New panel to review UGC fellowships

NEW DELHI: The Union human resource development ministry has set up a five-member committee to review University Grants Commission (UGC) fellowships.

The fellowships include National Eligibility Test (NET) based junior research fellowship and the non-NET ones. The ministry said it is “in the process of reviewing the current research framework, efforts, opportunities, quality and output” in a statement on Wednesday. The committee has to submit its report by December.

Ex-Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati, director Gautam Barua would head the panel.

The committee’s members include Central University of Gujarat vice-chancellor Syed Bari, Central University of Himachal Pradesh vice-chancellor Kuldeep Agnihotri and Karnataka State Women’s University vice-chancellor Meena Rajiv Chandawarkar.

Entrepreneur Bhogale shares experiences with students

AURANGABAD: Well-known entrepreneur, Ram Bhogale, who is also chairman of Nirlep and AITG Group, shared his career experiences during the 31st `Rare Share’ programme of Aurangabad Management Association (AMA) on Monday, in the Vishwakarma Hall of Deogiri Institute of Management and Engineering. ‘Rare Share’ is a unique initiative by AMA where senior executives, managers share their success story.

Bhogale said “I joined my father’s business in 1976 even before my engineering results were declared and started working for company which was into hospital equipment and accessories. Subsequently, I joined Nirlep, manufacturing non-stick kitchen appliances. My workers taught me all the technical mechanics practically.’

“The major challenge that I faced was shift from Nirlep to auto business. Taking a very small company to a group where you are the driver is not a cake walk. The real challenge was shifting from a driver’s seat to getting driven by others. Here you have to depend on the Original equipment manufacturer (OEMs) for your growth even when you disagree with many of the strategies. But that is business. Growth has a challenge of its own,” he said.

Bhogale is also a trustee of Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) and member of Electricity Tariff requisition committee of government of Maharashtra.

Care for the family

While the demand for specialists may have triggered a rush among medicine students to pursue niche specialisations, experts in the healthcare industry are realising the importance of primary care physi cians. This has given rise to institutes offering a specialisation in family medicine. The two-year, part-time Master’s in Family Medicine, conducted by the University of Edinburgh in partnership with Christ ian Medical College (CMC) Vellore and the Indian Christian Medical and Dental Associa tion, is aimed at providing a model to im prove primary healthcare in India.

It is designed to help general practitioners in underserved and rural com in underserved and rural communities acquire the skills to become expert family medicine doctors who refer less and resolve more. Delivered through the blended-learning format, it covers modules in family medicine, reflective practice and principles of general practice and evidencee for rural family medicine in based medicine for rural family medicine in rural settings.

Q & A – `Need a strategy for predictive scores’

The government is increasingly focussing on skilling India’s youth. How crucial do you think is it for institutes to align themselves to this new focus?
Appropriate skill sets are a fundamental aspect of employability. Hence, the government’s focus on skills has to be lauded and supported. Last year, we introduced a three-year Bachelor of Vocation al Studies (BVoc) course funded by the University Grants Commission and monitored by the University of Mumbai and the Sector Skill Councils. The skill-oriented course offers specialisations in two spheres -travel and tourism and software development. Students who do not wish to complete the three-year courses have the option of moving out with a diploma after completing the first year and with an advanced diploma after the second year. Apart from this, we try to give students from across departments a touch of reality. For instance, the microbiology department conducts water testing in slum areas.

Any plan on introducing a research component at the institute?

Students from India tend to go into an academic shock when they go abroad for higher studies due to their lack of exposure to hard-core research. As most Indian examination patterns are based on rote-learning, enquiry-based and experiential learning is ignored. To address this concern, we are planning to introduce a paper on research methodology at the first-year level across disciplines.

Universities in Delhi have decided to wait for the actual scores of students from schools following the IB and other international curricula. Do you face any issue using predictive scores of students from international boards?

We do face a problem as far as the predictive scores of the IB institutes are concerned. We have come across cases where the predicted scores are much higher than the real scores. The government should come up with a strategy to counter such discrepancies.

Oxford University publishes sample interview questions

Oxford GargoyleImage copyrightThinkstock
Image captionInterview questions are not designed to catch candidates out, says the university

Place a 30cm ruler on top of one finger from each hand. What happens when you bring your fingers together?

Can archaeology prove or disprove the Bible?

Two tricky questions of the sort asked at interviews for Oxford University places,which are being published by the university ahead of the application deadline for 2016 entry on Wednesday.

The aim is to dispel false rumours, explained Oxford’s education and outreach director, Samina Khan.

‘An academic conversation’

“We know there are still lots of myths about the Oxford interview, so we put as much information as possible out there to allow students to see the reality of the process,” said Dr Khan.

“Tutors simply want to see how students think and respond to new ideas.

“We are not interested in catching students out.”

With this in mind, the university asked admissions tutors in a range of subjects for sample questions and tips on answering.

“Interviews are not about reciting what you already know,” said Dr Khan.

She reassured candidates that the interview was a chance to show how they can apply their thinking to new problems in ways that will both challenge them and allow them to shine.

She added: “They are an academic conversation in a subject area between tutors and candidate, similar to the undergraduate tutorials which current Oxford students attend every week.

“It is often best to start responding by making very obvious observations and build up discussion from there, rather than assuming that there is a hidden meaning or a highly complicated answer you have to jump to immediately,” she advised.

Familiar surroundings

So what of the ruler question, aimed at prospective engineering students?

Steve Collins of University College Oxford says he would never ask it as an opening question – which would allow candidates to get comfortable by firstly discussing something familiar.

“This question would come later in the interview, when we present candidates with an unfamiliar scenario,” he explained.

Sample questions

Woman with rulerImage copyrightThinkstock

Engineering: Place a 30cm ruler on top of one finger from each hand. What happens when you bring your fingers together?

“Almost everyone in this example will expect the ruler to topple off the side where the finger is closest to the centre of the ruler, because they expect this finger to reach the centre of the ruler first. They then complete the “experiment” and find both fingers reach the centre of the ruler at the same time and the ruler remains balanced on two fingers.

“We like to see how candidates react to what is usually an unexpected result and then encourage them to repeat the experiment slowly. With prompting to consider moments and friction, the candidate will come to the conclusion there is a larger force on the finger that is closest to the centre of the ruler.

“This means that there is more friction between the ruler and this finger and therefore the ruler slides over the finger furthest from the centre first. This argument will apply until the fingers are the same distance from the centre.

“The candidate should then be able to explain why both fingers reach the centre of the rule at the same time as observed.

“We might even discuss the fact that the coefficient of static friction is higher than the coefficient of dynamic friction. Therefore the “moving” finger gets closer to the centre than the static finger before the finger starts to move over the other finger.”

Prof Steve Collins, engineering tutor, University College

Qumran cave - dead sea scrollsImage copyrightThinkstock

Oriental studies: Can archaeology prove or disprove the Bible?

“I would be looking for an answer that showed the candidate could appreciate the Bible was a collection of documents written and transmitted over several centuries, and containing important traditions that have a bearing on history, but that academic study of the Bible means it has to be examined carefully to see when and where these traditions had come from and for what purpose they had been written,

“They should recognise archaeology relies on non-literary sources preserved from ancient periods such as the remains of buildings and tools.

“These can often be dated by scientific means (and so appear more objective than literature), but we still frequently need additional information such as inscriptions or evidence from other similar sites in order to make sense of the ancient remains.

“In the end I would hope the candidate would work towards a realisation of the very different nature of these types of evidence, which sometimes gives a complementary picture, while in others it may be contradictory.

“Both require very careful interpretation, and just arguing that “The Bible says” or that “Archaeology proves” is much too simplistic.”

Dr Alison Salvesen, oriental studies tutor, Mansfield College

Bank dealing room computersImage copyrightThinkstock

Economics and management: Do Bankers deserve their high pay or should government limit it?

“A simple answer might be that since banks are generally private firms and workers are free to work where they wish, then the pay they receive is just the outcome of a competitive labour market.

“In this story, bankers earn a lot because they are very skilled and have rare talents. It is hard to see a reason for government intervention in this case, though on equity grounds one may want to have a progressive income tax system that redistributes some of this income.

“A good candidate would wonder why seemingly equivalently talented people can get paid so much more in banking than in other occupations. Do we really believe bankers are so much better than other workers in terms of skill?

“An alternative story is that the banking industry is not competitive and generates profits above what a competitive market would produce. In this case, there is a role for government intervention to make the market more competitive. The key point is for candidates to think about the economics of pay rather than just whether they think it is fair or not.”

Prof Brian Bell, economics tutor, Lady Margaret Hall

Pound coin in handImage copyrightThinkstock

Experimental Psychology: Imagine 100 people all put £1 into a pot. Each person has to choose a number between 0 and 100. The prize goes to the person whose number is closest to 2/3 of the average of all of the numbers chosen. What number will you choose and why?

“Some people’s first guess is 2/3 of 100, i.e. 66 or 67, in which case I’d ask them what numbers everyone else would have to pick for them to win. In this case, everyone else would have to choose 100, which is unlikely. More often people first guess 2/3 of 50 (= 33), which seems intuitively more likely.

“At this point, and usually without prompting, the recursive nature of the solution becomes clear: If there is good reason for me to choose 33, then maybe everyone else will choose 33 too, in which case I should choose 2/3 of 33… but then everyone will think this and choose 2/3 of 33 too, so I should choose 2/3 of that number… and so on.

“Assuming everyone thinks like this, then everyone will eventually settle on zero as their choice – this is the formal “game theory” solution. At this point, I’d ask questions that bring out the candidate’s broader reasoning skills in terms of thinking how we could define what it is rational to do in this game…

“The question also has a psychological angle in thinking about reasons for people’s behaviour and choices. Will everyone put in the same effort? Will everyone be motivated to win?

“We’re interested in seeing how people think through a problem, figure out what are the relevant factors and respond when new information is provided.”

Prof Nick Yeung, experimental psychology tutor, University College

Test tubesImage copyrightThinkstock

Biomedical studies: Why is sugar in your urine a good indicator that you might have diabetes?

“This question builds on general knowledge and material studied at school in biology and chemistry to assess how students approach a clinically relevant problem. It’s commonly known that diabetes is associated with sugar (glucose) in the urine.

“This question asks students to think about why this occurs. Students have usually have learnt that the kidneys filter blood to remove waste products, such as urea, that must be eliminated from the body but many other useful substances which must not be lost, including glucose, are also filtered.

“Given that glucose is not normally found in the urine, students are asked to speculate as to how it can all be recovered as the urine passes through the kidney’s tubules.

The process involves reabsorption by a carrier protein that binds the glucose molecules and moves them out of the renal tubule and back into the blood.

“Students should appreciate that, in binding glucose, the carrier will share properties with enzymes, about which they will have learned at school: the capacity to reabsorb glucose is finite because once all of the carriers are working maximally, no further glucose reabsorption can occur.

“A successful applicant will make the connection that an elevated level of glucose in the blood in diabetes leads to increased filtration of glucose by the kidneys and saturation of the carriers that perform the reabsorption, resulting in ‘overspill’ of glucose in the urine.”

A single-day exam for CAT this year

NEW DELHI: The format for the Common Admission Test (CAT) will see major changes this year. The test, which has been conducted on multiple days over two sessions since 2009, when it became computer-based, will now be conducted in as many sessions in a single day.

Introduction of non-multiple choice questions along with an on-screen calculator are the other changes made to this year’s CAT format.

The test duration would be longer with each section lasting 60 minutes. There will be three sections — Verbal Ability and Reading Comprehension; Data Interpretation and Logical Reasoning and Quantitative Ability. Earlier, there was no sectional time limit and candidates could move between sections.

“With the introduction of sectional timings, CAT 2015 is now like three short tests. Each section will be given 60 minutes and once the time is over, a candidate cannot come back to that section,” said MBA Guru founder director Deekshant Sahrawat. “Therefore, candidates can no longer give more time to a section they are weak in. So they will have to increase their skills for all sections and qualify in each of them. In a way CAT 2015 has become a knowledge test than a management one.”

UGC seeks Karnataka State Open University clarification about PhD programmes

MYSURU: There is no respite for the Karnataka State Open University (KS OU) which is trying to regain the recognition of the University Grants Commission ( UGC) for its courses. The UGC recently wrote to the letter to the varsity seeking clarification regarding its website notifying course work examination schedule in November and December even though the commission has denied permission for doctoral programmes.

UGC education officer Megha Kaushik on October 9 and 12 wrote to the KSOU registrar stating that UGC through its regulations of 2009 has denied KSOU permission to take up PhD programmes through the distance mode. The DEC also issued a show cause notice. It sought clarification that despite lack of permission, the KSOU website still notifies course work examination in November and December.

Megha Kaushik also sought a clarification regarding ambiguity about their collaborative institutions and malpractice charges by MLA G Madhusudana, member of the varsity’s board of management.

UGC received a letter on October 5 from Madhusudana complaining of malpractice and wrong-doing by the university. Kaushik requested the varsity to furnish the clarification to the Distance Education Bureau for further action regarding the complaint and on renewal of recognition of KSOU programmes in distance learning mode.

Earlier, Madhusudana had expressed unhappiness over the conduct of KSOU authorities in offering the programmes. In his letter to UGC joint secretary Renu Bathra, he mentioned that KSOU is conferring degrees, master’s degrees and diplomas in technical and paramedical fields even though the university or its 203 collaborative institutes and 4500 study centres have the necessary infrastructure. Despite UGC notices and derecognision of courses, KSOU has sold certificates through these centres through corrupt practices, he alleged.

He also alleged that KSOU in spite of swearing an affidavit before the UGC about discontinuing its relationship with firms and study centres has conducted annual examinations, evaluation, provided marks cards along with admission for second, third and fourth year students and had continued with the MPhil and PhD courses.

Students cry foul as UGC scraps non-NET grants

NEW DELHI: The University Grants Commission (UGC) has decided to discontinue non-NET fellowships for MPhil and PhD students at central universities from the next academic session, triggering protests by student groups who have termed it “one of the biggest anti-student moves” of the NDA government.

The All India Students Association (AISA) read in the decision a sinister move to make the public education system compliant with the impending WTO-GATS (World Trade Organisation-General Agreement on Trade in Services) under which India has made an offer to open up higher education commercially by classifying it as a tradable service. There is widespread demand for the offer to be revoked.

“This is nothing but another step in the BJP-led central government’s series of moves to cut budgetary allocation and restructure higher education to make it inaccessible and destroy its quality . Once the government confirms this, it will be necessary to cut subsidies provided to government-funded universities. The WTO regime necessitates a level playing field for Indianforeign and publicprivate institutes,” AISA national president Sucheta De said.

Till now, the UGC granted scholarships of Rs 5,000 a month for MPhil students and Rs 8,000 a month to PhD students.”The scholarship is a lifeline for students in all central universities. If this is discontinued, it will be impossible for a vast majority of students to engage in research and knowledge creation,” said AISA’s Ashutosh Kumar.

AISA sees all the recent reforms by the NDA government in higher education -choice-based credit system, semesterisation and the Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan -as steps taken with an eye on the WTO negotiations slated to be held in Nairobi this December.

The Democratic Students Federation also termed the move as a “cruel joke” on students and has planned protests by burning effigies of UGC chairman Ved Prakash.

HRD ‘ironing out’ hurdles to bringing single engg exam

NEW DELHI: Days before an expert committee gives its report on ‘one exam, one rank, one counselling’ for admission into IITs/NITs/IISERs and other engineering colleges, HRD ministry is working towards making it a reality and finding ways to remove the possible roadblocks.

For instance, the ministry wants the responsibility of conducting the single test to be given to IITs so that quality does not suffer. Highly placed sources said, “There can be varied questions, both knowledge-based and analytical. JEE (advanced) through which students are taken into IITs is mostly analytical. A single question paper with right mix of questions could help students with different calibre.” A ministry official said a single test will be scientific and test merit without putting too much stress on students. It will even help in moving towards a system of single counselling. “The process will become seamless. Right now students have to go through two kinds of coaching, one for IITs and another for rest of engineering institutions like NITs etc. Single test will save parents lot of money,” the official said.

One of the reasons for pushing ‘one exam’ is the debt cycle that the mushrooming coaching industry has created. It is currently billed to be worth Rs 10,000 crore. The ministry official says many students have two kinds of coaching as a result of which they start their engineering careers with a debt of Rs 7 to Rs 10 lakh. “One exam is the only way out to lessen the dominance of coaching centres,” sources said.

Ministry is hopeful that the expert committee headed by Ashok Misra, former director of IIT, Bombay, will give a positive report. Sources said that during the IIT Council meeting there were different opinions on the issue but there is a general agreement that students undergo a lot of stress. “Even Joint Admission Board of IITs is in favour of single examination. We expect report to deal with implementation issues,” ministry official says.

Students reject MHRD proposal of making non-NET fellowship merit-based, Occupy UGC protest to continue

NEW DELHI: Students are not giving up on their protest against the scrapping of the non-NET fellowship despite the Ministry of HRD saying on Friday evening that it will “revive” it for all universities but make it merit-based.

Students want it re-instated the way it originally was and expanded to include all public universities. The Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union president Kanhaiya Kumar has already said in a statement that there will be a march and public meeting on the subject on October 25 and also called for a “university-wide” strike on Monday. The Occupy UGC protesters have in generally rejected the MHRD and University Grants Commission’s proposal.

All India Students’ Association, in a separate statement has said, “The UGC itself is trying to now cover up their blatant violation of students’ rights by issuing conflicting and confusing statements to the media while continuing to refuse meet student groups and now introducing absurd logic of merit determined through ‘NET Exam’. It is important to respond to these statements, especially the suggestion to grant non-NET fellowships on the basis of “merit” and not on a universal basis, since we firmly believe that funding for research is a hard won right of ALL research students contributing to a collective process of knowledge generation in this country. The non NET fellowship must be extended to all central and state universities, however, the logic of merit determined through ‘NET’ exam needs to be challenged and defeated!” They argue that the eligibility or ‘merit’ of a research candidate is evaluated — an established — at the time of entrance itself as enrollment is regulated through tests and interviews. “If a student is selected for the course of M.Phil or Ph.D, it means that he/she has been deemed eligible for research and hence the state must facilitate this process of research by way of suitable fellowship that will adequately cover the cost incurred while pursuing research,” says the statement. They further point out that the credibility of the NET – National Eligibility Test — itself has been questioned.

“Let us not forget that the sword of ‘merit’ logic has been used for centuries by the ruling classes to deny entry to those who have been deliberately excluded from the educational and cultural sphere. The oppressed castes, poor people, oppressed minorities, especially Muslims (as pointed out by the Sachchar Committee report), Dalits and women have got the most to lose from this dangerous proposition,” says the statement.

Meanwhile, the student protest has drawn supporters from teachers associations of Delhi University, Jamia Millia Islamia University, the Federation of Central Universities’ Teachers’ Associations and over 200 teachers and researchers placed in different universities.