Friday, January 31, 2014

Kris Gopalakrishnan's trust donates Rs. 2.25 billion for brain research

Pratiksha Trust, a charitable trust founded by Infosys Executive Vice Chairman Kris Gopalakrishnan, has donated Rs. 2.25 billion to set up a brain research centre in Bangalore in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Science (IISc).

Called the Centre for Brain Research, the institute will receive support from the Centre for Neuroscience and other research facilities at IISc, and will focus on finding cures for brain diseases that are accelerated by old age.

Gopalakrishnan, who along with his wife Sudha Gopalakrishnan own the fund, said they will work towards creating a "globally recognized, world-class research facility that will be at the cutting-edge of research on the human brain".

An IT industry veteran, Gopalakrishnan, 58, is one of the co-founders of Infosys, India's second largest software services company. He is the President at Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) since 2013, and served as the Managing Director and Chief Executive of Infosys between 2007 and 2011.

The trust will also fund the setting up of three professorships each in the Departments of Computer Science at IISc and at Indian Institute of Technology, Madras (IIT-M) to ensure alliance between medical research and computing.

An international scientific advisory board has been set up to initiate the operations of the centre. Columbia University Professor Stanley Fahn; Sangram Sisodia, of University of Chicago; John Morris of Washington University, St. Louis; and Giovanni Frisoni of University of Geneva are among the members of the Scientific Advisory Board, which will be chaired by Nobel Laureate, Prof. Torsten Wiesel.

Source: The Economic Times (Online Edition), January 31, 2014

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Growing list of Indian origin scholars lead global universities of great repute

It was a wave of sorts and SP Kothari was part of it. The year was 1982, and Kothari, armed with a degree in chemical engineering from BITS (Birla Institute of Technology and Science), Pilani and a management degree from Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad (IIM-A), felt the west calling. He did what many other bright and brilliant Indians were doing at the time for such a passage. "In the 1970s, '80s and much of the '90s, the only way to emigrate to the US was higher education," he says. "Many of these students, without even knowing a whole lot about academic careers, joined PhD programs in the US — these programs paid full scholarship."

A generation or two later, after achieving academic brilliance, after establishing professorial presence, after operating on the vanguard of research, that Indian wave is reaping another kind of return in the past few years: leadership at the best of international universities. Last week, when Rakesh Khurana was appointed as the Dean of Harvard College, one of the undergraduate schools in Harvard University, it was another reminder of how Indians are swarming to the top echelons of higher learning, especially in the US, and to a smaller degree in the UK and beyond.

It's across disciplines, but the abundance is the most in management schools. "This 'proliferation' of Indian-origin academics heading top academic institutions in the US is a very new phenomenon," says G 'Anand' Anandalingam, currently the Dean of Imperial College Business School, London. Anand recounts that when, in 2008, he became Dean of the B-school at the University of Maryland, near Washington, there were two other Indian-origin deans in the top 25 American B-schools: Dipak Jain at Kellogg-Northwestern and Mahendra Gupta at Olin-Washington University in St Louis.

The list has since grown: among others, Nitin Nohria at Harvard Business School, Soumitra Dutta at Cornell University, Jaishankar Ganesh at Rutgers-Camden, and Kothari is the Deputy dean at MIT Sloan School of Management. They are all in their mid-forties to late-fifties. They are all supremely talented and accomplished academicians.

Theirs is a rich palette of exposure and experience. "Every top institution would appoint the best overall candidate," says Ajit Rangnekar, Dean of the Indian School of Business (ISB)
, Hyderabad. "All these people were chosen because they deserve to be deans, irrespective of their country of origin."

Law of numbers
Yet, their country of origin mattered in that India did not offer these fertile, imaginative minds enough to hold them back, especially in the pre-liberalisation decades. "It was almost a tradition for academic toppers in India to go to US and pursue their PhDs," says Rangnekar.

Being the creme de la creme of the talent pool from India, many of them naturally become successful — in industry and in academia. "Over the past five to 10 years, this crop of Indian immigrant students has reached an age that is suited for leadership positions," adds Kothari. Jaishankar Ganesh, Dean of Rutgers School of Business-Camden, puts it down to "the law of numbers" — more Indians in the academic pool. Data is not available on the share of Indian faculty in American universities. But, according to Ganesh of Rutgers, about 5% of faculty in American universities is of Asian descent; this number triples in B-schools.

In spite of numbers turning progressively favourable, academics of Indian origin have gone through an evolutionary curve of their own. "In the previous half-generation, they focused on being excellent scholars and teachers, and did not think that academic leadership would be entrusted to them," he says. "Over the past 10 years or so, they have realised that they are good at institution building and are willing to compete for leadership positions."

For some of his ilk, the India connection played a part, says Sunil Kumar, Dean at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. "For some of us, the experience of growing up in India and then having an academic career outside India helps provide a perspective that serves us well in managing our institutions, which have faculties and student bodies from across the globe and have global impact."

Fluency in English
Being a dean is a multi-faceted assignment — inward facing but also outward looking, managing internal expectations while forging external relationships. It is as much about managing relationships with staff and students as it is about cultivating donors, alumni, media and the business community. "The role of a dean is to closely listen to faculty, students and staff to help develop a shared vision of our future, and then provide them the direction, resources and support needed to make that vision a reality," says Khurana, Dean of Harvard College.

Besides technical talent, Indians have the advantage over immigrants from other nationalities of being fluent in English. "Academic (or industry) leadership positions call for a combination of skills — technical, soft, managerial and administrative, and communication," says Kothari. "English comes quite naturally to Indians, which positions them well for deanships." 

According to Nitin Nohria, Dean of Harvard Business School (HBS), Khurana's selection is a testament to his ability to work with others, his willingness to be both a careful listener and a probing questioner, and his passion for enhancing the undergraduate experience at Harvard. "He's a prolific scholar who is well-respected in his field, a beloved teacher in every setting, and a wonderful, generous colleague and mentor," says Nohria. "He also manages to combine vision with practicality and execution."

Globalisation is changing the operating environment for American B-schools. They are becoming more multi-cultural in their student, staff and stakeholder construct. "Indians fit in well with the global community they live in," says Naina Lal Kidwai, Director, HSBC Asia-Pacific, and the first Indian woman to graduate from Harvard Business School. "In many cases, the deans are elected by board members and the attitude and approach of academicians of Indian origin are much liked and they fit well."

Many among this set of Indians grew up in a multi-cultural and multi-lingual environments, and so dealing with diversity comes easier. They also came from modest backgrounds, and learnt the virtues of hard work and diligence at an early age. "Indian academicians bring a valuable global and multi-cultural perspective along with their academic credentials," says Soumitra Dutta of Cornell University. "This makes them very attractive for top US institutions, which are seeking both academic excellence and an open leadership mindset."

Global Orientation
They are also seeking emerging market understanding, amid growing concerns that management education is lagging business, especially in the US. In recent years, a challenging economy has led to a drop in demand for MBA programmes at many schools. Also, recruiters are demanding qualitatively different standards of talent. "All global institutions have a strong interest in emerging economies, but that is not a sufficient reason to appoint Indians," Rangnekar of ISB, said.

This quality finds expression in, for example, constructing programmes. Wendell Pritchett, Chancellor of the Rutgers-Camden Campus and a member of its selection board, says a good professional education must provide students with a solid scholarly foundation and the practical skills. This was a consideration Rutgers made while appointing Ganesh. "Jai Ganesh has an extraordinary record of success in developing the type of programmes that will expand opportunities for our students, and opportunities for Rutgers to serve New Jersey's business and economic growth," says Pritchett.

Anand of Imperial College would like to see universities in the UK follow US ones in elevating people of other nationalities. "US institutions have been willing to let merit rule the day, and hire Indian origin academics to become deans and presidents," he says. "Imperial is the first top-tier UK institution that has decided to hire an Indian-origin dean of its business school. It is likely that UK institutions are also on the way to change."

At the same time, experts are cautious of this trend sustaining. The pool of Indian students from elite institutions going into PhD programmes have diminished dramatically in recent years as graduates are able to obtain well-paying industry jobs internationally. "The lure of going to the West to better themselves off financially through a PhD, as was the case in the 1970s, '80s and '90s has diminished considerably," says Kothari. "Whether this will affect the frequency with which Indian-origin deans will be seen 20, 30 years from now."

For now, Indian-origin deans are here to stay. "We well know that we cannot take anything for granted," says Anand. "Academics of Indian origin strive much harder to make a success of the positions that they have managed to attain.

Source: The Economic Times, January 30, 2014

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Minority politics over AMU campus in Bihar

Competition for minority support has created a major rift between the Bihar government and the Centre with Janata Dal (United) lodging a strong protest over being blacked out of the foundation stone laying ceremony for a new centre of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) at Kishanganj, Bihar.

Bihar government made its displeasure known to the Human Resource Development (HRD) minister MM Pallam Raju over reports that he and Sonia Gandhi were slated to lay the foundation stone for the AMU centre on January 30 with Bihar education minister PK Shahi dashing off a three-page letter.

In his letter, Shahi accused the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) of not initially speeding up the project for two years, but scheduling a foundation laying ceremony "all of a sudden when general election to Parliament is to be held in the next couple of months".

What has particularly angered the state government is that it went out of the way to give 224 acres of free land for the centre and helped it start from a makeshift campus. JD(U)'s former ally BJP was not in favour of the centre but the Nitish Kumar government went ahead.

Shahi said what was more surprising was that "there is no intimation to the state government in this regard" and went on to accuse the Centre of treating the event as a means to make political gains. "You would not disagree that foundation laying ceremony of a government institution cannot be a political programme nor can it be aimed as an election plank. AMU is a central government institution and any activity including foundation laying ceremony has to be a government function," Shahi said. He also found it intriguing that instead of MHRD, the AMU vice-chancellor wrote to Bihar governor requesting him to be present for the ceremony.

By giving out a sequence of events through which free land was given by the state government, Shahi said the project was dogged by controversy created by MHRD right from the beginning. He said at one point, former HRD minister Kapil Sibal even said there was no approval by the central government to set up an AMU centre at Kishanganj nor had the President, as a Visitor of AMU, approved it. Shahi said despite the controversy, the site was finalized and given in December 2011 but all this while the Centre did not show any interest.

MHRD sources confirmed having received Shahi's letter. "A decision will be taken by the minister when he returns on Tuesday," a senior official said.

Source: The Times of India (Online Edition), January 28, 2014

Monday, January 27, 2014

IIT-Madras, Deakin University tie up for collaborative research and joint PhD

Indian Institute of Technology, Madras (IIT-M) and Deakin University entered into an agreement for collaborative research and development projects on Monday. Signing of a MoU is expected to result in the wider dissemination and practical utilisation of inventions generated by IIT-Madras faculty, students, and staff. This engagement will encourage the students to enroll themselves into such intense research and PhD programmes that will address important engineering and technology problems.

The MoU was signed by Prof. Jane den Hollander, Vice-Chancellor and President of Deakin University and Bhaskar Ramamurthi, Director, IIT-M and was presided by Prof. Gary Smith, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Global Engagement. This MoU will not only be limited to collaborative research and development projects in the areas of materials and engineering but will also extend to joint PhD.

Hollander said: "Deakin's commitment in delivering technological innovations from renowned Indian institutes such as IIT-M stands testimony to its vision of building strong channels and effective partnerships in India. Through this strategic collaboration, Deakin and IIT-M will take the best solutions to a global market place."

"Deakin's partnership in India with the academia, industry and government and its efforts to bring to fore the ground-breaking inventions to a macro scale has been a positive engagement. The collaboration with TERI has helped set up a new research lab facility set up to provide solutions towards a greener and more advanced use of nano-technology for resolving challenging agricultural, biomedical and sustainability issues at the Deakin's Geelong Campus," said Prof. Peter Hodgson, Director of the Institute for Technology Research and Innovation at Deakin University.

Apart from focus on research and projects in the areas of materials and engineering the joint PhD supervision will be part of the agreement. Ten students will be enrolled in the joint supervision program, five at each institution. All these ten students will be resident at IIT- M where each student will be provided doctoral studentship to its enrolled students.

IIT-M will provide five PhD scholarships to its enrolled students and the benefits will be determined by IIT-M. The students who have enrolled for these PhD will be co-supervised by their respective academic staff.

Source: The Times of India (Online Edition), January 27, 2014

NAAC flooded with accreditation pleas

Top universities and institutions of the country are making a beeline to National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC). Institutions of higher learning like Delhi University; Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi; School of Planning and Architecture, Delhi; Anna University, Chennai; Indian Institute of Science and National Law School from Bangalore; Jadavpur University, Kolkata; and Assam University, Silchar among 2,978 others have sent their letter of intention (LoI) to the accreditation agency between January 19, 2013 to December 19, 2013.

Under Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA) --- or literally translated into English as "National Higher Education Campaign" --- it has become mandatory for government run higher education institutions to get accreditation to receive funding. Major part of the funding of government higher education institutions has been taken over by RUSA from University Grants Commission (UGC) last year.

This is the highest number of LoIs received by NAAC, as earlier the agency used to get anything around 800 requests annually. Region wise the highest number of applications are from east and northeast, while in as a state Bihar has the largest number of participations.

"Yes, there has been an unprecedented rush of LoIs for this cycle of accreditation process. One of the reasons could be because accreditation has been made mandatory and also linked to funding under RUSA's provision. But it is not mandatory for all accreditations to be done by NAAC as there are plans for multiple accreditation agencies in the country," said Director, NAAC, Prof. AN Rai.

With increased applications, according to Rai, "The first priority is to strengthen the headquarter in Bangalore and then decentralise the process of college level accreditation process. The headquarter would deal with the university level accreditation and training of assessors. We are planning five regional offices, the first to start in North and will operate from DU. The regional centres will be responsible for the assessment process - right from receiving the LoI to Institution Eligibility Qualification Assessment, followed by self study report to visit by the expert. Only the final approval of the grading will be done in Bangalore by the executive committee."

Speaking about the trends of application, Rai said: "We presumed that number of applications from the northeast, but are pleasantly surprised as we got a healthy 109 applications. Moreover, east and northeast combined have the largest number of LoIs, which is 826." Following Bihar (280) in terms of states with largest applications are Madhya Pradesh (278), Tamil Nadu (238), Karnataka (217) and Rajasthan (193). Nine universities and nine colleges have applied from Delhi.

Apart from the above mentioned names, other major universities and institutions include Defense Institute of Advanced Technology, Pune; Ambedkar University, Delhi; Madurai Kamrak University, Madurai; Vellore Institute of Technology, Vellore; Homi Bhabha National Institute, Mumbai; DY Patil University, Mumbai; Kurukshetra University, Kurukshetra; and Manipur University, Imphal.

Source: The Times of India (Online Edition), January 27, 2014

UGC takes over reins of technical institutes

The University Grants Commission (UGC) reigns supreme after Supreme Court (SC) order. University Grants Commission's takeover of All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) is complete as far as degree-granting technical institutes are concerned. UGC has formally notified the regulations to be followed by technical institutes affiliated to universities.

UGC's regulations come in the wake of a Supreme Court order which negated AICTE's power to grant approval to technical colleges affiliated to universities. With new regulations in place, it is unlikely that AICTE's hope of getting its power restored through amendment of AICTE Act will be realized any time soon. But AICTE can continue to regulate diploma-granting institutions. 

"Chances of getting AICTE Act amended is remote. The next session of Parliament will be short and then there is general election," said an official of the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD). As the amendment route was getting delayed, MHRD tried to circumvent the SC order by asking law ministry "if rules can be notified under section 25 of the UGC Act to authorize AICTE to accord approval to technical education institutions in the same manner as it did prior to the SC judgement". However, the Ministry of Law shot down the proposal.

UGC regulation makes it mandatory for a college to first seek affiliation from the university before starting academic activities. A new college proposing to offer technical education can be created by introducing one or more programmes housed either in one or separate buildings. The new college shall be granted affiliation when it is on one contiguous plot of land except for those in north-eastern and other hilly states where it can spread into three pieces of land, not far from one another, by more than one kilometer.

Apart from a host of regulations, technical institutes will have to keep 50% faculty from general shift for the evening shift. Each part-time course will be managed by 20% core staff, that is, minimum one associate professor and two assistant professors. Guest faculty should not be more than 30% to be sourced from neighbouring industries/R&D organizations/government technical colleges.

Source: The Times of India, January 27, 2014

Sunday, January 26, 2014

IIM-Bangalore is India's No. 1 in business management research: Stanford Study

A Stanford study of Indian universities, colleges and institutes puts the Indian Institute of Management-Bangalore (IIM-B) on top in the Business and Management Research category. Four other Bangalore institutes figure in the list. The study was done by Prof. Sharique Hasan of Stanford University's Graduate School of Business.

He based the rankings of Indian institutes on productivity in social science research. The universities were ranked in these categories: sociology, demography and family studies, economics, psychology, and business and management.

The grading is based on the number of peer-reviewed articles produced by an institute and the number of citations these articles received. The Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi (IIT-D), Indian Institute of Management-Calcutta (IIM-C) and Indian School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad follow IIM-B in the top league.

While the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) is ranked No. 10, the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI), Bangalore, is at No. 27. The Institute of Social and Economic Change and National Institute of Advanced Studies, both from Bangalore, are ranked 16th and 31st in the Sociology, Demography and Family Studies category.

Prof Devanath Tirupati, Director-in-Charge, IIM-B, said: "The survey certainly reflects IIM-B's higher priority to research."

"The survey presents a comprehensive picture of where social science researchers in India are publishing. IIM-B's lead over others, within the Business and Management Research category, is an interesting quantification of the research being carried out in a wide number of areas within the institute," said Arnab Mukherji, Assistant Professor at IIM-B.

According to the researcher, raw data includes any article published in one of the 3,015 social science journals indexed by ISI. The author should be affiliated to a university or institute located in India, and should have published the article between 2000 and 2010.

Source: The Economic Times (Online Edition), January 26, 2014

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Ashish Nanda’s global blueprint for IIM-Ahmedabad

In early-2013, AM Naik, Chairman of Larsen & Toubro (L&T), took a private plane to Boston to convince a professor at Harvard University to take the reins of IIM-Ahmedabad. Naik, chair of the IIM-A board, could have called, but he wanted to personally tell Ashish Nanda why India's premier business school wanted him. "I wanted to look you in the eye and talk to you across the table to convince you," Naik had told Nanda.

Naik and a few others had done exactly that a few months back, when Nanda was in Ahmedabad to attend the 30th reunion of his IIM batch. Nanda returned, flattered and unsure. "How nice of them to consider me," he told Shubha, his wife. "I will send in my thanks and regrets."

Shubha, a practising dentist and a professor at Tufts Dental School, saw something else. "I thought it would be great for Ashish to take up the offer with a sense of adventure," she says. "And he did not need much convincing. Every time he spoke of his reunion, there was a sparkle in his eyes. Eventually, it was truly the spirit of learning, contributing and adventure that got him to return to India."

In September 2013, the 53-year-old returned to India and his alma mater, after more than 20 years. In the institute's 52-year history, Nanda was the first director to be hired from an overseas institute, and he came in with a mandate to take IIM-A to the next level—coveted by students and academics, sought by industry and respected by global peers. "I believe in global benchmarks," says Naik, who pushed Nanda's case with his colleagues and the government. "IIM-A, being a premier institute in India, needed new leadership to make it a truly global management institute that encourages diversity, thought leadership and research."

The breadth of that assignment is matched by the superlatives rolled out for him by those who have worked with Nanda: scholar, teacher, researcher, manager of academic programmes, global thinker...and, they add, pretty good in all those roles. Four months into his IIM-A assignment, an appointment offers a clue of what could follow in Nanda's five-year tenure.

Sharon Barnhardt worked on Wall Street, before doing her PhD in public policy at Harvard. In August, she joined the public systems group at IIM-A as full-time faculty. "Ashish Nanda perfectly understands what makes research faculty tick because he's a great researcher," she says. "Ashish also understands how important it is to bring up the infrastructure and research environment of the institute to global standards in order to attract faculty and people from outside."

Academic Connect
Be it people appointments, orientation shifts or directional turns, 'global' is a refrain while discussing Nanda. It's for good reason, says Nitin Nohria, Dean of Harvard Business School who has known Nanda personally for 20 years, and has taught and researched with him.

Nohria cites the experience of an executive program they took together for a company that was struggling with a range of issues related to its globalisation. "We had developed a case study for the company, and it brought to the surface a range of tensions as the discussion unfolded," he recalls. "Ashish used the teaching process to help the participants navigate these tensions and recommit to a shared strategic vision."

Nanda will need to draw on such skills to balance a key challenge: adding new faculty while managing the old guard. During Nanda's days as student at IIM-A, between 1981 and 1983, the institute had about 400 students and a faculty of about 80—a teacher-student ratio of 1:5. Today, with about 1,000 students and a faculty of 90, that ratio has declined to 1:11.

Nanda wants to correct that ratio, but he wants to do it while improving quality: though a mix of young and old, Indian and global. IIM-A is looking to hire more professors in their early-30s at entry-level positions, like Barnhardt, and experienced faculty at senior levels. "They are bright academics who are intrigued by the idea of working and research in India, and want to build specialisation in the Indian setting," says Nanda.

Simultaneously, IIM-A is looking to invite academics from abroad on short-term assignments and visits. "(The idea is)... we learn from their knowledge and experience," says Nanda. "While we may not match the compensation packages offered by some of our Western counterparts, we are making sure that the remuneration is good, research support is available and the work environment is congenial."

Samir K Barua, former Director of IIM-A, says Nanda brings in an understanding of how global business schools operate in the US, particularly North America. "That is an enormous advantage he brings today," he says. "The major challenge will be in getting the right global faculty, with the right qualification, to India." It's not an easy task as there is a global shortage of faculty, and IIM-A wants to attract academics who would otherwise be prime candidates for institutions of repute. "Nanda's connections with the academic world will help in motivating colleagues to a part of IIM-A in one way or other," adds Barua.

Industry Connect
Nanda wants to step up IIM-A's engagement with the world outside, both in form and frequency. "The institute has been a bit insular in the past. But a dynamic organisation must foster interchange of ideas and collaborations across boundaries," he says.

So, on the one hand, he wants IIM-A to engage more with global researchers, practitioners and policymakers, and local community. "Sometimes, IIM-A feels like a bubble, disconnected from its environment," says Nanda. "But it is not. We need to nourish our local roots by connecting better with the local community, contributing to them and learning from them." On the other hand, he wants to deepen and widen connects with industry through, for example, executive programmes or research. At Harvard, Nanda designed, launched and ran executive programmes, which are aimed at working industry professionals.

Martha Minow, a professor of law at Harvard Law School, remembers those programmes for their effectiveness. "His vision, attention to detail and inspired teaching are superb. His capacity to build memorable discussions and meaningful learning experiences is rivalled only by his talent for listening," says Minow, who has taught at Harvard since 1981. "He helped Harvard Law School become a place where law firms seek assistance in equipping lawyers for a changing world."

Shikha Sharma, MD and CEO of Axis Bank, would like to see more of that happen at IIM-A to place it on the global map. "IIM-A is already a strong brand in terms of teaching," says Sharma, who passed out of the institute in 1980. "It would be great to see more of research that influences corporate and policy action, as well as leveraging the platform for executive education. And the most important thing is to get the research to global standards."

Institution Connect
Some of these changes might involve questioning and changing established patterns of doing things. IIM-A, like any other long-standing academic institution, has complexities and challenges an 'outsider' may not be sensitive to. "I am a little bit of an insider-outsider, having spent 30 years outside India, but having been an IIM-A student," he says. "Coming here has felt like coming back home. People have been very warm and welcoming."

All through his student days, be it at IIT (Delhi) or IIM-A, Nanda won the highest of accolades. At IIM-A, he won the president of India gold medal twice and the IIM director's gold medal. He also spent five years at the coveted Tata Administrative Service, before moving on to Harvard, first as a teacher and subsequently in administration roles as well.

"He has always got the best ratings as a professor," says Amrita Chowdhury, country head and publishing director at Harlequin India, who worked with Nanda in her earlier capacity as associate director-education at Harvard Business School India Research Centre. "A warm, effusive and energetic personality, Nanda is dramatic and theatrical in the way he teaches."

Cyril Shroff, managing partner of legal firm Amarchand & Mangaldas, has known Nanda for about a decade. He first met Nanda in connection with the activities of the Harvard Law School concerning professional services, and remembers a man with "razor sharp intellect, intellectual curiosity and a flair with which he conducted his classes". Shroff feels the big strengths Nanda brings to the table as IIM-A director are his international exposure, and his ability to conceptualise and execute projects. "Also, despite being in America for so long, he has retained his Indian roots," says Shroff, who has attended several of Nanda's classes.

Changes will follow at IIM-A. Nanda, for instance, talks about the need to not just have good academics but also have administrative staff of a high calibre. Dr Srikant M Datar, a Harvard professor who is also on the board of IIM-A, feels Nanda has the skills and temperament to initiate that change with sensitivity to the institution and its people. "Ashish has the skills to work well with others to make changes," he says. "He is dynamic and thoughtful, with strong interpersonal skills. He is a wonderful developer of people."

Nanda, on his part, advocates a strategy of balancing continuity with change. "The institute does not need a drastic overhaul, nor will a cookie-cutter solution suffice," he says. "But, at the same time, one shouldn't get too comfortable with the status quo, or else changes in the environment can render even the best obsolete. The pace and sequencing of change have to balanced on a fine edge."

Source: The Economic Times, January 21, 2014

Monday, January 20, 2014

IIT-Madras students work on satellite to pre-empt quakes

In spite of all the technological advances of the past few decades, accurate prediction of earthquakes has always been beyond the reach of science. Four years ago, a group of IIT-Madras (Indian Institute of Technology-Madras) students decided to give it a shot of their own. They also chose a method that is not yet proven in scientific and technological terms: send a satellite up to detect radiation from the earth prior to an earthquake. The satellite-building has now evolved into a large multidisciplinary project involving 150 students and some professors, as well as mentoring from the engineers at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

In a few months, ISRO will do a preliminary design review of the IIT-M student satellite. Once the design is approved and frozen, the students will begin integrating the satellite components. It will be launched --- if ISRO approves the design and agrees for launch --- by a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) sometime in the fourth quarter of 2015. Once up in the sky, the 15-kg satellite will look for a sudden precipitation of charged particles --- ions --- that is supposed to be the signature of an impending earthquake. "The students are building something hands on and not just writing reports," says David Koilpillai, Dean and Professor of Electrical Engineering at IIT-Madras.

When complete, this will be the third satellite in India to be made in a university. The earlier two launches were challenging projects, but the IIT-M satellite is different in conception, and it will also try to test a theory not yet accepted by the scientific community. "It is good to work on a project that even industry finds hard," says Akshay Gulati, one of the students who began the project. He has since graduated and become a project staff.

The project began in 2009, after some students heard a lecture by Muriel Richard, an engineer at the Swiss technical university EPFL. "We figured out that no Indian satellite had looked at ions," says Gulati. Within a year, the students had identified the payload and shortlisted four instruments. Some students went to the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) in Mumbai and watched them build an experimental satellite. But things did not go smoothly. At the end of 2010, two years into the project, many ideas were still not clear and only four students left in the project.

The students then went to David Koilpillai and requested assistance. IIT-Madras then became involved at the institutional level and sanctioned Rs. 30 million, most of it to be raised from the alumni. They also assigned some space within the campus for a lab. The students then did a feasibility study and started the design process. They designed some sub-systems, which Isro engineers reviewed. The project also got integrated with MTech thesis: 14 students have now submitted this work as part of their course requirements. Many of them loved the challenge. Says S Varsha, a third year electrical engineering student who is designing the analogue electronics for the particle detector: "I am able to get practical experience at level difficult in a course." If the students succeed in the project, they might end up making good contributions to science as well.

In the last few decades, scientists have made progress in predicting all natural disasters except earthquakes. Earthquakes can be predicted only when they begin. Before an earthquake happens, the ground is believed to emit low frequency and ultra-low frequency waves. These waves go up and interact with the Van Allen belt, a layer of charged particles more than 1,000 km above the earth.

This is supposed to lead to a sudden precipitation of particles from the belt, which the IIT-M students are trying to detect using a satellite below. But it is not a proven theory. In 2012, US space agency NASA launched two satellites right into the Van Allen belt to study this phenomenon; it is supposed to have found particle precipitations four days before an earthquake. However, NASA scientists also found longer-term associations between particle precipitation and earthquakes, and so do not consider it an accurate method of prediction yet.

Source: The Economic Times (Online Edition), January 20, 2014

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

IIT-Madras ties up with 5 universities for PhD research

The Indian Institute of Technology, Madras (IIT-M) has joined hands with five universities from across the world, including one in China, for collaboration in research.

After more than a year of negotiations, Universite de Technologie de Troyes in France, Technion - Israel Institute of Technology, University of Waterloo in Canada, University of Liverpool in UK and National Tsing Hua University in China have tied up with IIT-M to offer joint PhD programmes.

Lih J Chen, President of NTHU, called the agreement with IIT-M a watershed moment for the Chinese varsity. "To carry out research of the highest quality... it can no longer merely be an 'in-house' affair," he said.

Prof. R. Nagarajan, IIT-M Dean of International & Alumni Relations, said: "We follow a simple 4-stage process," he said. "We start with faculty collaboration, move on to student exchanges, which leads to co-supervision and ultimately culminates in a joint degree programme."

Source: The Times of India (Online Edition), January 14, 2014

Friday, January 10, 2014

Indian B-schools think global, Train sights on foreign students

Indian business schools have taken a step towards becoming international classrooms, with premier business school SP Jain Institute of Management & Research (SPJIMR) becoming one of the first in the country to sanction 36 seats in its flagship MBA programme for foreign nationals. The move follows a sanction by regulatory body All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) last year allowing institutes to enroll 15 per cent international students over and above the sanctioned intake. The Mumbai-based SPJIMR is the first to latch on to the opportunity to add global diversity to its classes by opening its ongoing admission for the batch of 2014-16 to foreign nationals.

The institute will admit 15 per cent foreign nationals over and above its 240 seats for local students. "Indian business schools are very India-centric - a sharp contrast to top global institutions. Indian B-schools need to be global, attract talent from across the globe and place talent globally," says Atish Chattopadhyay, Deputy Director, PGDM programme, SPJIMR. International students can add to diversity, lead to learning experience, boost forex earnings for the country and lead to foreign placements, he says, adding, "It will help create global managers. With our graduates being placed in different countries it will also lead to a clout with global companies."

This year, the institute has advertised the international students' seats on its website, and plans to conduct roadshows in foreign countries to attract students. It has received 32 applications from countries such as UK, Africa, South East Asia, Nepal and Sri Lanka. The admission process is open till March. However, there is still some way to go before the move can gain wider acceptance.

While most top institutes in the country, including the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), intend to globalise the classroom, so far the intake of foreign nationals has mostly been in the form of short-duration student exchange programmes. "One of the reasons for the poor showing of Indian institutions in foreign rankings is (the lack of) internationalisation," says SS Mantha, Chairman, All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE). The representation of international students in technical institutions is almost miniscule. About 15 per cent to 20 per cent of seats in technical institutions go vacant every year, he explains.

However, because of the confusion surrounding AICTE-University Grants Commission (UGC) regulations, it may be difficult for many institutes to take in foreign nationals from this year itself, says Mantha. A Supreme Court judgement in April last year had stripped AICTE of its regulatory powers, stipulating that technical institutions affiliated to universities do not fall under AICTE's purview. However, the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) announced last week that it will push for restoring these powers by amending the AICTE Act.

For a few top institutes like the Indian School of Business (ISB), which is known for attracting international students, faculty and research, the initial strategy has focused on student exchange tie-ups. ISB has tie-ups with 43 global schools with around 100 students coming in every year between October and April. In addition, the institute conducts marketing drives in select cities in the US, Europe, and Singapore to attract foreign nationals to its flagship post graduate programme in management.

However, the volume of such students is less than 5 per cent of the total class strength. "India is still seen as a technical hub, not an education hub. However, there is a growing interest among foreign students in learning from emerging economies, particularly India," says VK Menon, Senior Director, Career and Admissions at ISB. In the medium term, more foreign students will come to India to study, he adds.

At the IIMs, there is an unofficial understanding to reserve about 10 per cent of seats for foreign nationals over and above those for Indian students, says Debashis Chatterjee, Director, IIM-Kozhikode. However, cut-off points are high and most foreign students with such scores would go to either a Harvard or MIT, which means the IIMs will need to upgrade their infrastructure and quality, says Chatterjee. Further, he explains, the Indian job market is very competitive and for a foreign student, getting a job here after a full-time degree is tough.

"Unless there are formal guidelines in place, we do not see foreign students' intake going up for the next five years," he says. But if India has to be seen as an education destination, there has to be a pull.

Source: The Economic Times, January 10, 2014

A quick look on what clicks during IIM selection

The race to land one of the 3,335 seats across the 13 Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) is set to pick up speed with the Common Admission Test ( CAT) results to be announced on January 14. The individual IIMs have decided on their selection criteria; the call letters will go out later based on how students have fared overall. Here is a quick take on what the top six older IIMs have in store across various parameters.

Percentiles: What the IIMs need
The oldest, IIM-Calcutta, has kept the highest cut-off for shortlisting candidates at 95 percentile overall. IIM-Ahmedabad has relaxed the minimum overall percentile to make it to the shortlist while IIM-Kozhikode has brought back sectional cut-offs besides increasing the overall cut-off to 90. 

Gender Diversity
IIM-Calcutta will continue to award three points to women for gender diversity. It introduced the practice last year. IIM-Kozhikode and IIM-Lucknow too give extra points to women on the gender diversity front. However, IIM-Ahmedabad, Bangalore and Indore continue to not give any extra points to women.

Academic Diversity
The huge tilt in favour of engineering students has always been a bone of contention with many aspirants. Some institutes have been trying to address that with academic diversity scores. IIM-Ahmedabad has introduced a provision for direct short-list to the written aptitude test-personal interview round for the top 1% among five academic disciplines. IIM-Bangalore gives weightage to professional courses (only CA/CS). IIM-Lucknow awards three points for diversity in an academic discipline while IIM-Calcutta awards points for academic diversity at the bachelor's degree level. IIM-Indore offers no extra weightage to non-engineers.

Work Experience
Work experience gets rewarded at most of the IIMs apart from IIM-Ahmedabad and Indore. IIM-Kozhikode has brought back work experience in the short-listing criteria while IIM-Bangalore and IIM-Lucknow give work experience weightage as well. IIM-Calcutta allocates points for different levels of work experience, the highest being eight points for 31-36 months of work experience and 0 for less than six months.

Source: The Economic Times, January 10, 2014

GMAT scores over CAT in testing times; Flexible format popular

The number of Indians appearing for the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) hit an all time high in the year 2013, a year when applicants for the Common Admission Test (CAT) have dipped to a seven-year low. Together, the two numbers capture the story of the changing management education landscape in India at a time when the economy is slowing down appreciably.

The CAT is the main entry point for freshers or those with only a couple of years experience looking for a two-year, full-time MBA. GMAT on the other hand opens doors to global B-Schools, but has more recently been the preferred test for shorter executive MBA programs that experienced professionals tend to opt for.

In all, 22,878 candidates took the test from India in 2013 compared with 22,310 a year ago. More significantly, the number has increased by 25% since 2010. On the other hand, CAT applicants have declined four percent since 2010.

CAT's declining popularity and GMAT's growing appeal suggest that seasoned executives are keen to re-skill in the midst of this slowdown, but the lure of the full-time MBA is fading. "GMAT takers have an average work experience of seven years. It is catering to an entirely different pool of applicants," says Prof. Sankarshan Basu, Chairperson of Career Development Services at Indian Institute of Management-Bangalore (IIM-B).

The number of Indian institutions accepting GMAT scores has also increased. About 235 management programmes in India accepted GMAT scores in 2013, up from only 37 in 2010.

GMAT's Flexible Format Popular
"About 6-7 years ago, if you had not done an MBA early on, chances of you getting into management education after having had substantial work experience in India were non-existent. Now, a lot of Indian institutions offer diploma level one-year management programmes for executives and take GMAT scores into account. That has also altered the equation to a great extent," Prof. Basu adds.

However, total GMAT applicants from all over the world declined this year, the first such drop in three years. "2013 has been the strongest year ever for GMAT volume in India, backed by robust demand among candidates who aspire for management education at leading business schools and rising acceptance of the test's scores worldwide and in India," says Ashish Bhardwaj, Vice-President, Asia Pacific at Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), which conducts the GMAT. 

"At the same time, there is a slowdown in global GMAT volume in 2013 as 2012 was an exceptional year," he adds. Another reason for the drop in global GMAT applicants is the introduction of a new section on integrated reasoning in the test pattern. This, however, may give Indians an edge. "This is about integrating information across different areas and is a skill that is particularly useful for consulting jobs. Indians are normally good at integrated reasoning," says Atish Chattopadhyay, Deputy Director, PGDM programme, SP Jain Institute of Management & Research (SPJIMR).

Also GMAT's growing popularity over CAT could be attributed to its flexible format. "The flexibility it offers in terms of the number of times in a year the test can be taken and longer validity makes it popular," says Chattopadhyay. "Continued economic uncertainty in the global economy, the length and severity of the recent recession and fitful nature of the recovery has also had an impact among testing groups that are more sensitive to economic uncertainty," Bhardwaj said.

India currently has the third-largest number of GMAT takers after US and China. China had 48,327 in 2012 versus 46,136 in 2011.

Source: The Economic Times, January 10, 2014

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Grid of supercomputers to be set up in top Indian institutions

A grid of dozens of formidable supercomputers is to be set up across India’s finest educational and research institutions beginning this year, placing the nation in the league of leading supercomputing powers.

Government education and research institutions, including Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and National Institutes of Technology (NITs), will be able to harness the power of supercomputers for research in advanced technology areas as part of a project proposed by the Departments of Electronics & Information Technology (DeitY) and Science and Technology (DST).

The Rs. 4,500 crore (Rs. 45 billion) project proposes a grid of more than 70 supercomputers to be hooked up across these institutions and organizations within five years. This will enable the Indian research community to build applications on the network, as well as to use supercomputing power for research and development (R&D).

India has 12 of the world’s 500 most powerful supercomputers, the largest currently deployed being a 500 teraflops (equivalent to half a petaflop) computer, administered by the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (CDAC), the Pune-based research and development organization of DeitY under the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology. They are primarily being used for weather forecasting.

A 700 teraflops supercomputer is set to be deployed soon by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology.
A teraflop is a measure of computing speed equal to one trillion floating point operations per second—that is, it can do a staggering trillion calculations involving numbers with decimal points every second.

“Our actionable plan for this year includes supercomputing mission. We are planning to have a grid of supercomputers across a number of locations. It will equip research and education institutions with supercomputing power,” said J. Satyanarayana, Secretary, DeitY. “At present, institutions doing research work have to ask for computing power from CDAC or IISc (Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore). With this set-up, this power will be available to them all the time, so that research can be multiplied manifold.”

The project was given in-principle go-ahead by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh two years ago at the National Science Congress, said Rajat Moona, Appellate Authority and Director General, CDAC.

Satyanarayana and Moona both said the project is in its advanced stages and expected to start this year. It is an “actionable object” for the department of information technology this year. “After we got the nod, we worked on the proposal that is being evaluated at present. A joint meeting of the EFC (expenditure finance committee) will be held shortly,” said Moona.

“The work is already in the advanced stages and we expect it to start this year,” he said. “We are looking at 70-plus supercomputing machines in five years’ time. We will start with petaflop supercomputing power (equivalent to a thousand teraflops), but eventually will go beyond that to look at exa-scale supercomputing (one exaflop is equivalent to a thousand petaflops), which is required for research in supercomputer architecture as well as development and deployment of supercomputers,” said Moona.

“This is a long-term strategy. We want to bring supercomputing to people in a major way.” Of the 70 planned machines, around 20 will be in the range of 10 petaflops, which is 15 to 20 times more powerful than the most powerful supercomputer currently in India, a 0.5 petaflops (500 teraflop) machine. Several others will be in the 100-500 teraflops range while the rest will be smaller. The supercomputers will be connected in a “grid environment”, while cloud technology will be used to run applications for education.

“The joint proposal was floated by DeitY and DST, which are the project implementing ministries,” said Moona.
“The technical discretion will be provided by CDAC and IISc, like the necessary decisions like procuring machines parts, identifying applications, enabling people to build applications on that, training manpower to use supercomputers and managing the power budget, which is another important issue since these machines will consume a huge amount of power.”

“At present, we see this kind of a set-up in America, some of the European countries, China and Japan. This project is a quantum jump that will enable India to compete with these countries,” Moona added. Globally, the fastest supercomputer runs at around 30 petaflops per second, which is 60 times faster than India’s fastest supercomputer. China’s supercomputer Tianhe-2, developed by the country’s National University of Defence Technology, is ranked the most powerful supercomputer in the world, capable of running at 33.86 petaflops.
Experts say the wide variety of supercomputing applications include climate modelling, bio-informatics, drug discovery, personalized drugs, space research, forecasting natural calamities, engineering design and the study of molecular interactions.

“Super computing is also needed for larger databases like UID (Unique Identification Number). For example, when we need to do a finger print search, since there will be a huge data, it would be impossible to do it in real time. So we need to have supercomputing power for big data analysis,” said Moona.

“Internal security can also be looked at. We can use it in tracking terror attacks.”
According to Moona, the hardware needed for supercomputers is not available in India and there is no semiconductor foundry yet. In the absence of these facilities, the approach will be to “partly procure and partly build”.

Source: Mint, January 9, 2014

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

UGC not to regulate autonomous B-schools

Facing resistance from private colleges, the government has decided that guidelines unveiled last month for the oversight of technical institutes will not apply to autonomous B-Schools that have been concerned about losing their autonomy.

The draft guidelines were announced by the University Grants Commission (UGC) on 5 December and updated on 23 December to regulate all technical colleges after the Supreme Court on 25 April took them out of the regulatory purview of the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE).

Independent B-Schools, which follow their own curriculum and set their own course fees, were also required to obey the guidelines and seek affiliation to universities that function under the UGC and adopt their syllabus.
Their inclusion provoked protests from administrators of these institutes, who argued that the quality of their courses, including the Post-Graduate Diploma in Management (PGDM) programme, would be compromised and the career prospects of their students harmed.

“We have withdrawn our guidelines to regulate PGDM schools,” UGC Chairman Ved Prakash said. “Though we have made some progress, we have now decided to keep all diploma programmes out of our regulatory purview. Business schools providing PGDM will no more come under our supervision.”

“They will run as they used to be earlier,” Prakash said about the functioning of these B-Schools. The UGC Chairman, however, said all other professional colleges, including engineering schools, will have to abide by the new guidelines. On 10 January, the UGC and senior officials of Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) are meeting to find ways to provide affiliation to over 11,000 professional schools. Last month, several private education providers’ associations met human resource development minister M.M. Pallam Raju to express their reservations about the UGC draft guidelines.

India has more than 300 autonomous B-Schools including XLRI in Jamshedpur; Mudra Institute of Communications, Ahmedabad; International Management Institute in Delhi, and Management Development Institute (MDI) in Gurgaon. These autonomous B-Schools are also known as PGDM B-Schools because they don’t offer an MBA degree, but award a post-graduate diploma. They were operating without university affiliation but were approved by the AICTE. Some 180,000 students are studying in these schools.

B-Schools said they hadn’t yet been informed about the government’s decision to spare them from having to follow the UGC guidelines. “We have not received any formal communication from either the MHRD or the UGC about their withdrawal,” said Harivansh Chaturvedi, Director of the Birla Institute of Management Technology in Greater Noida, on the outskirts of Delhi. Chaturvedi, who is also the Alternate President of the Education Promotion Society of India (EPSI), said B-Schools were going ahead with their plan to meet the HRD minister again and explore judicial options.

Even if the UGC decides not to apply the new guidelines to autonomous B-schools, the institutes would still need to be overseen by a regulator, in the absence of which their status would remain uncertain. Following the Supreme Court order, unless the government amends the AICTE Act, these schools cannot go back to the AICTE’s fold.

Without any regulatory body and government recognition, these PGDM schools will be required to pay a service tax to the government—which they don’t do currently. The legal validity of the degrees they award can be challenged and their students will not be eligible for education loans. “We need a regulator and government recognition. We seek our legal status and autonomy,” Chaturvedi said.

Kumar Rajiv, a Delhi student who wants to join one of the top B-Schools, said the regulatory confusion needs to be cleared quickly before the admission process starts in a couple of months. “As a student, I would like to know the exact status of the school I am joining. If a B-School is unrecognized, I will hesitate to join it,” he said.

Source: The Mint, January 8, 2014

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

GMAT takers dip by 17% in 2013

The number of people who took the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) in the 12 months ending last June fell by 48,000, or 17%, from the year before, according to new data. That steep drop may sound like more air hissing out of the MBA bubble, at least to those who subscribe to the theory that business schools are over-swelled. For those who have been paying attention, the drop in test takers was apparent from a long way off. It has little to do with demand for MBAs in the job market.

The Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), which publishes the GMAT, introduced a revamped version of the test in June 2012, adding a section on Integrated Reasoning. The new test—not the job market—is responsible for the lower numbers, wrote GMAC spokeswoman Tracey Briggs in an email: “Traditionally, there is an increase in testing volume before you change a standardised test as test takers opt for the familiar over the unfamiliar at transition time.”

Data from other graduate exams appear to bear her out. About 18% fewer candidates took the GRE (Graduate Record Examination) in the year after a revised test was introduced in August 2011. The number of test takers for the GED dropped even more precipitously when a new test was introduced in 2002. Some other nuggets from the GMAC data: Test takers in the US were especially apt to take a pass on the new test, with 22% fewer taking the exam last year. Women made up 42.5% of test takers, down slightly from the previous year. The average score for all test takers was 546.

Source: The Economic Times, January 7, 2014

Monday, January 06, 2014

Government seeks common counselling during IIT & NIT admissions again

The government is reviving a plan, which has been thwarted before, to hold joint counselling sessions at the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and the National Institutes of Technology (NITs) to avoid seats going vacant. The IITs have previously blocked such a proposal on the grounds that their admissions process ends a month or so before that of the NITs. Others say the resistance stems from the IITs considering themselves a cut above the NITs and not wanting to dilute this branding. But the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has again asked that the 16 IITs and 30 NITs jointly guide students on course choice.

The current system allows candidates to get admission offers from both the IITs and NITs. With the IIT admission process starting earlier, candidates join courses even though they may not have got the specialisation that they want, they are loath to let go of a confirmed seat. But if they get the course they want at one of the NITs, they may give up the IIT seat. By this time, it's too late to offer the IIT place to the next student on the list.

The ministry knows that the IITs are likely to resist the directive once again but ministry officials are of the view that this is killing the chances of students lower down the merit list. "Common counselling will reduce the vacancy of seats," said Ashok Thakur, Higher Education Secretary, MHRD.

Last year, 600 places were unfilled, double what it was in 2012. "Often candidates pay the admission fee for their allotted seats in an IIT and in an NIT, and then decide where they want to join. Very often they don't cancel their admission till the last minute, resulting in vacancies that become clear only after the session starts," a ministry official said. "As a result, many candidates with lower JEE (Joint Entrance Exam) ranks do not get the opportunity for admission."

Common counselling means a student will receive only one offer from the IITs and NITs. A second option will be given only if the candidate rejects the first offer. "A student will receive an offer from only one institute, either an IIT or an NIT, at a time," Thakur said. The IITs said the admission for the two sets of schools being about a month apart makes it difficult to coordinate the process when the joint counselling system was suggested last year.

The IITs have opposed efforts to put in place common processes, be they related to entrance examinations or counselling. "There is a sense in the IITs that any such effort would dilute their brand and undermine their image as the country's premier engineering institution," said the administrator of an engineering college that's not an IIT. The ministry is of the view the qualitative difference between the IITs and NITs is not that wide. "The difference between the IITs and NITs intake marks is a very few percentage points," Thakur said.The ministry plans to be resolute this time around, despite the likelihood that the IITs will resist the plan.

Thakur said a joint counselling system was in keeping with the aim of a unified entrance examination for all engineering colleges. "At the last IIT Council meeting, it was agreed that there would a joint entrance examination for all centrally funded technical institutions from 2015-16," he said. In 2012, the IIT Council decided to move forward with a single exam for admission to centrally-funded institutions.

The IITs opposed the common exam on the ground that it would adversely impact "quality". They argued that the JEE and the admission process was integral to ensuring that the IITs continued to be the country's top engineering colleges. Over the course of a few months and repeated discussions, it was decided that the IITs would select students on the basis of a second test, the JEE Advanced, while the NITs would use the JEE Main scores and the Class XII board exam results as well.

Source: The Economic Times, January 6, 2014

Times higher education to add India-specific parameters to ranking

Indian institutions could improve their scores dramatically in Times Higher Education's globally cited World University Rankings as the British magazine has agreed to develop and include India-specific parameters for assessment from the next time.

Confirming the development, Higher Education Secretary Ashok Thakur said that the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) had asked all groupings of domestic institutions such as the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), National Institutes of Technology (NITs) and central universities to appoint a nodal person to coordinate with Times Higher Education to develop India-specific parameters.

Domestic institutions have long argued that the rankings, which give 55% weightage to research indicators and 30% to teaching environment including 15% to the faculty, do not take into account extenuating "Indian circumstances".

No Indian institution has yet made it to the top 100 in the rankings, in which Panjab University is the highest ranked domestic institution clubbed in the group of universities ranked 226-250. India's premier engineering colleges, the Indian Institutes of Technology, made it to the list last year, with the IITs from Delhi, Kanpur, Kharagpur and Roorkee all ranked in the group of institutions between 351 and 400. The government has been concerned over the poor performance of domestic institutions in international rankings and keen to ensure that the rankings take India-specific parameters on board. 

There is little clarity on what exactly constitutes "Indian circumstances" except the constitutionally mandated reservation quotas (15% for scheduled castes, 7.5% for scheduled tribes and 27% for other backward classes) and the cross-cutting quota for physically-challenged persons. But issues including intake of foreign students, foreign faculty, marketing and branding of institutions will be addressed while designing India-specific parameters for assessment.

Academics and analysts argue that it is unfair to compare India's top institutions with American or other western institutions. Centrally-funded institutions such as the IITs, which have a national mandate, cannot admit foreign students at the undergraduate level, and restrictions on assistantships for international students make it difficult to attract foreign students at the PhD level.

None of India's publicly-funded higher education institution can hire foreign nationals as regular faculty members since guidelines prohibit hiring of foreigners for jobs with salaries less than $25,000 a year. Moreover, even at higher salaries, international faculty can only be brought in on contract for up to five years.

The MHRD had also approached the widely respected Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) Rankings to develop India-specific parameters for assessment.

Source: The Economic Times, January 6, 2014

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Government to restore old powers of AICTE

The Union government is planning to introduce legislation that would reverse a Supreme Court order and restore the powers of the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) to oversee technical institutes including engineering and business schools—a move that would cheer thousands of professional colleges left in a regulatory vacuum by the ruling. “We are for restoring the powers of AICTE,” said Ashok Thakur, Secretary, Higher Education, Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD). “We have taken the opinion of the law ministry on it. Instead of an ordinance route, we will go through legislative route.”

On 25 April, the Supreme Court ruled that AICTE does not have the authority to control or regulate professional colleges that are affiliated to universities, rendering the once-powerful technical education regulator ineffective and leaving some 11,000 professional colleges without an overseer. Nearly a million students graduate from these colleges every year.

In December, the University Grants Commission (UGC) unveiled draft guidelines to regulate the institutes, which have been at a loss regarding how to operate in the absence of a regulatory mechanism, for instance, getting approval for plans to raise or lower their student intake. Thakur indicated that UGC will serve as a stop-gap regulator of these institutes until the AICTE’s powers are restored. He said that a joint coordination committee of UGC, AICTE and officials of the MHRD had met earlier this week and are again meeting on 10 January to chalk out their strategy.

As an interim measure, AICTE will continue to set the standards for professional colleges to follow; the National Board of Accreditation (NBA), another government body, will conduct the assessments; and UGC, through the universities under it, will offer affiliation and approvals to these technical schools.

The MHRD plans to introduce the draft law in the next session of Parliament and table it most probably in the Rajya Sabha. Bills moved in the upper house of the Parliament will not lapse even if the Lok Sabha is dissolved in the run-up to the general election due by May. 

To be sure, the window open for the Bill to be passed is narrow. “We will push for it in the coming (budget) session and if it cannot get passed, then it will carry over for early resolution in the next government,” Thakur said. If that scenario pans out, the stop-gap regulatory arrangement would be in place for one academic session.

Legislation restoring AICTE’s powers would mean that professional colleges would be able to stay clear of UGC’s control and command structure while ensuring that they emerge from the regulatory limbo they found themselves in after the Supreme Court order. It will also help the government avoid legal hassles. 

Several associations of private colleges, including the Education Promotion Society of India, have been planning to move the Supreme Court against the new guidelines of UGC. They argue that coming under UGC’s fold will take away their autonomy—their curriculum, for instance, will have to be prescribed by the university to which they are affiliated. The curriculum is often outdated and out of step with industry requirements.

“The autonomy of the top colleges should not be violated. A regulator is important but UGC regulation via universities is not desirable,” said Harivansh Chaturvedi, director of the Birla Institute of Management Technology in Greater Noida on the outskirts of New Delhi.

Source: Mint, January 4, 2014

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Not just in US, fewer schools teach science in India

The authorities may want more scientists but the opportunity for studying science at school level seems to be dismally limited. Less than a third of schools offer the subject at the higher-secondary (Classes XI and XII) level across the country. Only 30.07% high schools in India offer the science stream and only in 11 states/union territories-including Delhi-more than 50% schools teach science. Data collected through the Secondary Education Management Information System (SEMIS) and collated in the SEMIS Flash Statistics: 2012-13, also shows that boys outnumber girls in science classes in most states.

"Most of higher-secondary education is in private hands," observes Professor R. Govinda, Vice-Chancellor of National University of Educational Planning and Management. "To offer science, you need laboratories, equipment and other facilities-it's very resource-intensive. Many private schools choose to teach just arts and commerce due to this," he says. In Delhi, most higher-secondary schools are under the Directorate of Education (52.24%) and 33.73% are private, unaided institutions. But nationally, the maximum number of high schools-41.04%-is private-unaided.

Govinda feels the shortage of teachers is also a factor. "For high school, you need a master's degree and in some places, even a B.Ed," he explains, "You may not get people with the right qualifications in some rural or remote areas. Also, you'll need teachers who've specialized. We don't have enough teachers."

Only 51.71% Delhi high schools offer science whereas 86.56% offer arts and 78.39% commerce. The only state/UT where all high schools have science is Lakshadweep. In Tamil Nadu 86.51% and in Puducherry 82.58% schools have it.

The gender imbalance in science classes in north India is startling. In Delhi, where many girls schools don't offer science-60,837 boys study them as opposed to 33,768 girls; in UP it's 495,574 boys and 164,882 girls. In Gujarat, 95,836 boys study high school science as opposed to 47,520 girls. But, on a positive note, the gap is not so wide is several states. In Andhra Pradesh, the number of girls (75,434) is practically equal to the number of boys (75,471). And in states/UTs like Lakshadweep, Meghalaya, Puducherry, Sikkim and Tamil Nadu (south and northeast), girls outnumber boys in science classes.

Source: The Times of India, January 2, 2014

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Indian nominators for Nobel Prize letting invitations rot

Indian institutes, academics and scientists, invited to nominate Indians for the Nobel Prize, are "letting invitations rot in their drawers". The usually secretive Nobel Committee, which decides the coveted prizes, has told this to The Times of India (TOI), India's leading daily newspaper.

Sources in the Committee told TOI for instance this year not a single Indian nomination was received for the Nobel Prize for Medicine. In other categories like economics, physics and chemistry, just 10% invitations sent to Indian institutes or scholars seeking nominations were responded to.

Interestingly, most of their responses were nominations for non-resident Indians. "Ever year, around 5,000 nomination forms are sent out globally to individuals and institutes in 220 countries. The response rate from India is abysmally low,'' Nobel Committee for Chemistry Chairman Sven Lidin told TOI in an exclusive interview.

He said the response rate among individuals asked to nominate is about 30% while among institutes it is as low as 10%. "It is not just the case with nominations for physics, medicine and chemistry but also economics. It is a serious worry for us.''

Lidin said Indian universities do not take the nominations seriously. "In some cases, they aren't even aware of breakthrough work being conducted by individuals scientists or groups and hence don't know whom to nominate,'' said Lidin, who is visiting India to look for nominators.

He said they are never sure that they were reaching the right people to nominate. "In some cases, say for example, an institute director isn't well versed with chemistry as a subject because his specialization has been physics and hence he does not nominate when asked to do so for a Nobel in Chemistry.''

Lidin said the Nobel Committee is now travelling extensively across the world to search for the best people and institutes to be asked to nominate. "Quest for nomination is a big responsibility for us. Science in India and China is incredibly strong and has a very long academic tradition. But the number of Nobel winners is very low."

Lidin said institutes with Nobel laureates are usually very good with nominations. "That is why universities in the UK, the US, Germany and France nominate large number of scientists and end up winning the most prestigious prize more often.''

Nominations to the Nobel Prize can be made only through invitation. The Nobel Committee sends out invitation letters to individuals qualified to nominate --- former laureates, scholars, academics and higher education institutes and universities in every country. It bases its assessment on nominations received before a particular date.

The Committee then assesses the candidates' work and prepares a short list, which is later reviewed by permanent advisers specially recruited for their knowledge of specific candidates. Around October every year, the Committee chooses Laureates through a majority vote.

Source: The Times of India, January 1, 2014

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