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Institutes of Eminence status given without field visits, rankings

Economic Times | Anubhuti Vishnoi | ET BureauJul 13, 2018 | Opinion |

NEW DELHI: The choice of six Institutes of Eminence—three each in the public and private domains—has sparked controversy, particularly over one of them, but how did the committee arrive at its picks—and so quickly? Did the Empowered Expert Committee (EEC) that assessed all 113 eligible institutes follow selection guidelines to the letter? A close examination of the process followed suggests perhaps not. On the other hand, EEC chairman N Gopalaswami offered a strong defence of the committee’s method of functioning and said that strict adherence would have led to the compilation taking a year or so.  The EEC didn’t conduct any field visit or tabular rankings of the institutes, both of which are in the University Grants Commission (Declaration of Government Educational Institutions as Institutions of Eminence) Guidelines, 2017. To be sure, the field visits are only recommendatory in nature but a tabular appraisal of all institutes and their ranking is required.  The appraisal methodology detailed in the EEC report mentions various aspects taken into consideration but gives no information on specific parameters and weightage of each in overall assessment/score of an institute. There is no statistical or comparative assessment of applicants in the report.

The EEC processed the 113 applications in 45-50 days, mainly on the basis of their detailed applications and presentations which were seen and discussed over eight separate days with the institutes between April 2 and May 8. EEC was announced in February and as per its report started work on April 2 with a briefing by the human resource development secretary and the University Grants Commission (UGC) chairman.  The committee submitted its report before the end of May. Gopalaswami told ET that field visits were not mandatory and the committee was of the view that comparative rankings would not be fair. “No field visits were conducted as we did not feel they were necessary,” Gopalaswami told ET. “UGC guidelines do allow it but it was not mandatory. If we were to conduct field visits of all 113 institutes, it would probably take a year. We also did not do any ranking of institutes because we felt that it may not be fair to do so. In many cases, the difference between institutes was very narrow and so to rank them would not really be proper, it was felt.” The ex-chief election commissioner maintained that due process had been followed.

“Institutes applied with considerable information,” he said. “Then they were called for individual presentations that lasted 10-15 minutes, followed by about another 15 minutes of the EEC seeking clarifications and questions on the institute concerned. We felt satisfied with this process. It was conducted in a transparent manner, all relevant questions were asked of them. The key criterion was whether an institute can achieve a place in the top 500 of global rankings in next 10 years and this was assessed on a range of parameters like faculty-student ratio, vacancies, research output and so on.” EEC members Tarun Khanna of Harvard Business School and Renu Khator, president of the University of Houston, declined to comment, saying the chairman was best placed to do so. Pritam Singh, former director of the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Lucknow, could not be contacted. While all members attended the first round of meetings in Delhi, some of the subsequent ones had Khanna and Khator participating via video conference.

THREE QUESTIONS
While the scheme led to lengthy exchanges between the HRD ministry and Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) over final contours, eyebrows were raised when the government decided to extend deadline for submission of applications to February from January, despite about 80 having already been received. The extension was given to allow more time to some institutes that had not readied the comprehensive application, according to people aware of the matter, including that of a leading private player whose institute did not eventually make it to the list of six.  Second, EEC abruptly scrapped a shortlist of 40 institutes in April and decided instead to assess all 113.  The decision was apparently guided by the PMO, which felt some key institutes had been left out of the shortlist and it would be worthwhile to give a chance to all in the fray.  Third, the EEC assessed all 113 eligible institutes in April and May and submitted a report to the government in mid-May. The findings sparked to confusion all the way from the PMO to the HRD ministry as they found no more than eight eligible for the status of eminence in the public category and three among the private ones, whereas the 2016 budget clearly allowed for 20 institutes. Through June, government attempts to find a ‘resolution’ to this situation failed and it was finally decided to pick an equal number of institutes from both categories to ensure fairness.- Courtesy

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Engineering and human life – a curious resemblance

Business Standard | IANS |  June 22, 2018 | Vikas Datta | Opinion |

Engineering and human life – a curious resemblance (Book Review)

Title: 101 Things I Learned in Engineering School; Author: John Kuprenas (with Matthew Frederick); Publisher: Three Rivers Press; Pages: 216; Price: Rs 499

Representational Image

Nature is termed the best teacher. This is not only because our existence depends on striking concord, or at least a compromise, with it, but because in studying it, we find the fundamental inter-connectedness between us and the world we flourish in. And out of all academic disciplines, it is engineering that shows us how.  Prima facie, nothing could seem more distanced from the human condition than engineering, which is concerned with how to devise, design, build, run and maintain structures, machines, materials, devices, processes and so on by skillfully applying science and mathematics.  And then it needs years of intense study involving mastery over abstract concepts, difficult mathematical calculations and specialised knowledge of at least two basic sciences (physics and chemistry) and maths. But if we leave our preconceptions of engineering as highly technical subject, we will be surprised with the points of resemblance.

Force (or influence in human terms), pressure, stress, support, problem-solving, creative thinking, and so on are as important to human life as engineering, as experienced civil engineer and instructor John Kuprenas shows us in this lucid introduction to the principles of engineering and the mindset its practitioners need. “Engineers view their profession as fascinating, creative, and full of interesting challenges. Those outside it often regard it as repetitive, mechanical and frustrating,” he observes, but notes that common to both views is that it is indeed complex.  Kuprenas, who lectures on the subject at the University of South California and California State University, Long Beach, and is Senior Vice President of the STV Group’s Construction Management Division, however recalls from his own experience that the intense grounding in mathematics, physics and chemistry in the initial years of the engineering course does not provide much “real-world context”. It is this context he seeks to present in this engaging and insightful book of a 100-odd facts, principles and examples, which seeks to introduce engineering through its real-wold moorings “by emphasising the common sense behind some of its fundamental concepts, the themes intertwined among its many specialities, and the simple abstract principles that can be derived from real-world circumstances”. Say, understanding the difference between accuracy and precision, what happens when force acts on an object, why there is always a trade-off, why some get stronger by doing more work, or when perfect reliability may not always be desirable — all these can well be applicable to the human condition too. Then there are the some more “mysterious scientific” issues such as why buildings want to float and cars want to fly, or why keeping one hand in your pocket while touching an electric appliance may save you from a major shock, why some parts are designed to fail and why soldiers should not march on a bridge — as some non-science readers might remember from their obligatory physics classes.

Interspersed are some examples of the success or failure of various structures, mostly bridges, or products (largely US-centric though) which also provides a more tangible example of how engineering works — or doesn’t. Also offered, along with some splendidly evocative illustrations to all the 101 entries, are some interesting historical nuggets and some random hypotheses. While Kuprenas mostly focusses on his field of civil engineering — which we learn is the oldest branch — with occasional forays into other branches such as mechanical, chemical or engineering, he lays the discipline’s basic thrust which is that “the heart of engineering isn’t calculation; it’s problem-solving”.  Also that while all engineers calculate, good engineers also communicate — and very cogently and persuasively.  With this, and more examples beyond the ones cited above, he goes on to show that engineering is not only meant to benefit humanity in its basic and other comforts, but closely approximates their own life, in both structure, influence and performance, to make the compelling case that “engineering events are human events”. While this book may help engineering aspirants to understand what the field entails, and even some engineers might learn a thing or do, it is the curious lay reader it is directed at — and will prove to be a rewarding read in showing how things in our world are intertwined. – Courtesy

94% of IT engineering graduates not fit for hiring: C P Gurnani CEO of Tech Mahindra

Times of India | Pankaj Doval | TNN |  Jun 4, 2018 | Opinion |  NEW DELHI: Is hiring in the IT sector under any kind of stress? Will you hire more?

Tech Mahindra CEO C P Gurnani is laying the foundation for the next level of growth at his company. Skilling of manpower and logging into new-age technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, cyber-security and machine learning remain the biggest challenge for Indian IT players, says Gurnani in an exclusive interview to TOI.

Let me give you an example from a city like Delhi. A student scoring 60% marks cannot pursue BA-English today, but can definitely go in for engineering. My point is simple — are we not creating people for unemployment? … The Indian IT industry wants skills. For example, Nasscom says 6 million people are required in cybersecurity by 2022. But we have a skills shortage. The point is if I am looking for a robotics person and instead I get a mainframe person, then it creates a skill gap. This comes as a big challenge.

How serious is the skill-gap situation?

If you come to Tech Mahindra, I have created a five-acre tech & learning centre. Other top companies have also created similar facilities to skill employees. For learnability, skill development and being ready for the market, the onus is now shifting onto the industry… Despite all this, the top 10 IT companies take only 6% of the engineering graduates. What happens to the remaining 94%?

Will hiring be impacted?

Hiring is going to be impacted. One reason is that the equation is now no longer linear. For example, earlier for every million dollars of revenue, 20 people were hired. The equation is changing because of increasing productivity, automation and further tools. The same million dollars will equal 15 new jobs. You need 25% lesser people.

Coming to the voices emanating from the US over the H-1B issue, is it a cause for concern for IT companies? Are the tensions over?

To be very candid, every small issue is made big. The number of educated spouses is not more than 90,000 from where this story has been made. This in a population of 330 million. You are trying to shut doors on them as it is a populist move. The industry will move on… (and) every company will come up with their own strategy of dealing with it. But, there is all evidence of a shortage of skilled labour. Sooner than later, the US has to realise that the equilibrium has to set in. I believe that if the US does not want the products to be developed on their shores, the products will get developed in some other country. The US has always benefited from the fact that it was the best destination for talent. Now, it is their problem to solve.

So, do you feel that there can be a flight of innovation from the US to other countries?

This is already happening, and there are evidences. The Canadian Prime Minister openly declares that, “Don’t go to the US, come to Canada”. He is openly using it as an opportunity.

What are your views on cybersecurity and how vulnerable are we?

There is now recognition of the requirement for cybersecurity, but there isn’t enough push happening for it. I consider that only 15% of ventures want cybersecurity needs… that almost 70% of us are vulnerable… It’s a proven fact that in terms of passwords, 80% of the people use their date of birth, or ‘abcde’, and so on. We are so predictable. – Courtesy

UGC removes many journals from approved list, including EPW online

National Herald | Anirban Bandyopadhyay

UGC recently published names of 4,305 journals on its website that have been removed from the list of UGC-approved journals. The decision was taken by a Standing Committee on Notification of Journals

 

UGC, or University Grants Commission, the government agency that funds and approves Universities in India and the credentials of academic professionals employed there and in affiliated undergraduate colleges, recently published a list of 4,305 journals on its website. The preface to the list states that they have been removed from the list of UGC approved journals. The decision has been made by a Standing Committee on Notification of Journals. The job has been carried out with such meticulous inefficiency that it is hard to take the list seriously. The point may be established with a simple exercise, easy enough to be carried out by any internet literate individual. But it is useful, at the outset, to see what the list wishes to accomplish. Let the technique of how to interrogate it appear in due course. The Committee had to reassess every journal recommended by the universities and also those listed in Indian Citation Index, following complaints by faculty, researchers and other members of the academic community, along with the press and media representatives. The complaint, as well as the ground for cancelling their approval, was broadly that these journals were of poor quality, or that they supplied incorrect or insufficient information or made false claims.

It is helpful to be clear about what the criteria for selection as a UGC approved journal are. There are two ways in which a journal may be included. The first appears to be a default entry route. If a journal is already part of a credible citation index, or belongs to an elite database of journals accredited or indexed by a credible regime of indexation, it may walk into this list. For instance, journals already indexed in, or with, Web of Science (Science Citation Index, Social Science Citation Index and Humanities Citation Index) or Scopus or Indian Citation Index probably finds a default entry, provided the claims to this effect are verified. Journals recommended by UGC Standing Committee and Language Committee, along with those recommended by Universities too find a place, but with a rider. The total number of journals approved by UGC hovers around 32,000, or so claims the document explaining the methodology of selection.

There is enough data in the list to make a credible prima facie case for all of these charges. Finally, there is the bread and butter consideration for academics seeking appointment or promotion in higher education institutions in India. Publication in these journals brings rating points. Those rating points decide relative eligibility and seniority for appointment or promotion in Indian colleges or universities.

There is a second route of entry, which is distinct from, but not unrelated to, the first. It is that every journal must score at least five out of a possible maximum score of nine, as provided in a rating scheme with eight listed criteria. This additional requirement appears to apply to two classes of journals, those recommended by the UGC Standing Committee and Languages Committee, and those recommended by various universities. For journals which claim to be listed in an already approved database, such as SoW or Scopus, the responsibility of the UGC standing committee is limited to verifying that claim. Once those claims are successfully verified, the journals concerned appear to be entitled to a default entry. It would seem also that the requirement of entry into those databases probably ensures that those eight criteria are complied with. It is hard to confirm this assumption without access to the basic reason why UGC has resolved to offer default entry to journals already listed to those approved databases. That is not available, as yet, to this commentator. It is similarly not clear why claims to inclusion in Indian Citation Database were chosen for reverification. Whatever it is, it does not reflect well on the overall reputation of ICI.

There are many ways the flaws behind the making of the list may be identified. One is to take up each criteria for separate analysis, or to take them all as a whole and question its basic rationality. Another is to cry that it is a conspiracy by right wing forces, which it may or may not be, for journals published by purportedly right wing institutions or centres too have been rejected in large enough numbers. It could be argued that highly respected journals have been rejected on obscure grounds, which too may or may not be valid. It could be submitted that the list removes important journals hosting research on Dalits, tribals and other marginalized communities. It could be said that science journals and humanities journals should not be held to the same criteria.

There is enough data in the list to make a credible prima facie case for all of these charges. Finally, there is the bread and butter consideration for academics seeking appointment or promotion in higher education institutions in India. Publication in these journals brings rating points. Those rating points decide relative eligibility and seniority for appointment or promotion in Indian colleges or universities. An academic having published or scheduled to publish or hoping to publish in any of these journals now arguably runs the risk of losing or not gaining those potential rating points. The list of legitimate grievances could be, and will be, made larger and more diverse in days to come, as more angles emerge. Every single one of the substantive concerns above, and the ones to emerge later, is serious and merits detailed treatment. But that must involve according this list a particular degree of credibility or seriousness that such lists otherwise deserve. On the ground of bare fact alone, this list does not seem to hold up. It is useful to ask why a given journal has been unfairly rejected only after it has been ascertained that the list is talking about real journals. There is a list of journals removed from the list because they have ceased publication. They merit no consideration at all. But several, if not many, journals mentioned in this list among those rejected on grounds other than stoppage of publication simply does not exist, as they are listed.

The submission is easy enough to test. Every journal with a valid eight digit ISSN code can be tracked down in a matter of a few seconds. Let us take a random sample. The Journal of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies (entry 2531 in the list) has the ISSN code 2047-1076. The code provided in the journal website and that in the ISSN database match perfectly. In our list, however, the code is 2049-1076. The ISSN database offers nothing for that number. Let’s move to the Proceedings of the Indian History Congress (entry 2543). Its ISSN code is 22491937, according to the ISSN database. This list calls the journal Indian History Congress Proceedings and says the ISSN number is 41097815. The latter number returns nothing from the ISSN database. Bengal Past and Present (entry 640) has the ISSN code 00058807, according to the ISSN database. The list finally gets it right, but rejects it on the ‘primary criteria’ that the journal must have a website with full postal and email address of the Chief Editor or other editors, and that at least some of these addresses are verifiable official addresses. That, in fact, is the non negotiable minimum criteria for any journal to even be considered for approval. Without it, no journal enters into the eight point criteria stage.

The misnomer flaw list goes on. The Journal of Asiatic Society of Bengal (entry 65) comes with ISSN 18321936 in the list. The ISSN database has nothing for that number. Senior officials from The Asiatic Society, Kolkata, inform that the journal by that name ceased to exist by the early fifties. Their current journal is called The Journal of the Asiatic Society. It is duly uploaded on the parent body website. In fact, one is not clear which journal the list is talking about. Is it the current journal of the Asiatic Society, Kolkata, which does not have the ISSN listed in the list? Or is it the journal that had ceased publication seventy years ago, which the list actually names, and for which it shows a ISSN code which returns nothing from the ISSN database? How on earth a journal which ceased publication in the fifties managed to collect a ISSN code, is, of course, excellent material for wild fiction. ISO 3297 system, the legal basis for ISSN numbers, came into being in 2007, and later updated in 2017. Finally, the current Journal of Asiatic Society has been found in the approved Journals list. There was a scare that Economic and Political Weekly, the respected social science journal from Mumbai, too was rejected. Fortunately, it was soon enough found out that the ISSN code in the list (entry 3509) belongs to the online version of the journal. The ISSN database too confirms it. The print version, where thousands of landmark articles have been published over half a century, carries the ISSN code 0012-9976 and is safely listed in the CABABSTRACTS, GLOBALHEALTH and SCOPUS databases. How does one carry out a ISSN database search for close to 3,500 journals and then match them with the list, within a day of having discovered the scandal it is? Was not the grandiosely named Standing Committee entrusted with that very job? Or is it lacking in expertise to carry out a ISSN database search? The UGC must now brace itself for a thundering diversity of dismissal from across many quarters. There is plenty of turmoil ahead.

The writer is Junior Research Officer at Educational Multimedia Research Centre, St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata. The opinion is exclusively his own. – Courtesy

It’s time to replace the UGC Act

The Hindu | Arvind Panagariya and B. Venkatesh Kumar |  April 17, 2018 | Opinion |

The stage is set for a long overdue overhaul of higher education in India

The Prime Minister’s vision to create 20 institutions of eminence and the Ministry of Human Resource Development’s reforms push have set the stage for an overhaul of higher education in India that is long overdue. The HRD Ministry first saw the passage of the Indian Institutes of Management Bill, 2017, which will extend greater autonomy to the IIMs. It followed this up with reforms in the rules and regulations of the University Grants Commission (UGC), giving autonomy to India’s best-ranked universities and colleges. Subsequently, the Union Cabinet approved the continuation of the Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan, which has been working quietly to improve the quality of higher educational institutions in the States through outcome-based grants. The time is now ripe for another change: to replace the UGC Act, 1956, with a new law that should respond to the current needs of higher education. Such an Act will take forward the reforms adopted until now, remove the clutter of regulatory agencies under the HRD Ministry’s purview, and pave the way for the emergence of high-quality higher educational institutions.

Categories of universities

The new Act should establish a higher education regulatory commission (HERC), which will subsume the functions of all the three existing regulatory agencies under the HRD Ministry. Recognising the critical role of States in higher education, it should further establish an advisory council consisting of representatives of all States and the Central government. In addition, it must have as members leading educationists from diverse fields. The council should advise the HERC on all matters, though the final decision-making power needs to be vested in the Commission and its different bodies. The UGC recently issued new rules and regulations under which it divided universities into three categories: I, II and III. Category I and II universities were awarded autonomy, with Category I universities receiving greater autonomy than Category II. Under the Act, we propose merging Category I and Category II universities under the recent rules into a single category.

The HERC should not be in the business of writing curriculums for universities and colleges. Under the proposed Act, Category I universities will be free to write their own curriculums. In addition, they will oversee the curriculums of the colleges affiliated to them. Autonomous colleges will write their own curriculums as well. Category II universities and the colleges affiliated to them will adopt the curriculums of one or more Category I universities. Colleges affiliated to these universities will adopt curriculums of colleges affiliated to Category I colleges or autonomous colleges. There may be courses that exist in Category II universities or in colleges affiliated to them, or courses that these institutions wish to start which do not exist in any of the autonomous universities, colleges affiliated to them, or autonomous colleges. In such cases, the HERC will appoint a small committee of experts from the relevant field to approve or reject the proposed course in a time-bound manner.

Tasks of the Commission

If this reform is adopted, a major function on which the UGC currently spends a vast amount of time will be eliminated from the responsibilities of the HERC. This will leave the HERC with two major tasks: decisions on the disbursement of funds and accreditation. To fulfil the first function, the HERC should have a finance board. To discharge the second function, it should have an accreditation board. Both these boards should have full autonomy in discharging their functions once the broad policy is formulated at the level of the Commission. Presidents of the boards should be ex-officio members of the Commission. The HERC should formulate guidelines for the establishment of new institutions. A new institution should be able to enter on honor basis once it posts in a transparent statement on its website explaining how it has satisfied all the criteria stipulated by the Commission. The HERC should have the power to review whether the entering institution has genuinely fulfilled all the entry criteria, and in cases of deviations from the criteria, to close it down.

The Commission in cooperation with the accreditation board will have the responsibility to draw up standards and a grading system for colleges and universities. Multiple accreditation agencies will be permitted, with the board serving as the approval authority for them. Universities and colleges may be asked to deposit an accreditation fee in a fund held by the accreditation board from which accreditation agencies can be paid. This will eliminate the need for financial dealings between the accreditation agency and the university or college being reviewed. Matching universities and colleges with the accreditation agency may be done through a random selection by a computer. The Commission in cooperation with the finance board will also develop guidelines for funding universities and colleges. Once these are framed, the board will have autonomy in implementing them. The Commission must also formulate policies on tuition fees and teacher salaries. The Act should explicitly provide for independent efforts by institutions to raise funds and even incentivise such efforts by providing matching funds via the finance board. The HERC will have a secretariat to maintain a separate grievance and redress office. The office will receive complaints from students, the faculty and university authorities. While routine complaints can be dealt with at the level of this office, those with wider ramifications will be brought to the Commission.

Entry of foreign institutions

The Act should lay down a clear path for the entry of foreign institutions. The top 200-300 institutions in the world, according to generally accepted rankings, may be allowed entry as Category I institutions. As India has a large young population, foreign institutions will have an incentive to enter the country. In turn, India stands to benefit from the expertise and reputation of these institutions. Finally, the Act must also chart a path to integrate teaching and research. The separation between teaching at universities and colleges and research at research councils has not served the cause of either higher education or research well. To be motivated to do research, students must have access to state-of-the-art laboratories and opportunities to interact regularly with scholars actively engaged at the frontiers of research. Conversely, scholars stand to benefit from interacting with young, inquisitive minds. It is critical for this interaction to be brought to the centre of university education.  –   Arvind Panagariya and B. Venkatesh Kumar are Professors at Columbia University and Tata Institute of Social Sciences, respectively   – Courtesy

NIRF ranking: How govt plans to rate India’s educators and improve them

Business Standard | Gina Singh | April 16, 2018 | Opinion |

Ranking is a good way to encourage institutes of higher learning to meet the standards the government wants to set

Rankings and listings are naturally our way of gauging any pecking order. We seek the top three, the top 10, top 100, and so on, simply to evaluate positions and pecking orders. And, if the ranking is about educational institutions, as numerous business magazines have discovered to their joy, such issues are a sellout: Students and parents grab copies to know which the top-ranking institutes are. Based on the ranking of an institute, a student’s future career and opportunities might be entirely different. While an alumnus of a top-ranking institute will see doors open to lucrative jobs and career opportunities, one from an unknown institute might not get the same options through campus placements. While a number of rankings are in existence, the Government of India in 1914 announced its intention of ranking the higher education system. By 2016, the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIFR) had released its first annual ranking of universities and colleges. The rankings are released in the first week of April, well in time for students to begin evaluating colleges and universities for admissions.

Why ranking?

Higher education and education as such are reviled in India. While there are many ills to the system, it might be an impossible task to bring a dramatic change. Ranking is a good way to encourage institutes of higher learning to meet the standards the government wants to set. Each of the five parameter defined by the government are actually goals to be met by the institutes. These parameters define the higher education, as well as social goals of India. The weightage given are 30 per cent for teaching learning, 30 per cent for resources, research and professional practice, 20 per cent for graduation and outcomes, 10 per cent for outreach and inclusivity, and 10 per cent for perception. The weight differs for colleges.  The other significant purpose that the ranking will serve is to help the government identify and fund the top 10 public and 10 private universities to make them world-class institutes. According to the Budget announcement of 2016, these universities will work towards being counted among the top universities of the world, armed with funding from the government – as of now, the arms cache could be up to Rs 100 billion to be spent over 10 years.

Accepting the ranking

The success of a plan is in the participants. It cannot be a party of two. In 2017, as many as 3,319 institutes participated. Of those, 216 were centrally funded institutes and 685 other universities. This year, 3,954 universities and 199 centrally institutes are participating in the rankings. While it is not compulsory for institutes and universities to participate in the ranking every year, colleges and universities know the value of the exercise. Already, some of the unknown universities are cashing in on their rankings, displaying the NIRF ranking prominently in advertisements. Besides, the truly ambitious universities will want to be in the top 10 for sure.

The methodology: Placing value on integrity

Institutions, universities and colleges are supposed to register and upload information according to the guidelines issued by the NIFR. They also have to upload the information submitted to NIRF on their own site for a period of three years. As a step towards encouraging transparency, the NIFR is empowered to do random and surprise audits on the data submitted by institutes. If the submitted data are inconsistent with findings, the institute could be barred from participating in the ranking survey for the next two years. While the ranking depends heavily on self-declaration, asking institutes to publish data on their own site is a simple way of ensuring transparency and integrity of information. Research published only in renowned international journals like Scopous, Web of Science, Indian Science Index is given weight in the ranking. It, therefore takes away the burden of ascertaining the value of research by a government body. If these high-ranking journals accept a paper, it meets a certain internationally accepted standard, making the job simpler for NIRF. “The rankings, with all its teething problems, is a welcome move to encourage a culture of research and subsequently innovation that we sorely lack,” says Sujatha Kshirsagar, co-founder and CEO, Drstikona Consultancy and PMS Pvt Ltd, a start-up with bridging the divide between corporate needs and academia as one of its aims. Drstikona  encourages corporate houses to spend their CSR budgets on meaningful projects like research in academic institutes. With HP Incubator in BHU as an upcoming project and two other Indian clients signed up, it is positioning itself as a conduit to research in academic institutes. Kshirsagar believes a mindset of research with an aim to publish in the renowned peer-reviewed journals will lead to a culture of innovation over a period of time.

Variation in ranking

The first steps are always faltering, flawed even, but NIFR is open to change and is willing to make changes in the evaluation criteria. Some institutes have move up and some have slipped many places, but as the government moves towards encouraging participation, the place at which an institute stands is likely to flip as well, in some cases, dramatically. Indian colleges do not foster a research mindset, with a 30 per cent weight on papers being published in international journals, institutes will begin to encourage it. Research is the first step towards innovation. Innovation will eventually encourage an entrepreneur’s mindset. “A large part of jobs of the future will have to be generated, therefore innovation is key,” adds Kshirsagar, herself an alumni of IIM Bangalore. Currently only IISc, Bangalore, has been ranked as the best university in India, according to NIRF ranking 2018. It is the only University from India that is counted among the the top 500 in the world in the Times World Ranking of Universities. Established in 1909 by Jamsetji Tata and Maharaja of Mysore, Indian Institute of Science (IISC Bangalore) is one of the premier engineering institutes in India. – Courtesy

Global benchmarking of Indian learning

The Hindu Business Line | 12 April 2018 | Rana Kapoor | Opinion |

The UGC’s move to give full academic autonomy to universities and colleges is a step in the right direction

Skilling India Going Global

The competitive landscape of advanced manufacturing and services places India in direct competition with advanced countries of the world such as the US, Germany, China, and Japan. To successfully compete, India needs to benchmark its education and skills systems with the best in the world. This is even more significant for our country as it has envisioned being the ‘Skill Capital’ of the world driven by its favourable demographics. The dream of ‘Make in India’ and leading the Industrial Revolution 4.0 can be achieved only if there is a seamless alignment of vision for skill development, education and research with the overall economic agenda of the country. The developments in the education space in the last two years have been very encouraging.

Autonomy push

The government through the regulator UGC has provided almost complete academic autonomy to universities and colleges through gazette notifications in February. Top rated universities are freed of UGC inspections; can start new programmes and skill courses without prior approvals; set up open research parks and incubation centres; engage in foreign collaboration with leading global universities and hire foreign faculty at self guided norms. Universities can also open constituent units and off-campus centres. Autonomous colleges’ regulations have also been liberalised on similar lines.

Financing

Regarding financing of higher education institutes (HEIs), they now have to take concessional loans from the Higher Education finance Agency (HEFA) for their capex requirements which would be paid back by the government. The institutes would only be liable to pay the interest amount for the loans taken. This is expected to bring a lot of accountability in the public higher education system and should be seen as a first step to build a credit market for public higher education.

Vocational education

Considering the parallel needs of basic skills for low end manufacturing and high end skills for IR 4.0, we need to take a multi modal approach to build relevant skills in the workforce. The government has done a great job in consolidating varied skill initiatives under the Skills Ministry, listened to voices outside the government including private think thanks and increased funding of skills significantly. It has been piloting several skill initiatives with other countries; this is expected to result in major breakthroughs in fine-tuning the skill ecosystem.

Learning outcomes

Quality of education both in K-12 and higher education is crucial. A granular approach with focus on district level indicators, proposed re-entry into PISA evaluations and linking funds with quality are steps in this direction. Also steps for mutual recognition of Indian higher and vocational education qualifications abroad which shall go a long way in global benchmarking of Indian learning. The recent agreement with France, Australia, Malaysia, Qatar and Mauritius among others for cooperation is significant in this regard. We however need a continued stream of structural reforms to catch up with the world. These include administrative and financial autonomy to HEIs, increase research spending manifold and create an environment of innovation and entrepreneurship. While the government’s role as the ultimate financier (payer) of education has to continue (it needs to be enhanced to touch 6 per cent of GDP), it needs to earmark funds for research, quality and innovation in all forms of learning and distance itself from managing execution. The process for ‘Institutes of Eminence’ and complete freedom to elite institutions like IIMs is a good start. Adding to this momentum is a whole new generation of ed-tech companies which are transforming learning, sometimes mitigating the necessity of brick and mortar institutions and providing hope to potential learners to bypass the rickety public education system. It is time that our regulations enable education entrepreneurs. Let a billion dreams be given wings by ensuring equality of education opportunity!  –   The writer is Managing Director and CEO of YES Bank – Courtesy

Weakening roots of India’s STEM talent

Manav Seth | People Matters |  08 April 2018 | Opinion |

Despite producing the maximum number of graduates globally, the average level of shortage of skilled talent in the STEM sector in India has increased from 6 percent in 2014 to 12 percent in January 2018. Lets take a look at the gaps behind this.

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The Information Technology sector in India has built its reputation by providing cost-effective solutions and providing employment to millions of people in the process. However, the full-time research workforce in India was estimated to be just 2,00,000 in 2015 by UNESCO. Are we, as a nation, adequately promoting careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects, and are we even able to generate enough talent for our own demand? Are we losing some of our best minds to other countries because of a lack of support and opportunities?  A recent survey from the job site Indeed has confirmed similar fears: despite producing the maximum number of graduates globally, the average level of the shortage of skilled talent in the STEM sector in India has increased from 6 percent in 2014 to 12 percent in January 2018. The survey noted that Information Technology and Banking and Financial Services are the leading sectors that hire STEM talent, mainly in the roles of software engineers, web developers, business analysts, software architects and SAP consultants. It also listed the top ten companies for those interested in pursuing STEM jobs: Capgemini, Wipro, JP Morgan Chase, Oracle, HCL Technologies, IBM, Magna Infotech, PwC, Barclays, and Citi Bank. With 2.6 million of the 78 million fresh graduates in 2016 belonging to the STEM sector, India did reasonably well in producing a healthy number of STEM graduates; yet, it is witnessing an increasing talent shortage in the field. This seemingly paradoxical challenge has been attributed to the ‘disparity between college curricula and industry expectations’ in a Hindu Business Line news report. Let us take a closer look at this ‘disparity’ and attempt to understand the factors responsible for the current mismatch:

STEM sector in India: A brief look

The focus on building scientific prowess of the masses, and bet on specialized educational institutions to do the same, institutions like Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS) were founded and promoted with the intention to develop the country’s scientific and technical manpower, and in the process help the society and economy prosper. However, with time, these institutes have largely been reduced to as stepping stones for a well-paying career. Especially in the last two decades, the relentless quest of students, and their parents, to ensure admission in such premier institutes has given rise to an astronomical coaching classes industry as well. This has categorically damaged two of the most important goals of establishing such institutes: one, having an inclusive and diverse student population, and two, focusing on research, creativity and innovation in science. A particular blow to STEM education came when All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) liberally allowed the setting up of engineering institutes across the country a few years ago. The move was undertaken in anticipation of a huge demand for engineering studies. However, this not only eroded the value conferred on an engineering degree but also compromised the quality of education and training provided on a fundamental level. Although over the past few years, the trend has reversed, the number of B. Tech seats in the country has been continually shrinking. An Indian Express report also stated that several colleges established in the engineering wave are now struggling to attract even a single student for several of their departments, and several others are staring at a closure altogether.

STEM Careers in India: Contemporary Challenges

A consistent ideological challenge encountered by STEM enthusiasts is the half-baked understanding of what actually entails a career in sciences and technology. Because the narrative has been so focused on engineering and medical studies, fields like pure sciences and research have not gotten their due attention. Additionally, the almost singular and ubiquitous focus to equate a career’s success with the salary it can command, adds to the woes. Since there is lack of information and awareness regarding the careers in the field, there are very few points of attraction for students or their parents.

Institutes that are expected to impart quality STEM education need to possess two critical resources in order to do so: state of the art facilities and trained educators to transfer focused knowledge in sufficient numbers. While the former incurs heavy financial investment, the lack of latter continues to be a major reason why the Indian education sector, on the whole, continues to operate inefficiently. Apart from a handful of premier institutions, many struggle to provide their students with basic infrastructure, let alone specialized laboratories and centers, as the Indian Express investigation revealed. The focus to make students employable has come at the cost of making them scientists, researchers and scholars.

Women in STEM

Under-representation of women and gender pay gaps are well-recognized global challenges in STEM sectors. While Indian Technology firms can still boast of a relatively better female-to-male ratio, according to UNESCO estimates, only 14 percent of the researchers in India are women. Even engineering colleges have skewed gender ratio in favor of male students, and according to a Kelly Global Workforce Insights (KGWI) survey, 81 percent of the women in STEM fields in India have perceived a gender bias during performance evaluation.  The annual ‘Girls in Tech’ MasterCard research indicates that while interest in STEM careers is increasing gradually, women are still less likely than men to pursue a career in STEM, and also less likely to remain in the field for their entire career, owing to male-dominance in the fields. The notion that a woman’s commitment to her family and children will impact her job is more pronounced in STEM jobs, and there is a lack of support or encouragement for women to progress in the field. India, with its deeply embedded patriarchy, would have witnessed negligible women participation in science and technology had it not been for the expansive IT sector.

Making STEM a priority

The first step towards fixing what’s broken is the identification and acknowledgment of the present challenges and understanding the context in which they arise. In other words, the government and the private education sector must make a genuine attempt at understanding their shortcomings, and reflect on why so few Indian institutes are recognized for quality STEM education and training. Establishing global partnerships with countries that have built sophisticated STEM expertise is critical to paving the way for knowledge exchange and skill development. While American and European universities are known for their focus on STEM education, countries in the networks of BRICS and ASEAN could also prove to be beneficial partners. This also needs to be backed by a healthy funding to develop independent institutes that focus on research, pure sciences and other derivatives of STEM subjects.
The Indeed survey showed that job seekers in the age group of 21-25 were 12 percent more inclined towards jobs in STEM sectors than in others. Inculcating innovation and creativity in young minds and encouraging them to pursue dedicated courses right from the moment they stepped in the formal education system is essential. However, in the present system, STEM studies might simply be added as an additional layer to the existing curriculum and would increase pressure on students and teachers alike. Thus, integration of STEM studies as opposed to their mere addition in the school should be the aim. Private players in the domain of education have realized that the existing exam-centric educational learning discourages innovation and exploration, and have launched STEM-focused after-school programs in several metros. While collaborating with them will help educational programs to be more inclusive and accessible, tying up with leading companies in the domain can provide easy access to quality training infrastructure.  The National Science Foundation of USA predicted way back in 2011 that nearly 80 percent of the jobs created in this decade will require some form of mastery in technology, science or math. An attempt to change the way we approach STEM education and jobs in India needs the participation of multi-disciplinary experts and stakeholders, and more than that, a willingness to foster a conducive environment. Building and strengthening of a knowledge economy is a continuous and dynamic process, one that needs attention, resources, and focus. While the government has done well by promoting programs like ‘Make in India’ and ‘Start-Up India,’ it also needs to feed into these dreams by increasing the share of the education budget and skilling in the GDP. An environment that encourages young talent to take up research and related careers by incentivizing them, alongside providing them with the resources and infrastructure to gain skills is crucial. – Courtesy

Salaried class to carry home more with 9% hike, but engineers to lose out

Business Standard | Sahil Makkar  |  New Delhi |  February 28, 2018 | Opinion |

Professional service firms flooded with work following GST rollout may loosen purse strings the most…

Those expecting double-digit salary hikes in their annual appraisals are likely to be disappointed as Aon, a consulting firm, has projected average pay increases of about 9.4 per cent for 2018-19. The projection is close to the actual annual salary growth of 9.3 per cent in 2017-18. “Companies in India handed out an average pay increase of 9.3 per cent during 2017, marking a departure from the double-digit increments since the inception of this study. The projections for 2018 are expected to be similar at 9.4 per cent, highlighting increasing prudence by companies while finalising pay budgets,” Aon said in its 22nd annual survey report. India has been recording double-digit salary growth for the last 10 years, barring 2009, when growth was 6.6 per cent because of a global meltdown. Average salary growth was 15.1 per cent in 2007, 13.3 per cent in 2008, 11.7 per cent in 2010, and 12.6 per cent in 2011. Between 2012 and 2016 annual average growth remained a little over 10 per cent. Salary growth, however, slipped below 10 per cent for the first time to 9.3 per cent in 2017. “The graying of salary increases in India is a reflection on how India Inc is coming of age,” it noted. Anandorup Ghose, partner at Aon India Consulting, said the decline was mainly on account of creating new jobs and low economic growth. “India was seeing double-digit growth when the economy was growing rapidly and new jobs were being created.

But with job creation having slowed, lower attrition and lower economic growth, the average salary hike is expected to be lower,” the survey said. It pointed out that last year there were seven sectors – consumer internet companies, chemicals, consumer products, professional services, life sciences, entertainment, and automotive vehicle manufacturing – which had handed out more than 10 per cent hikes in salary. But this year chemicals and entertainment are unlikely to hike salaries in the double digits. “The double-digit club further shrinks this year with only five members. Additionally, we observe faster moderation of pay increases in sectors like consumer internet companies and life sciences,” the survey noted. Consumer internet companies or e-commerce companies are likely to pay around 10.4 per cent this year as compared to 12.4 last year. Similarly, life sciences companies are expected to be around 10.3 per cent, down from the 11.3 per cent annual average salary hikes in 2017. “The information technology sector, which has gone through a spate of upheavals in recent times, is projecting an average hike of 9.5 per cent in 2018, whereas third-party IT services are projecting an average hike of 6.2 per cent,” it said. Aon noted that companies were pruning their salary budgets in the “wake of ongoing economic uncertainty” and were increasingly taking into account the performance and salary budgets of key competitors to determine their own budgets. Ghose said the companies, however, were paying more to their top performers, leading to a rise in pay differentiation between the top and average performers. “The focus on performance is getting sharper year on year. A top performer is getting an average salary increase of 15.4 per cent, approximately 1.9 times the pay increase for an average performer.”Courtesy

Friendly fire on teacher pay

The Telegraph | Our Special Correspondent | Feb 08, 2018 | Opinion |

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New Delhi: A University Grants Commission member who comes across as a BJP supporter in his social media posts has criticised the move to link higher pay for teachers with internal generation of resources, using the word “unthinkingly” to describe how some decisions are taken. The criticism came in a Facebook post by Prof. Inder Mohan Kapahy, who was appointed a member of the higher education regulator by the NDA government in February 2015. While issuing the 7th Pay Commission order, the human resource development ministry had said institutions would have to generate 30 per cent of the required additional cost for implementing the revised pay scale. “Routinely the departments of Finance Ministry sends such circulars to ‘autonomous institutions’ connected financially with the Union Government and the same unthinkingly, without application of mind, percolate down to UGC and then to the university systems,” Kapahy said in his post.

The 6th Pay Revision documents had spoken about an 80:20 formula. “Nothing happened,” Kapahy wrote. “Any such formula may have some relevance in the revenue generating autonomous PSUs (public sector undertakings) but no meaning for our universities and colleges. It can be easily ascertained that even those PSUs can’t and don’t follow the impractical formula.” “There is absolutely no way in which the HRD Ministry or the UGC can implement the 70:30 formula in university systems,” he added. It wasn’t clear whether he intended to take up the matter in the commission. Kapahy could not be contacted despite repeated attempts. In some of his other posts, however, Kapahy comes across as a BJP supporter. “There is no doubt this budget is geared towards the poor and the farmer,” he had written after last week’s budget. “The opposition naturally shall berate it as an election budget of unrealistic promises! In fact it is afraid that over 70% of Indians may actually appreciate it to its horror.” The issue of internal funds generation has led to protests by teacher associations across the country. The Delhi University Teachers Association (DUTA) observed a strike on Wednesday. The All India Federation of University and College Teachers Organisations will also support the DUTA in opposing the new funding formula. – Courtesy   /   https://www.facebook.com/public/Inder-Mohan-Kapahy