAT) — the common management school entrance exam — which was growing steadily from 180,000 in 2006 to 230,000 in 2009, at a steady 27 per cent, has now declined to as low as 185,000 CAT takers in 2010 and has since then consolidated at about 186,000 since then.

“There is a marked gap between the supply of management education schools and the interest among the students for management education. In the light of declining numbers interested in management education, it would be difficult to meet even basic expenses,” said Asish K. Bhattacharya, Director at Indian Management Institute (IMI), Kolkata, the branch of Sanjiv Goenka controlled IMI-New Delhi. The resulting problem? “This has meant that the institutes that created infrastructure and capacity in tandem with growth expectations by 2009, now have excess faculty, and costs that are not commensurate with the demand,” said Bikram Dasgupta, owner of the Kolkata-based Globsyn Business School.

Education has always been a lucrative space, and doubly so in a fast growing country like India. According to data in the 2010 report by PricewaterHouseCoopers (PwC), the private spends on higher education in India were pegged at Rs. 30,400 crores (Rs. 304 billion). In addition to this, the government spends an additional Rs. 31,000 crore (Rs. 310 billion)on high education.

While much of the management education space in India remains unregulated, industry estimates peg the postgraduate Masters of Business Administration (MBA) industry at 3,500 B-Schools, 60,000 students paying average fees of Rs. 350,000 yearly. “Add about the same numbers for other post graduate one year diplomas and half this for the undergraduate BBA (Bachelor or Business Administration) and it is possible to get a rough estimate of the numbers at stake,” said Gautam Puri, MD, CareerLauncher.

What could be the reason for such a big drop in the numbers of students seeking management education in India? Industry insiders argue that evidence points to a quality issue. “The closure instances has to do with the fact that there is no quality control—the placements are not commensurate with fees being charged, the faculty is not good enough, there is no infrastructure,” said Sandeep Aneja, founder and managing director of Kaizen Private Equity, an education-focused private equity fund.

Quality is an issue, given especially that it does not take much to launch a B-School in India. Management education in India is regulated by the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE). However, most private management schools get themselves affiliated to university MBA programmes from where they get their content. AICTE has norms regulating the minimum student: teacher ratio, fees for courses and infrastructure, which are easy to fudge. Indeed as recently as early last month, union minister for human resources development, Kapil Sibal told a gathering at an education seminar that it is impossible to regulate such schools because because of the devious ways in which schools subvert inspections. “They hire teachers and facilities for AICTE inspections. How can we possibly regulate quality in that case?” Sibal said.

There is another issue that dogs B-Schools in India. “The problem is that most B-Schools have no brand,” said Arup Datta, managing consultant. Placements, argue experts are based on how big a brand a given institution is, the quality of education being imparted to its students and the employability of these students. The end-result? A fire sale where every institution that can’t survive decides to hawk itself to the highest bidder. Since there is some infrastructure, students and the license to be sold, many trusts are looking for established B-Schools looking to expand presence in parts of India. This would bring a brand to available infrastructure, aiding placements. “Depending on infrastructure, location and land availability, a typical B-School would be sold for anywhere between Rs. 5 and 10 crore (Rs. 50 to 100 million),” he said.

Ultimately, the shutting of B-Schools has ripple effects across the industry. Management professionals will form a big crux of the 347 million skilled labour gap highlighted by the National Skills Development Corporation (NSDC). This would be spread across verticals like organised retail, banking and financial services, and infrastructure to name a few. More importantly, according to a study by Cygnus, a business consultancy, in 2012, there will be a requirement of about 200,000 fresh MBA in various sectors. The top 50 B schools in India provide only 25,000 fresh MBAs.

Also affected also by the churn is the fringe element of coaching industry, which is estimated to be about 30 per cent of the Rs. 10,000 crore (Rs. 100 billion) Indian coaching industry. IMS Coaching, for example, with presence across 75 towns has adopted the franchisee model and has decided to reduce investment in infrastructure and become a solutions and backend help provider.

Source: Business Standard, April 18, 2012

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