Friday, March 20, 2015

IIT-Madras is India’s Stanford

If you look at some of the more prominent e-commerce and marketplace ventures of today --- be it Flipkart, Snapdeal, Zomato, Quikr, Ola, or Housing --- you will find that many have founders who did engineering degrees at IIT-Delhi or IIT-Mumbai.

But the future of the more technology focused startups --- the kind that institutions like Stanford produce in droves --- may actually be IIT-Madras, and the phenomenal success of some companies like Zoho may be early evidence of that. This has to do with the culture of technology research and industry-academia interaction that the institution has fostered for years, and which has touched a new high with a massive research facility that was launched five years ago.

The IIT-Madras Research Park was an idea conceptualized by Ashok Jhunjhunwala, professor at the electrical engineering department of IIT-M, and M S Ananth, the then dean of academic courses and later the director of the institute, to create a bridge between innovations created in the classroom and industry. It is spread across 1.2 million sq ft, houses almost 100 entities - research companies, innovation arms of large corporates, start-ups and incubators - and has already facilitated filing of over 60 patents.

"We realized that the rewards of R&D are significantly higher if we enable R&D personnel from industry to work jointly with our faculty and students on new ideas," says Bhaskar Ramamurthi, Director of IIT Madras and a member of the board at the Research Park.

Innovative Start-ups
The success of the ecosystem can be seen in the quality and utility of the innovations produced by its residents. Take Vortex Engineering, which is working towards financial inclusion using disruptive ATM technology. The company claims many firsts - first biometric ATMs for MNREGA, first ATMs to work without AC, and first commercially viable solar ATMs. Narayanakumar R, the chief development officer of Vortex, is all praise for the ecosystem. "Our research activities here have resulted in almost nine patents for the cash technology used in our ATMs," he says.

Ather Energy is building a smart electric scooter at the Park. Swayambhu Biologics is a biotech firm that uses a patented microbial composting process that results in creation of nutrient-rich biomanure along with the advantage of managing distillery effluents and helping industries achieve zero discharge.

IIT-M's Rural Technology Business Incubator incubated Swayambhu in 2012 and gave them much needed resources, equipment and space at the Research Park. Uniphore, incubated at IIT-M in 2008 and which has filed six patents, has leveraged the institution's technical expertise to develop Akeira, a virtual assistant like Apple's Siri. Akeira can be used on any basic phone and its interactive feature keeps farmers informed of advisory messages.

Start-ups say the presence of R&D divisions of large companies in the same facility enables them to feed into their expertise. TCS has an innovation lab at the Research Park. TCS CTO Ananth Krishnan says the engagement model, the intellectual ambience, and proximity to faculty and students have been a huge positive. "We also get an opportunity to engage and mentor start-ups doing interesting work," he says.

The environment, though still in its nascent stages, has striking similarities with that of Stanford, which has long had a unique and powerful relationship with Silicon Valley. A study by Stanford academics Charles Eesley and William Miller three years ago estimated that Stanford alumni and faculty members had founded 39,900 companies since the 1930s, creating 5.4 million jobs and generating annual revenues of $2.7 trillion. Its students and alumni have founded companies like Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Cisco to the more recent Google, LinkedIn, Mozilla,Netflix, Paypal, YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat.

Unique Model
IIT-M says it has differentiated the model to suit the Indian context. Director Ramamurthi says the Research Park is perhaps the only one that measures the extent of collaboration with clients through a "credit system". The system assigns points to clients for different joint activities, ranging from joint patent development to supporting student interns. "Unlike Stanford, where the research ecosystem is for academia-industry linkages, while entrepreneurship development happens across the board, IIT-M's facility has succeeded in combining research and entrepreneurial elements in one ecosystem," says Rajan Srikanth, co-president of Keiretsu Forum, an angel investor.

Nagaraja Prakasam, mentor in residence at the N S Raghavan Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning at IIM-Bangalore, says the IIT-M Research Park ecosystem is creating ventures of high technical quality that are solving real-world problems, going beyond internet and mobile consumer ventures. Prakasam is an investor in Uniphore and is in talks with several other ventures for similar relationships.

Shripathi Acharya, managing partner at seed funding venture AngelPrime in Bengaluru, says he would advise start-ups to have a presence at the Research Park for multiple reasons --- professionalism that comes with being present in such a location, the peer learning that happens at the growth stage, and the visibility that it brings to their ventures.

The Research Park could soon get additional muscle with the IIT Alumni Club proposing an 'IIT Alumni Industry Interaction Centre' at the facility. The centre hopes to help fledgling ventures in their market penetration stage. "As alumni we want to enable this interaction," says Suresh Kalpathi, president of the Club and chairman of Kalpathi Investments.

The biggest proof that the IIT-M model is working is perhaps the fact that others are now looking at replicating it. Devang Khakhar, the Director of IIT-Bombay, says his institution has set in motion plans for a research park. "We have set up a committee to get it going, land has been earmarked within the campus, and talks are on to garner support from industrial stakeholders," he says.

Source: The Times of India, March 20, 2015

Thursday, March 12, 2015

No Indian university in global rankings

Not a single Indian university has made it to the prestigious world reputation rankings 2015. India with its great intellectual history and growing economic power does not have a single university that is regarded by academics globally as being among the world's most prestigious, according to the Times Higher Education (THE) rankings released on Thursday. Indian Institute of Science (IISc) is the highest-ranked institution in the country, though it doesn't figure in the world's top 100.

The rankings is the world's largest invitation only survey of academics. Times Higher Education distributes the survey in 15 languages to over 10,500 academics in 142 countries.

According to the 2015 list, Harvard in the US is the world's top university followed by UK's University of Cambridge (2nd) and the University of Oxford (3rd) which displaces Massachusetts Institute of Technology by one rank (4th). Stanford in the US is placed at fifth position and the University of California Berkley is sixth. The rest of the top 10 is made up of US institutions: Princeton University (7th), Yale University (8th), California Institute of Technology (9th) and Columbia University (10th).

London and Paris are tied for top spot as the world cities with the highest number of top ranked universities. US dominated the list with 43 universities in the top 100. UK has the second highest number of representatives in the top 100: 12 up from 10 last year and nine in 2013.

In an interview to TOI, Phil Baty, editor of Times Higher Education Rankings said, "It is really a matter of concern that a country of India's great intellectual history does not have a single university that is regarded by academics globally as being among the world's most prestigious. Brazil, Russia and China - the other great BRIC nations, have at least one top 100 university in this list".

Mr Baty added "At this stage the best performing Indian institutions in the reputation rankings are the Indian Institute of Technology (IITs) --- they have a strong reputation across the world. However, they are still not receiving enough nominations to make it into the top 100. India needs to support its leading institutions". According to him, strong universities are crucial for the success of developing nations - helping to retain top talent in the country and prevent brain drain, attract investment, develop highly skilled future leaders and create new knowledge and drive the knowledge economy.

Mr Baty explained to TOI how the survey was conducted. To be invited to take part, academics have to be published in a leading academic journal and respondents have an average of 15 years working in higher education. They are asked to nominate no more than 10 institutions that - in their expert opinion - they believe to be performing the most strongly for teaching and research.

"In total, we received over 10,000 responses when we carried out the survey last month. This study is based entirely on a survey of academic opinion, where leading scholars around the world name which institutions are strongest in teaching and research. For the 2015 table, the most responses were from the US (15.8%) followed by China (10.6%) and Japan (7.2%). There were 5.6% responses from the UK and 5.5% from Russia".

Mr Baty added to TOI "There is no way of knowing why these academics are not nominating Indian institutions enough. It could be because Indian institutes are not attracting enough international students or staff, collaborating with overseas universities enough, or publishing enough research papers in English --- the global language".

"All of these factors can influence a university's reputation, so it is likely that by improving their international outlook Indian institutions can not only improve through sharing best practice globally and drawing on the global talent pool, they can also improve how they are perceived by the global academic community. Ultimately the only way to improve in the world reputation rankings is to ensure that scholars across the world recognise you as an excellent teaching and research institution," he added.

Could it be because most academics don't know about Indian institutes? "Yes and no. The survey is representative at a local and global level and based on UN data, so if the academics are not nominating Indian Institutions it is likely because they have chosen not to, not because they are not aware of them," Mr Baty added.

Meanwhile universities in the 'golden triangle' of London, Oxford and Cambridge continued to rank highly. Imperial College London was 14th, University College London moved up from 25th to 17th, the London School of Economics and Political Science rose two places to 22nd, King's College London jumped 12 places from 43rd to 31st and the London Business School was ranked 91-100. King's is one of the rising stars of the rankings, after moving up from the 61-70 band in 2013. The UK also saw two new entrants to the top 100: Warwick and Durham universities both entered in the 81-90 group.

Germany remains the best-represented nation after the US and the UK, with six top 100 universities (the same as last year). France now boasts five institutions in the table (all of them based in Paris), up from two last year.

Asia’s best performer, the University of Tokyo, slipped one place to 12th position. China’s top institution, Tsinghua University, climbed 10 places to 26th, and Peking University leaped from 41st to 32nd place.

Sources: The Times of India; Mint; The Economic Times; March 12, 2015

Monday, March 09, 2015

Indian students are keeping out of UK

British Indian entrepreneur and life peer Karan Bilimoria has again flagged the issue of the sharp drop in the number of Indian students going to study in UK universities, and has asked the UK government to remove non-EU students from the immigration figures and reintroduce the post-study work visa.

Recently, participating in a debate on UK’s immigration Bill in the House of Lords, Lord Bilimoria said, “The prime minister (David Cameron) talks about Britain having to take part in a global race yet the government’s insistence is on following this madcap immigration cap policy and targeting bringing down the immigration level to the tens of thousands. This is shooting ourselves in the foot.”

Speaking at another event, organised by UK’s National Union of Students (NUS), Bilimoria pointed out that the enormous benefits that talented overseas students brought to the UK were “not just a nice-tohave, but were a vital part of the British economy”. “Recent estimates put the annual value of selling British education to overseas students at £14billion,” he pointed out. In a hard-hitting speech, Bilimoria raised the issue of UK losing out in the race to attract talented students from India.

“In the rush for talent — the most important resource in our economy — we are swiftly falling behind. Take France. The government of Fran├žois Hollande has set itself the target of doubling the number of Indian students in its universities. And is busy snapping up the very students the Home Office is driving away,” he said. Adding that at a recent lecture in London, Australian education minister Christopher Pyne had said that he wanted to thank Britain for its immigration policies because they had driven so many students to Australia’s universities.

According to a report by The Russell group, which represents 24 leading UK universities, intakes of post-graduate students from India at its institutions dropped by 21% in 2011-12, with a further drop of 18% in 2012-13. Lord Bilimoria, who is a graduate of the University of Cambridge, expressed his concern over the 25% fall in the number of Indian students applying to UK universities last year, pointing out statistics gathered by NUS which show that 51% of international students in the UK find the government to be unwelcoming.

One of Lord Bilimoria’s recommendations to the British government is removing student figures from the total immigration figures to send out a clear message that UK did not include them in the government’s “madcap immigration cap target”. “Secondly, a system in which everyone’s passports will be scanned in and out of the country, at all ports of entry, should be introduced as soon as possible and the government should bring back the post-student work visa,” he said. Lord Bilimoria was also critical of the additional National Health Service charge of £150 per year per student proposed to be introduced. “The proposed NHS fees are unwelcoming.

As a former foreign student in this country, I know how expensive it is to study here. The average international student will spend something in the region of £75,000 during a three-year degree programme.”
Even as the number of Indian students choosing UK as a destination for higher education falls, other overseas destinations are gaining an advantage. “While it is still difficult to quantify this in terms of percentages, other countries have gained on the reducing popularity of UK as an education destination.

Developed higher education destinations such as the US, Continental Europe and Singapore have seen some clear gains as expected and new destinations have come to the forefront,” said Rohan Ganeriwala, co-founder, Collegify, consultants for overseas education. Some of the new destinations for Indian students include Malaysia, Japan, Spain, Russia and Korea. “Indian students do not feel welcome to the UK due to the strict visa regime. An atmosphere of negativity has been created and students question the post education employment prospects available to them.

Following the withdrawal of the post-study work visa and tightening of corporates with regard to hiring non EU students as interns/trainees/analysts, post graduate applications from India alone have witnessed a 50% drop since 2013,” Ganeriwala added.

According to Nilufer Jain, cofounder, EduCat, an overseas education consulting firm for medical studies, the UK government should consider steps to open up employability options for international students to repair some of the damage that has been done.

(This article is written by Ishani Duttagupta.)

Source: The Economic Times, March 9, 2015

Blog Archive