The Ritnand Balved Education Foundation started its foray into education with the Amity International School in 1991. Soon it branched into higher education to set up Amity University, the country’s first private university.
Amity University now serves over 50,000 students across 22 campuses spread all over India and has a faculty of over 2500 members. It has also established over INR 50 crore worth scholarships and fellowships, which has benefitted over thousands of students.
Amity has always been at the forefront of technology and education and has launched programmes like cyber laws, bio-informatics and nano-technology among other professional courses.
Dr Raj Singh, Pro Vice Chancellor, Amity University shares some valuable insights on the state of higher education in India.
What new initiatives have been under-taken by Amity University to cater to the current demands of job market?
Unlike traditional programmes taught by government universities, Amity University provides professional programmes in higher education. Globalisation and privatisation have opened up new avenues and numerous new jobs for which we require new specialized courses and training. For example, our MBA courses are not only into functional specialisation, but also sectoral like the Insurance, Telecom, Biotechnology, Rural Marketing and Retail Management.
We are the first university in India to have a unique programme in urban agriculture and food business. The programme focuses on bio-technology and soil systems. You will find 30 cropping sequences in our organic farm which has yielded very good results. This assumes a lot of relevance in the background of global food shortage.
Amity has also been pro-active in the field of research in science and technology. An Institute of Nano Technology and Research was set up launching the first M Tech programme in the field. Since the course requires a lot of research work, we have partnership with companies having best labs. We have also got sponsorships from government and multinational agencies for around 30 projects.
Please shed some light on collaborative research with other agencies. In what ways have students benefitted from it?
Currently, projects to the tune of INR 20 crore are underway, which are sponsored by the Departments of Biotechnology, Science and Technology, DRDO, and other multinational agencies. Some are exclusively under our faculty members, while others are in joint collaboration with these agencies. In the initial phase, a project report is prepared by the faculty and submitted to the concerned department. Then comes the evaluation phase where there is discussion and debate. If the project gets approved funds are released, which is used for funding equipments for research, hiring researchers, etc. Once the project is over these facilities remain with the institution. So its a win-win situation for us. Moreover, involvement of faculty members in research means that students naturally get drawn into it. This is a unique way of involving potential students into research.
Tell us about the fellowships awarded by the university.
In order to give a thrust to research, our foundation has instituted 100 fellowships worth INR 4 crore for research scholars. We also have separate scholarship schemes to encourage meritorious students from different disciplines. These scholarships broadly fall under following categories:
A student who does exceedingly well during admission process is given 50-100 % admission fee waiver.
Students who perform well in their study programme are offered merit-based scholarships.
Merit-cum-means scholarship are given to support students from economically weaker sections.
There is also a scholarship to recognise extraordinary performance in a field, like sports or science and technology, etc. For example, we have given 75% fee waiver for one of our girl students who represented India at NASA. We also plan to fund her further studies.
Amity is the only institution in the country to have an Academic Staff college where we undertake staff development activities. We believe quality education comes with development of faculty
What is your response to growing criticism of privatisation of education?
Globalisation and opening up of the economy has led to an increase in the demand for trained workforce, but the government universities have not been able to respond to this adequately. On the other hand, private educational institutions have played a phenomenal role in rising up to the needs of the emerging job market. In my view, the role of private educational institutions will grow because they are dynamic and have faster decision making processes as compared with government universities.
In the same way, the entry of foreign universities is imminent and cannot be wished away. But if we are to take them head on, we need to be competent. Today, India is a net importer of higher education. More than two lakh students go to the US and the UK. The US earns more foreign exchange in education than in IT. This is not a good situation. India was once known the world over as a centre for higher education. Unless we get that glory back, India will continue to be an importer of education. There is a heavy demand for education here. For example, out of the 1.5 lakh MBAs and four lakh engineers who pass out every year, not more than 50% are employed. So the demand for quality education is very high and needs focus.
Please elaborate on the steps taken by Amity towards ensuring quality education.
Lot of initiatives are under way in enhancing the quality of education. Ours is the only campus in the country to be certified in the environment system. We have also been certified with the ISO 9000-14001 Quality Award by AQSR, USA. This certification provides a uniform framework where we realign all our systems and that definitely helps in imparting quality education.
We also have a specialised department for quality assurance and enhancement and is headed by a senior academician. Apart from UGC, Amity is the only institution in the country to have an Academic Staff college where we undertake staff development activities. We believe quality education comes with development of faculty. So we train potential students at the institutional level, who then take up faculty positions at Amity.
Tell us about the role of private partnerships in curriculum enhancement.
When you look at any product, there is a core to it. Next is the knowledge augmented product. During the two year course, can the institution provide you with opportunities that will enhance and augment your qualifications? Amity provides its students with additional courses, either free or at nominal cost, as optional courses. For example, IT students can avail of a networking programme through the university’s tie-up with IT companies and also with EMC2 which is into data storage technology.
What initiatives have been taken by Amity for giving a thrust to ICT?
EMC2 also conducts training programme foprogramme for the faculty. Currently 25 faculty members from Amity and 15 from other institutions in the country are being given training. Seventy Amity students are also a part of the training. We have also teamed up with the British Standards Institution (BSI), which is the largest quality certification institution in the world. The BSI is offering packaged courses at very nominal cost like certification in information security management systems, food safety management system, business continuity system, etc. Apart from the students, a faculty member is also sponsored for the courses. At the end of the 40 hour course, students get a certification from the BSI. This unique initiative has received tremendous response and till now 700 students have participated. IT giants like Oracle and Infosys have also joined hands with us, helping students become conversant with the latest technology in the market.
What other measures have been taken for integrating ICT in university functioning?
Amity strives for integrating ICT in its day-to-day affairs. The university campus is wi-fi enabled and laptops are given to all management, post graduate and IT students. This has helped generate interest in ICT and its application. The second advantage is that students can access any information at any point of time. The second initiative is the Amity Centre for eLearning,which is implementing the Pan African eLearning Project. Under the project the university will impart training in English language to people in African countries. We have also developed a student friendly Intranet, Amazon, where the students and parents can constantly interact with teachers and the management. They can post their requests, complaints and grievances, which are then looked into by the concerned departments. Latest news, programmes,
results and even the attendance of students are put up on the intranet so that the parents can log in and gather information about their children