Symbiosis Society principal director Vidya Yeravdekar talks of admission highs and lows,student population in city and future of education in country in an interaction with staff of The Indian Express,Pune.
Manoj More: Starting with the recent incident that was reported of agents trying to take money from parents for admission to Symbiosis is this a one-off incident or a regular happening?
Pune,being an education hub having the largest number of universities and lots of management institutes mushrooming here,obviously attracts a large number of students from across the country. When I travel to Delhi and people talk about Pune,they almost make it sound like their children are studying in Oxford. We do not accept donations at Symbiosis. However,we used to have a 15 per cent management quota till last year,which we have stopped this year. Since our MBA institutes are good and we do not have more than 1,000 seats,there is a lot of demand. I agree that we charge double the amount of fees than the open merit,but all the work happens only through cheques and demand drafts. Parents get very desperate during admissions and agents make use of this opportunity. Such incidents happen almost every year but it was for the first time that a parent approached us directly and we took the necessary action.
Anuradha Mascarenhas: Symbiosis has set up various schools,colleges and institutions,but it is yet to have a full-fledged medical college. Any plans of starting one in the near future?
The basic requirement to start a medical college is a minimum of 25 acres land,which Symbiosis did not have. However,we have recently bought land in Lavale village and have earmarked about 35 acres for an integrated medical campus. We did not want to come up with a routine medical college,but one that would integrate medicine with other aspects like communication skills,medico-legal,alternative medicine,yoga and so on. Basically,it would be an allopathic medical college approved by the Medical Council of India,but students here will be taught all the allied aspects. Our focus would be to create medical scientists than just doctors. The logistics is almost done and a 300-bed charitable hospital is likely to come up here in 18-20 months,which will be subsidised by a robotic surgery centre and diabetic research centre.
Nisha Nambiar: This decision of doing away with the 15 per cent management quota is only for this year or it will be continued in the coming years as well?
It is only for this year,though we would be happy to completely do away with the management quota.
Sunanda Mehta: What criteria do you have to use up the management quota seats and how do you tackle the calls and recommendations for that quota from all over?
We make sure that the student has appeared for the concerned courses entrance test and has scored marks closer to the cut-off. Sometimes,students come with self-recommendation,too. We have given instructions to our admission officer that if a student has consistently scored well,cleared our entrance test,but couldnt get through the group discussion or interview,he or she should be given preference. If the student has scored very low,we do not entertain requests for admission even if they come from the highest source.
Pranav Kulkarni: With money driving education,how does one bridge the gap between the common man and expensive educational courses?
Banks are doing the job of bridging this gap. Around 90 per cent students in Symbiosis are studying on education loans and it works for them as they are to repay the loans after they get placed. Symbiosis had initiated it with the State Bank of India and now,we have around eight to ten banks providing education loans to students of Symbiosis. Moreover,it is not just postgraduate students,but some undergraduates,too,who have availed of this loan faciltity.
Pranav Kulkarni: But hasnt education become a business?
Not business,but you can call it industry because of the professionalism that had come into imparting education. By business,one means profits and losses and the efforts to earn more profits. In India,educational institutions are still run by trusts and profits are called surplus,which is further utilised for the same purpose. As far as professionalism is concerned,Symbiosis is getting automated and less dependent on people. We are also adopting the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) Model.
Ishfaq Naseem: Have you faced any problems from the governments side?
I think it is better to be less dependent on the government. But the autonomy that the HRD department gives to most deemed universities is commendable. They have their representatives and facilitators who look into the functioning of these institutes to see that things are going on fine. As regards curriculum,we have a total autonomy. We have different boards like board of studies (BoS),academic and management council. The BoS can actually make changes in the curriculum. We are one of the few universities which has credit system evaluation where students dont get marksheets but CGPS. We do a continuous evaluation through projects and assignments. We have a lot of interdisciplinary courses,where an engineering student also studies economics and liberal arts. Even when we will have a medical school,we will have a curriculum prepared by MCI but we can still add on.
Samarpita Banerjee: You recently launched an institute for liberal arts,which has a very flexible framework. What has the response been like since it is based on a very flexible framework.
The response has been phenomenal and we were surprised by it. We started the admissions very late,till which time the admissions for most other professional colleges had been completed. The best part of this institute is the student faculty ratio,which is 1:15. And its more project-oriented,its more about the learning way than the teaching way of education and they get a more hands-on training and a lot of fieldwork is involved.
Anuradha Mascarenhas: Is there a problem of ragging at the institutes?
I dont think we have faced any problems of ragging. Students today are more focused on their careers and have no time to waste. Earlier parents used to choose a childs career,which is no longer the case. The age limit has also gone up. The postgraduate courses almost 70 per cent people have a minimum 2 years experience so they do not have the time for all this anymore. Students are much more dedicated today.
Ishfaq Naseem: What do you feel is the scope for Public Private Partnership (PPP) in Pune?
There is a lot of scope for PPP. They are excellent initiatives with which problems like the recent one can be curbed. There are public institutions which might need good faculty and human resources and there might be private institutes that has all these but lacks infrastructure. To set up an institute is not easy. You have to have land,have a building,equip it as students today are demanding and an institute wants to give its best. If infrastructure of public institutes can be used by the private ones,itll be for the benefit of students. Kapil Sibal wants to pull the Gross Enrollment Ratio,which is at 12.5,to 30 in the next five years. Thus the government is looking at setting up new institutes and colleges. Sam Pitroda said that India requires 1,500 universities to reach an average of about 26,which is the world average GER. Many things can be done with whatever is available today.
Anuradha Mascarenhas: Today,many students,instead of going to regular classes are joining tuitions,for which colleges have very poor attendance.
That is why there should be PPP. Public institutes dont have accountability. Today,a student decides the feedback of a teacher. We take faculty feedback. If it is below average,the faculty is counselled. To combat this problem,we started a faculty of liberal arts but did not make it compulsory. We offer students many complimentary courses. However,for students of Chartered Accountancy,for the competitive exams,they need the tuitions to go through the rut of the syllabus.
Manoj More: Are a few deemed universities failing their students deliberately to earn the extra money from the revaluation papers?
I dont think any university would do that to their own students. If universities want to earn money,they can increase the fees. These are very petty things which any university would not do. When firms come for the placements,they see the performance of a student throughout the year. And if any college is failing so many students at a time,the students obviously will raise a voice. No deemed university would do this on purpose.
Anuradha Mascarenhas: Which board do you think is the best?
There cannot be one best because we have lots of good schools here. But if you ask me,if you can afford it,IB schools are the best. But apart from that,I think the CBSE board is good to train your child to get into competitive exams. Then,we are running an SSC school because we have a CBSE school in Nashik and also many people are more comfortable with the state board curriculum. The SSC curriculum is a little less taxing. Thus,we wanted to have all kinds of schools.
Pupul Chatterjee: You are a member of the UGC panel. Do you think the other universities are taking the recommendation from the UGC seriously?
Today there is so much competition that each university has to be very student-centric. Even public institutes have to go through accredition. Bodies like NAAC come here to accredit institutes. Students can check these NAAC rankings. Through these parameters,even public institutes have to become accountable now. In the last five years,the UGC and the government bodies have geared themselves up to bring about accountability in the education system.