InnoVidya Event: R&D in Publicly-Funded Labs In India

National Chemical Laboratory, Pune, is one of the top R&D institutions in the country. With approximately 200 scientific staff working here, it is an interdisciplinary research center with wide research scope and specializes in polymer science, organic chemistry, catalysis, materials chemistry, chemical engineering, biochemical sciences and process development. It houses good infrastructure for measurement science and chemical information.

There are about 400 graduate students pursuing research towards doctoral degree; about 50 students are awarded Ph.D. degree every year. NCL publishes over 400 research papers annually in the field of chemical sciences and over 60 patents worldwide. It is a unique source of research education producing the largest number of PhDs in chemical sciences within India.

InnoVidya and IUCAA present a talk by Dr. Sourav Pal, the current Director of NCL, on Research and Development in Publicly Funded Laboratories in India, on Saturday, 23 Aug, 2014, at Bhaskara 3 Hall, IUCAA. This is the next talk in the InnoVidya/IUCAA SPARK lecture series.

About the Speaker – Dr. Sourav Pal

Dr Sourav Pal is the Director, of National Chemical Laboratory (NCL), Pune, and Director, Central Salt and Marine Chemicals Research Institute (CSMCRI), Bhavnagar. He holds an integrated Masters degree in Chemistry from Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, and a Ph.D. from Calcutta University. He was a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Florida, Gainesville, USA and an Alexander von Humboldt Fellow at the University of Heidelberg, Germany . He was a visiting Professor at the University of Arizona, Tucson, USA and at the Institute for Molecular Sciences, Okazaki, Japan. Dr. Pal has been recognized by several awards and honours for his contribution to science and technology including the prestigious Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Award in Chemical Sciences, the SASTRA-CNR Rao Award in Chemistry & Materials Science. He is a Fellow of all the three National Academies of Science in India and the Royal Society of Chemistry, UK. He has published over 215 papers in peer-reviewed international journals, guided over 25 Ph D thesis, delivered more than 100 lectures in important conferences and is serving on the editorial boards of international journals.

Abstract of the talk:

Publicly funded Research and development laboratories play a major role in promoting scientific research and development of technology in India. In this presentation, Dr Pal will relate his experiences of working in such laboratories and presently as Director, NCL. He will highlight the role of these institutions in leading scientific research. He will bring out the expectations that the Government has from such publicly funded institutions.

About the InnoVidya IUCAA Spark Program

The SPARK program is a series of events jointly conducted by InnoVidya and IUCAA. These are special events that <spark> imagination & curiosity of our young, build bonds between participants of different disciplines, catalyze interactivity & promote peer links

If you’re interested in the state of education in India, please subscribe to get updates by email

Event Details

The event is on Saturday, Aug 23, 2014, at 11am, at Bhaskara 3 Hall, IUCAA, University of Pune Campus.

Fees and Registration

This event is free and open for anybody to attend. Register here

End education’s licence raj -Rahul Bajaj & Sanjay Bhargava

Rahul Bajaj and Sanjay Bhargava (of Shiksha Mandal, Wardha, an educational trust run by the Bajajs) have a hard-hitting and well-written article in the Economic Times on how we need to End Education’s Licence Raj

You should read the full article – the only reason we have not copy-pasted the entire thing here is that it would be a copyright violation.

Instead, here are a few excerpts to whet your appetite:

The education system in our country is largely dysfunctional, from schools to universities. And this dysfunctionality is because of the system, not despite it. Our system is now designed to produce bad quality. Unless we face up to this fact we will continue to produce unemployables.

and:

In most government aided institutions teacher jobs are sold. The going rate in Maharashtra for a college teacher exceeds Rs 20 lakh. What quality can be expected from such institutions and teachers?

and:

In aided institutions, though teacher salaries are good, funds for running the institution are scarce. In Maharashtra this is 5% of the salary grant, barely covering even the electricity bills.

and:

In Nagpur University, 250 colleges were functioning without teachers and yet students enrolled in them are being allowed to sit for exams. Even the much vaunted Pune University had over 70 such colleges.

But, here is the most important part:

All parts of the system are culpable. Governments running a licence raj and making rules that are supposed to improve quality but only increase costs and cause delays, managements who are not education but money minded, teachers who do not want to work or upgrade themselves, and students who are seeking degrees, not learning.

So, how do we fix this?

Essentially, the solutions in our view lie in, first, lifting the heavy hand of government from education. Decisions on starting and expanding an institution should be left to institutions, especially for institutions with a good track record.

Second, disband ‘electoral’ institutions in universities and empower ‘academic’ vice chancellors.

Third, give government aid to A grade institutions and stop giving it to non A grade institutions.

Fourth, move to a tenure track mode of selecting teachers, as in the US and Europe. At present, they are simply confirmed after a year. Given the bad quality of governance, this has the potential of turning away good teachers from teaching altogether.

Fifth, get the corporate sector involved in starting or supporting institutions from schools to universities. It is in their enlightened self-interest and they should use their CSR funds for this purpose. The important thing is to face reality and make real progress.

Read the full article

Getting Lean in Education – By Getting Out of the Classroom

Steve Blank has an interesting article on how methods from the Lean Startups mode can be used in Education

The I-Corps program started when the U.S. National Science Foundation adopted my Lean LaunchPad class. Their goal was to train University scientists and researchers to use Lean Startup methods (business model design, customer development and agile engineering) to commercialize their science. Earlier this month the National Institutes of Health announced I-Corps @ NIH, to help scientists doing medical research take their innovations from the lab-bench to the bedside and accelerate translational medicine.

This week, the NSF is announcing the next step in the I-Corps program– I-Corps for Learning  (I-Corps L).  This version of I-Corps is for STEM educators – anyone  who teaches Science, Technology, Engineering and Math from kindergarten to graduate school, and wants to learn how to bring an innovative teaching strategy, technology, or set of curriculum materials to a wider audience. Following a successful pilot program, the NSF is backing the class with $1.2 million to fund the next 24 teams.

The main problem, according to the article, is that although there is a lot of innovation in education in the US, it is happening in localized pockets, and that innovation does not spread and catch on as it should. The program described above is specifically designed to help with this problem:

A year ago Don Millard of the National Science Foundation (who in a previous life had been a STEM Educator) approached me with a hypothesis that possibly could solve this problem. Don observed that educators with innovative ideas who actively got out of their classrooms and tested their innovations with other educators/institutions/students had a much better adoption rate.

Up until now there was no formal way to replicate the skills of the educators who successfully evangelized their new concepts. Don’s insight was that the I-Corps model being rolled out for scientists might work equally well for educators/teachers. He pointed out that there was a close analogy between scientists trying to bring product discoveries to market and educators getting learning innovations into broad practice. Don thought that a formal Lean LaunchPad/I-Corps methodology might be exactly what educators needed to understand how their classroom innovations could be used, how to get other educators and institutions to adopt them, and how to articulate their value to potential investors .

The rest of the article goes on to describe details of the program and is worth checking out.

Americans Think They Have the World’s Best Colleges. They Don’t. -NYTimes

The New York Times has an interesting article which argues that Americans Think They Have the World’s Best Colleges. They Don’t

Americans have a split vision of education. Conventional wisdom has long held that our K-12 schools are mediocre or worse, while our colleges and universities are world class. While policy wonks hotly debate K-12 reform ideas like vouchers and the Common Core state standards, higher education is largely left to its own devices. Many families are worried about how to get into and pay for increasingly expensive colleges. But the stellar quality of those institutions is assumed.

However, looking at data carefully gives a different picture.

America’s perceived international dominance of higher education, by contrast, rests largely on global rankings of top universities.

Specifically, just because the best universities in the US are the best universities in the world, does not mean that the average universities in the US are better than the average universities in the rest of the world, or even as good.

Because:

International university rankings, moreover, have little to do with education. Instead, they focus on universities as research institutions, using metrics such as the number of Nobel Prize winners on staff and journal articles published. A university could stop enrolling undergraduates with no effect on its score.

Looking at the impact of average universities on the average population is a different way to evaluate a country’s higher education program.

The fair way to compare the two systems, to each other and to systems in other countries, would be to conduct something like a PISA for higher education. That had never been done until late 2013, when the O.E.C.D. published exactly such a study.

The project is called the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (known as Piaac, sometimes called “pee-ack”). In 2011 and 2012, 166,000 adults ages 16 to 65 were tested in the O.E.C.D. countries (most of Europe along with the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan and South Korea) and Cyprus and Russia. Like PISA, Piaac tests people’s literacy and math skills. Because the test takers were adults, they were asked to use those skills in real-world contexts. They might, for example, be asked to read a news article and an email, each describing a different innovative method of improving drinking water quality in Africa, and identify the sentence in each document that describes a criticism common to both inventions. The test also included a measure of “problem-solving in technology-rich environments,” reflecting the nature of modern work.

As with the measures of K-12 education, the United States battles it out for last place, this time with Italy and Spain. Countries that traditionally trounce America on the PISA test of 15-year-olds, such as Japan and Finland, also have much higher levels of proficiency and skill among adults.

And, the situation is getting worse:

In 2000, American 15-year-olds scored slightly above the international average. Twelve years later, Americans who were about 12 years older scored below the international average. While American college graduates are far more knowledgeable than American nongraduates, creating a substantial “wage premium” for diploma holders, they look mediocre or worse compared to their college-educated peers in other nations.

Read the full article

InnoVidya Event: Ground Water Governance in India

InnoVidya and IUCAA present a talk by Dr. Himanshu Kulkarni, on Groundwater governance in India: an ecosystem perspective to participatory aquifer management, on Saturday, 19 July, 2014, at Bhaskara 3 Hall, IUCAA. This is the next talk in the InnoVidya/IUCAA SPARK lecture series.

About the Speaker – Dr. Himanshu Kulkarni

Dr. Himanshu Kulkarni creates space for implementing the science of groundwater in the practice and policy on groundwater management. His system of aquifer-based participatory groundwater management is slowly bearing fruit on many fronts in India. He has been actively involved in the advocacy for stronger programs on groundwater management in India, through his inputs, more recently as Chairman, Working Group on Sustainable Groundwater Management for India’s 12th Five Year Plan. ACWADAM, which he co-founded with some of his teachers & peers, is working actively with various groups, networks and committees dealing with water resources across the country. Groundwater resources have held Dr. Kulkarni’s interest for nearly 30 years now. His work, both on the science of groundwater as well as on its application to socio-economic and ecological sectors is known and acknowledged in academic and development circles. He is currently working on groundwater management across India’s diverse hydrogeological typology. His work blends experience from his stints with academia, the corporate sector and, in his current position, with ACWADAM. He has travelled extensively, including to the US on a Fulbright Scholarship and to Austria as a UNESCO scholar. He has conducted hydrogeological fieldwork in all types of geological terrains in India and overseas. Dr. Kulkarni continues to publish his work extensively while providing various levels of mentorship in the field of groundwater management.

Abstract of the talk:

Groundwater governance in India must combine science, participation and regulation. India’s current groundwater scenario is a consequence of the scale and diversity of aquifers, the varying degrees of groundwater use and the significant degree of our groundwater dependence cutting across demands by agriculture, industry and household need. Developing a framework for groundwater requires an interdisciplinary perspective, although ‘hydrogeology’ remains the platform on which such a framework is built. Given India’s diverse hydrological and hydrogeological settings, the proposed approach considers fundamental principles of groundwater governance from other parts of the world, at the same time giving due importance to India’s social, economic and environmental peculiarities. This talk provides emergent contours of groundwater governance as well as a preliminary framework that is in synchronization with the fresh paradigm of water resource management enunciated in India’s 12th Five Year Plan. The approach proposed here is based on establishing that sustainable national development is only possible through groundwater governance taking an ecosystem perspective that is inclusive of both ‘aquifers’ and ‘people’s participation’.

About the InnoVidya IUCAA Spark Program

The SPARK program is a series of events jointly conducted by InnoVidya and IUCAA. These are special events that <spark> imagination & curiosity of our young, build bonds between participants of different disciplines, catalyze interactivity & promote peer links

If you’re interested in the state of education in India, please subscribe to get updates by email

Event Details

The event is on Saturday, July 19, 2014, at 11am, at Bhaskara 3 Hall, IUCAA, University of Pune Campus.

Fees and Registration

This event is free and open for anybody to attend. Register here.

India’s higher education needs to be saved from the rule of babus?

Business Standard has an Opinion Column by Devesh Kapur arguing that India’s higher education needs to be saved from the rule of babus?. He basically compares India with China and points out that China has very quickly become a major contributor to Science and Technology in the past few years, and India is falling behind.

This rise of China is not just about quantity: they are also improving their quality and capabilities:

Make no mistake: if a foreign institution wants to establish itself in China, it has to have a meaningful collaboration with a Chinese institution that can learn, copy and improve over time, just as Chinese businesses have done. But this self-confidence is lacking in India. If India’s political elites have been apprehensive of globalisation, the country’s intellectuals have been, for the most part, hostile; they have viewed themselves as valiant defenders of the nation against marauding foreigners. Patriotism is the best cover for self-interest.

How does India fare in comparison?

Not only is meritocracy a much more contested terrain in India, but the idea that there should be clear links between academic productivity, salaries and tenure, as in China, would meet fierce resistance from a vocal interest group, namely faculty. The University Grants Commission (UGC) rules, that faculty members in public institutions should automatically get promotions based on the length of service and have a common salary structure linked to civil service salaries set by an anachronistic authority called the Pay Commission, have reduced faculty to the status of babus. It is not surprising that so much of higher education in India – both overall regulation and the internal governance of universities – is what Pankaj Chandra, former director of the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Bangalore, termed “babudom” – a regime of, for and by babus.

He goes on to lament that a very few babus in our government control the leadership positions in all our top institutions, and this can only lead to bad things:

Why should the HRD ministry have a role in the selection of an IIT or IIM director, or in the appointment of the vice-chancellor of a central university? The key stakeholders are the campus community (faculty, students and staff), alumni, and, yes, the national government. At the same time, an alumnus of an IIT has a far greater emotional stake in the success and future of his alma mater than a dozen bureaucrats in the HRD ministry or the selection panels they appoint.

Read the full article

Pune-based Online Science/Maths Learning Platform Function Space gets funding

Pune-based Function Space, an online “social” platform for learning science and maths has recently raised seed funding from Nexus Venture Partners.

Function Space is trying to make STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education fun and engaging, something that is seriously been missing from our education system

Function Space, already offers a strong community consisting of users from over 190 countries, including students, professors and researchers from MIT, Stanford, University of California, Berkeley and Los Angeles campuses, Indian Institute of Technology campuses, Indian Institute of Science and other prestigious institutions.

The funding will be used for expansion: of their content, their tools, and their customer reach.

Function Space was founded in 2013 by Adit Gupta, Sakshi Majmudar and Sumit Maniyar.

Read the full article

Elite Education for few better for a developing country than universal elementary education?

Oxfam Blogs has an extremely interesting article that compares the rise of Somaliland vs. the fall of its neighbor Somalia, and points out how this completely upends conventional wisdom regarding foreign aid and other aspects of building a country.

And the aspect I found most interesting there related to education. The paper points out that elite education, available to only a selected few, was found to be more important than universal elementary education – at least in terms of providing the next generation of leadership for the country:

The paper highlights the critical political importance of elite secondary schools in forging leadership. Available to a relatively small group of often privileged Somalilanders, this is in stark contrast to the donor emphasis on universal primary education. In particular, many of Phillips’ interviews led to the Sheekh Secondary School, set up by Richard Darlington, who fought in WWII as the commander of the Somaliland Protectorate contingent. Sheekh took only 50 kids a year and trained them in leadership, critical thought and standard (Darlington borrowed from the curriculum of his old school, Harrow). Sheekh provided 3 out of 4 presidents, plus any number of vice presidents, cabinet members etc. And no it isn’t a weird Somaliland version of Eton and Harrow (I asked) – it stressed student intake from all clans, especially from the more marginalized ones.

Compare and contrast this with what Clay Shirky said a few days ago – that maybe the way forward for higher education is to provide the lower quality of education to a larger number of people at lower cost. Of course Shirky was talking about US, a developed country, while Oxfam is talking about Somaliland, a poor underdeveloped African country, so the situations are quite different. And I certainly don’t claim to know which approach is better. (And I’m sure that the correct answers lies in saying, we should do both.)

But, it is interesting food for thought. If you were forced to pick just one for India going forward, what would you pick – great schools that provide world class education for a few, or universal literacy?

Read the full article.

Source: @makarand_s

InnoVidya Event: Spinning Startups from Science & Technology R&D

InnoVidya, IUCAA and MCCIA present a talk by Dr. S. Sivaram on “Spinning off Start-ups from Science & Technology R&D” on Saturday, Mar 15, 2013, at 11am, 5th Floor, A-Wing, MCCIA, ICC Towers, SB Road. This is the next talk in the InnoVidya/IUCAA SPARK lecture series.

About the Speaker – Dr. S. Sivaram

Dr. Sivaram is a renowned polymer chemist and is. an alumnus of Madras Christian College + IIT-Kanpur & received his PhD in Chemistry from Purdue University, USA, After serving as Deputy General Manager (R&D) at Indian Petrochemicals Corporation Ltd., Vadodara, he joined NCL in 1988 as Head of the Polymer Chemistry Division and was the Director of NCL from 2002-2010. He has mentored the PhD theses of 36 graduate students. He has over 210 publications in peer reviewed scientific journals and holds 47 European and US patents and 46 Indian patents. He is the founder-Chairman and presently a member of the Board of Directors of Entrepreneurship Development Center, Pune, a ‘not-for-profit’ Company promoted by CSIR-NCL and a Founder Director of CSIR-Tech Private Limited, Pune, a ‘for-profit’ company, to commercialize IPR and technologies of CSIR as well as other publicly funded research institutions. He is a CSIR Bhatnagar Fellow and J.C.Bose National Fellow at the NCL. The President of India had conferred the “Padma Shri”, on Dr. Sivaram in 2006.

Abstract of the talk:

Spinning off new start-ups is a key component of science and technology (S&T) based innovation. This requires cutting edge scientific discoveries, a robust IPR portfolio, an entrepreneurial mind set and an enabling “eco-system. In India, the burgeoning IT, E Commerce & Service sectors of the economy have seen increasingly buoyant “start-up” activity. Sadly, S&T driven entrepreneurship has been conspicuously missing. This Talk will focus on a brief history and evolution of S&T driven entrepreneurship and the enabling policy framework that triggered a resurgence of “start-up” enterprises in more developed countries of the world. The elements of the “eco-system” needed to nurture scientific entrepreneurship will be discussed. The weakness of the “eco-system” in the Indian context will be elaborated with some prescriptions for change. Some recent examples of technology driven enterprises from India will be enumerated, especially, in the area of health care, diagnostics and clean energy. A large part of Indian S&T is currently outside of this ecosystem. The question of how to bring them into the ecosystem, therefore, assumes great importance. If S&T has to become an engine of innovation and economic growth, “spin–offs” and “start-ups’ have to become an integral part of India’s innovation systems.

About the InnoVidya IUCAA Spark Program

The SPARK program is a series of events jointly conducted by InnoVidya and IUCAA. These are special events that <spark> imagination & curiosity of our young, build bonds between participants of different disciplines, catalyze interactivity & promote peer links

If you’re interested in the state of education in India, please subscribe to get updates by email

Event Details

The event is on Saturday, March 15, 2013, at 11am, at 5th Floor, A-Wing, MCCIA, ICC Towers, SB Road

Fees and Registration

This event is free and open for anybody to attend. Register here.

Private schools in rural India provide similar education at much lower cost than govt schools

Karthik Muralidharan and others have an interesting research paper on the differences between private and public (i.e. government run) schools in rural India, where they discover, over the course of a large, 4-year, controlled study they discover that private schools comparable (actually, slightly better) education, but at costs much lower than the government schools.

This was the setup (in Andhra Pradesh):

The AP School Choice Project provided children who were enrolled in free public primary schools with a voucher that allowed them to attend a private school of their choice.

And here are the main finding:

We find that the main operating difference between private and public schools in India is that private schools pay substantially lower teacher salaries (less than a sixth of that paid to public school teachers), and hire teachers who are younger, less educated, and much less likely to have professional teaching credentials. However, they hire more teachers and have smaller class sizes and less multi-grade teaching than public schools. Using official data as well as data collected from direct observations conducted during unannounced visits to schools, we find that private schools have a longer school day, a longer school year, lower teacher absence, higher teaching activity, and better school hygiene. We find no significant change in household spending or in time spent doing homework among voucher-winning students, suggesting that the impact of the program (if any) is most likely to be due to changes in school as opposed to household factors

So, private schools have cheaper teachers, but spend more time teaching. What about the performance of the students?

However, in spite of the superior performance of the private schools on most measures of school processes, we find at the end of two and four years of the school choice program that lottery winners do no better than lottery losers on tests of Telugu (native language of AP) and Math. Our data from school time tables suggest that a likely explanation for these results is that private schools spend significantly less instructional time on Telugu and Math, and instead spend more time on English, Science, Social Studies, and Hindi. We conduct tests in these subjects at the end of four years of the program and find positive (but insignificant) effects of winning the voucher on test scores in English, Science, and Social Studies (of around 0.1ı each), and positive (and highly significant) effects on test scores in Hindi (of 0.5ı). Averaging across all subjects, we find that students who won a voucher scored 0.13ı higher, and students who attend private schools score 0.23ı higher.

What does all this mean? Here is the bottom line – private schools provide slightly better education at much lower prices:

the combination of test score results and school time table data already show that private schools are more productive than public schools because they are able to achieve similar Telugu and Math test scores for the lottery winners with substantially less instructional time, and use the additional time to improve outcomes on other subjects – especially Hindi. But the cost-effectiveness comparison is rendered stark by the fact that the annual cost per student in the government- school system is over three times the mean cost per student in the private schools in our sample. Thus, students who win a lottery to attend private schools do as well on some subjects and better on others even though the private schools spend substantially lower amounts per student

Check out this short article by the author where he asks this question:

Since private schools achieved equal or better outcomes at one-third the cost, the fundamental question that needs to be asked is “How much better could private management do if they had three times their current level of per-child spending?” Thus, in addition to focusing on improving the effectiveness of government schools at the current level of spending, the results suggest that policymakers should be open to experimenting with models of education provision with public funding (to ensure universal access) and private provision (for better school management).

and:

Overall, policy discussions need to move away from debates of ‘public’ versus ‘private’ provision of education, which are (a) too simplistic because averages hide enormous variation within both public and private schools, and (b) not very useful because both systems are unlikely in their current form to deliver significant improvements in outcomes. Rather, the focus should be on the design of better education ‘systems’ that aim to deliver superior outcomes by leveraging the strengths of both the public and the private sector while mitigating the weaknesses of the other. Clause 12 of the RTE provides the ideal context in which to have this discussion of education systems.

Read the full paper, or this short article by the author where he asks this question:

Source: Marginal Revolution Blog