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Developments in the higher education sector in India and across the globe

Archive for the ‘Developments in Indian Education System’ Category

IITians seek pre-school admission

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While higher education is a billion-dollar business, pre-school education (kindergarten) is well on its way to getting there. The rise in nuclear families and increase in disposable incomes have led to greater demand for quality pre-schools even in small towns and non-metros. Indore alone requires over 2,000 such centres, according to industry estimates.

Six months ago, Yograj Patel and Akshay Gupta, two young IITians, decided to tap the potential of this segment and set up a chain of pre-schools in Central India. “Schools are supposed to be non-profit organisations by law and we couldn’t find any investor. That’s when the idea of starting a pre-school came as it requires far less investment and is a lucrative business opportunity,” says Patel. As part of their due diligence, he and Gupta visited schools in Mumbai, Surat, Ahmedabad, Indore and Bhopal. ‘Countryside’, the first pre-school in their chain, is set to open in Indore this month.

According to industry estimates, the pre-school market in India is pegged at $770 million (about Rs. 4,460 crore). It is expected to be worth Rs. 13,300 (Rs. 133 billion) crore by 2015-16, according to a Crisil research report. Moreover, this segment currently comprises just 2.5 per cent of India’s urban school-going population, says a report by Religare Institutional Research.

With a seed capital of Rs. 60 million raised through the private equity route, Patel and Gupta plan to open five pre-schools in the next academic session, focusing on Central India, where they hail from. The annual fee at ‘Countryside’ is Rs. 15,000 (playgroup and nursery) and Rs. 18,000 (KG1 and KG2). “Admissions happen mostly in July, so we hope to break-even this year,” says Patel.

The fee may seem steep, but industry experts say parents are ready to spend even up to Rs. 50,000 a year on the education of their two- or three-year-olds. Not surprisingly, some pre-schools have margins as high as 30 per cent.

The pre-school venture has many challenges to overcome, including a limited reach and competition from bigger players such as Eurokids, Treehouse and Kidzee. “We are developing a clearly articulated curriculum and programme to prepare kids for school,” says Patel.

Source: The Hindu Business Line, June 14, 2013


Ahead of 2014 polls, government plans universities for minorities

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The Centre is mulling setting up five universities with 50% seats reserved for religious minorities, a “Muslim outreach” by Congress ahead of the 2014 elections. The universities will come up in the hubs of Muslim and Christian population in five states.

“These universities will have 50% reservation for minorities with socio-economic backwardness as key determinant. Minorities are not just religious groups but also social groups as mentioned in Article 15 and 16 of the Constitution (for affirmative action),” minority affairs minister K. Rahman Khan told TOI.

While a university in Rae Bareli in Uttar Pradesh, the constituency of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, is being considered, one in Srirangapatna in Karnataka seems a certainty. Bihar and Bengal will also get one each while one in Buddhist centre of Nagpur is still to be decided.

The Sukhdeo Thorat Committee has given the opinion that central universities for religious minorities can be set up through an act of Parliament, dispelling concerns about legal challenges in the wake of court battles over religious quota.

To further bolster the backward factor in promoting minorities, the Centre may introduce “creamy layer” to sieve out the well-off among minorities for admission to these institutes, as is prevalent for OBCs in employment and education.

Sources argued that universities with focused clientele were legally viable, citing examples of Ambedkar University in Lucknow that has 50% quota for SCs (Scheduled Castes) and Amarkantak Tribal University in Madhya Pradesh.

Given the controversy over the “minority character” of AMU and Jamia Millia, now facing legal challenge, minister Rahman Khan argued he was not interested in the nomenclature so long as it was focused on promoting education among minorities. “Even in AMU and Jamia, which have minority character, half of the seats have to go to non-minorities,” he said.

While the move will elicit a strong reaction from the BJP, the ruling Congress is keen to bolster its “Muslim outreach” by rolling out the decision in the run-up to elections. The targeting of generic minority group barely hides the fact that Muslims comprise 72% of the total population of minorities that include Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists and Parsis. The Centre plans to subdivide the 50% minority quota among all five in proportion to their population.

Crucially, Khan said these universities will fall under the minority affairs ministry, keeping their salience in focus. Otherwise, higher educational institutes are the mandate of the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), even minority institutes like AMU and Jamia.

Source: The Times of India, June 1, 2013

CSO working on Index of Education Services to track its growth

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As part of an initiative to create a services production database in the country, the Central Statistics Office (CSO) is working on the Index of Education Services to track its growth. The segment contributes about 4% to the gross domestic product (GDP).

The index will throw some light on enrolments at different levels of education: primary, secondary and tertiary, vocational courses and separately for government, public and private institutes. Weights will be assigned according to enrolments in the base year in each of the segments.

As part of the Index of Services Production, CSO has fragmented different services as separate indexes, such as railways, air transport, postal, banking & telecommunication and has already released an experimental air transport and railways index.

For the education services index, the committee is examining various ways to measure productivity, in terms of enrolment and expenditure. Though enrolments are still collected using the net enrollment ratio for the millennium development goals, the index will go further. “The index will be able to track the impact of frequent changes in the education system, such as scrapping of board exams or increasing number of year to four for undergraduate courses,” said a CSO official.

The index will also track changes taking place on a short-term basis in different parts of the country. The index is expected to be finalised in the next six months. It will be released on an annual basis, unlike indexes for railways, banking and postal, which will see a quarterly release. Since enrollments occur once in an academic year, it wouldn’t make sense to release it monthly or quarterly, said a CSO official. Different sectors have different periodicities.

Given the gaps in services-related data, CSO will use data collected from major institutes only for the time being, including IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology), IIMs (Indian Institutes of Management) etc. Affiliation bodies like University Grants Commission (UGC) will also be asked for data. “Data from bigger institutes will be sufficient to track short-term movements,” the official added.

Services sector contributes about 60% to India’s overall GDP, but does not have a comprehensive database on production. Government is also working on an annual survey of services along the lines of annual survey of industries, which aims to provide turnovers and employment numbers.

As of today, only the HSBC Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) for services gives an indication of the services sector on a monthly basis while the GDP covers some sectors on a quarterly basis. Data collection in the vast services sector is a major concern since most of it is informal.

Source: The Economic Times, May 30, 2013

Education spending by government fails to keep pace with allocation

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The poor utilization of funds allocated for education has resulted in little improvement in India’s school education system even as the education budget has almost tripled over the past five years. The government spent only 61% of funds allocated for Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), the main programme for implementing the Right to Education (RTE) Act, in the year ended 31 March 2012, according to a report by the Centre for Policy Research’s Accountability Initiative.

“Expenditures have failed to keep pace with the increase in allocations. In FY08, over 70% of allocations were spent; this dropped to 61% in 2011-12,” the report said. In 2010-11, the government spent about 70% funds allocated under the scheme, against 78% in the year earlier.

In the 11th Five-Year Plan, the government’s budget for SSA-RTE rose to Rs. 61,734 crore (Rs. 617.34 billion) in 2011-12 from Rs. 21,360 crore (Rs. 213.60 billion) in 2007-08. The per-student allocation tripled to Rs. 4,746 from Rs. 1,598 in the five-year period.

The learning levels of Indian students are quite poor, the survey said, citing a study by Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh, which represented India, were ranked just above Kyrgyzstan—which was ranked last—in mathematics and overall reading skills in the study comprising 74 nations.

The annual status of education report published by education non-profit Prathamalso painted a grim picture of the quality of elementary education. According to the report, students of Class V failed in second grade reading and mathematics aptitude tests. There are about 230 million students in the Indian school education system.

The Accountability Initiative study said there were a large number of vacancies in key posts of implementing officer in the district and block levels, hampering the implementation of the flagship scheme aimed at universalizing schooling for all children in the 6-14 age group. About 60% of such posts are vacant in Bihar, the study said.

The poor outcome is linked to the slow fund flow from the centre and states, said Yamini Aiyar, Director, Accountability Initiative. Non-adherence to technicalities stops the flow of money to district and block levels, Aiyar said. “Once, we found that a block did not have a junior engineer, so who will clear the files? There are many such issues,” she said.

An official of the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) said the government is aware of the shortcomings. “RTE has certainly brought a lot of changes in school education, but we are not complacent,” the official said, requesting anonymity. The ministry is constantly in touch with the states to implement SSA-RTE more effectively, the official said. “We are definitely going to miss the 2013 RTE deadline looking at the pace at which our school education system is progressing,” Aiyar said.

The RTE Act became effective on 1 April 2010, and has a mandate to achieve targets including 100% enrolment, training untrained teachers in 1.3 million schools and better infrastructure ranging from classrooms to toilets and playgrounds by 31 March.

Pre-teacher trainings like the bachelor of education courses remain a key concern and the outcome of the national teacher eligibility test (TET) is not very encouraging, said the study. Fewer than 10% of those who sat for TET in 2012 qualified, according to government data.

Source: Mint, February 26, 2013

Central universities differ from IIMs, favour overarching council

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India’s central government-funded universities are favouring the creation of an overarching body to improve coordination and share resources, although the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) have resisted a similar concept out of concern that it may undermine the autonomy of the elite business schools.

The Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) and the 42 central varsities may take a final call on the plan after a series of meetings in New Delhi starting on Tuesday. “I think there is a communication problem among central universities. We will seek to put in place a better coordination mechanism like a council,” said Somnath Dasgupta, Vice-Chancellor of Assam University.

Proponents of such a mechanism say that an overarching body can coordinate the activities of all central institutions, deal with matters of common interest, review learning outcomes and help forge stronger ties among the 42 institutions, perceived to be the best in the country’s university system. India has 612 universities in the country under the control of the central government, states and private organizations.

In spite of their national reputation, the central universities are confronting challenges on several fronts, including lack of sufficient infrastructure, a shortage of teachers, deficient curriculums and inadequate interaction with corporate houses. According to government data, these universities are facing a shortage of at least 33% in teaching staffs; none of the 16 new central universities established four years ago has a permanent campus as yet. And none of these institutes are in the top 200 of global rankings, reflecting poorly on their standards.

The top-ranked Indian institutions, as per the UK-based Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) rankings, were Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Delhi (212), IIT-Bombay (227) and IIT-Kanpur (278).

Surabhi Banerjee, Vice-Chancellor of the Central University of Orissa, said she backs the creation of an overarching council for central varsities. “A new university like ours is in favour of sharing resources and teaching staff. A council can help us learn best practices in other universities,” said Banerjee. Constant interaction will help central universities that are operating away from the cities to attain a national and even global perspective, Banerjee said.

Dasgupta of Assam University said that although the subject is not on the agenda of Tuesday’s meetings with the President and the Prime Minister, “we will take up this issue.” He said universities in the north-eastern states face a particularly tough situation—professors aren’t willing to stay long at the institutions given the region’s geographical remoteness from the rest of the country; that in turn affects their educational standards. “A coordination committee we believe can solve some of the problems. For sure, we would like exchange of faculties for a semester at a time,” he explained.

Abdul Wahid, Vice-Chancellor of the Central University of Kashmir, said he wants to incorporate innovative courses of universities elsewhere to provide his students “learning to become market-ready” for employment. “I will also like to have skill education and incorporation of grade system for students,” Wahid said.

Last month, some of the IIMs opposed a move by the MHRD to put in place a council akin to the IIT Council through a legislation and allow the institutes to impart degrees instead of diplomas. The elite B-Schools say such a move will hamper their autonomy.

A MHRD official, who requested anonymity, said that, on principle, the ministry wanted better coordination among universities, IIMs or institutes of national importance. Central universities favouring the concept is a “healthy sign and can improve quality of learning,” he said.

“The enormity of the challenges of providing equal opportunities for quality higher education to an ever-growing number of students is also a historic opportunity for correcting sectoral and social imbalances, reinvigorating institutions, crossing international benchmarks of excellence and extending the frontiers of knowledge,” said an HRD ministry document.

Source: Mint, February 5, 2013

32 PG medical seats not filled last year, 36 still vacant this year

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As many as 32 post-graduate medical seats in specialised disciplines remained vacant last year in the two medical colleges attached to the Safdarjung Hospital and Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital. While the hospitals come under the Ministry of Health, the Vardhman Mahavir Medical College at Safdarjung Hospital and the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research at RML Hospital are affiliated to the Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University (GGSIPU).

The hospitals together offer 126 PG seats in various disciplines under the state quota, and another 126 under the all India quota. Responding to a RTI (Right to Information) query by PG student Abhishek Bhardwaj, the university stated: “Number of seats (that) remained vacant in 2011 session were 32. These were surrendered by GGSIPU to the all India quota for academic session 2011.”

As per the RTI reply, 36 seats are vacant this year after the university’s first round of counselling. These may be transferred for All India counselling. A Health Ministry official said: “Until last year, there was no web-based monitoring of the counselling procedure after completion of the written test. As per rules, the Union Ministry fills 126 seats for these two colleges under the All India quota, and the university fills an equal number for the Delhi quota.”

By the time, data was tabulated and requests sent last year, the time period for All India counselling was already over. “How can so many PG medical seats go waste when every seat is considered so precious?” asked Bhardwaj. Experts blame policies for the loss of seats. In medicine, unlike IITs, there is no bar on transfer of seats if a student has already blocked a seat for an academic year. “Every year, students who take seats for Delhi counselling also appear for All India counselling to get into better disciplines. Original seats go waste,” the Ministry official said.

In IITs, after a candidate selects a discipline in the first round of counselling, no shifting is permitted in that session. As per rules, if the university cannot fill its sanctioned seats with Delhi students, the vacant positions have to be transferred to the All India quota. Dr D K Bandyopadhyay, Vice Chancellor of GGSIPU, said: “As per rules, we are supposed to surrender our vacant seats. Beyond that, if seats are not getting filled, it is the responsibility of the Ministry of Health.” But he added that filling “over 100” medical PG seats with Delhi students “becomes difficult”.

Source: The Indian Express, June 7, 2012

IIT sub-quota to be merged with OBC

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The 4.5% sub-quota reserved for minorities in the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) will be merged with the OBC (Other backward Classes) category, in view of the recent judgment of the Andhra Pradesh high court quashing the provision.

An official press release issued by IIT said: “In the absence of any further legal development before June 13, 2012, the judgment of the Andhra Pradesh high court will be implemented by ignoring the provision for reservation of 4.5% seats, and by converting seats meant for OBC (NCL)-minority community to OBC(NCL) category. All the shortlisted candidates are advised that availability of 4.5% reservation for OBC(NCL)-minority shall depend on legal developments till June 13. They may register the choice of their courses accordingly.”

“Those selected under this category should widen their choice for courses, so that a seat in IIT is ensured,” Dr G B Reddy, organising chairperson of IIT-JEE 2012, said. A total of 325 candidates were shortlisted under the sub-quota.

Source: Hindustan Times, June 1, 2012