Why IIT-Kanpur is wrong

June 11th, 2012

I fail to understand the problem IIT alumni associations and IIT faculty have, over the ‘one-nation-one-test’ proposal of the MHRD.

How on earth will changes in IIT-JEE dilute the quality of IITs?

In my opinion, this is one of the most sensible decisions taken by the MHRD in the past decade.

The whole idea of the test is to facilitate better school education, ease the pressure of writing multiple tests for students and also to some extent, discourage the coaching culture among students.

But clearly the alumni association and faculty federation have not understood this. Besides, if the directors of IITs have agreed, I see no reason why the faculty federation should be opposing it.

And the latest move by IIT-Kanpur to hold its own examination is nothing but an attempt to creating an elite society!

What is the point in coming up with the idea of a single national test when every institute wants to hold its own test?

I think the new proposal to conduct two exams JEE mains and JEE advanced is a good way to assess students. Besides, students will be able to concentrate on their school education also considering weightage will be given to marks gained in school.

IIT coaching centres however, have already begun incorporating the school syllabus in their curriculum.

Not only that, the syllabus which schools finish in one year, these coaching institutes will be finishing in flat three months!

So it’s anyone’s guess how much will these students actually absorb.

It is appalling to see how these associations are not facilitating a change that will be good for students. Not every student has the finances to buy forms for 10 different tests. Not everyone can seek coaching from institutes to crack the test.

At this point I can’t help but remember the comment made by Infosys Technologies founder, N R Narayana Murthy last year.

“Thanks to coaching classes, the quality of students entering IITs has gone lower and lower. Save the top 20 per cent who crack the tough IIT entrance exam and can stand among the best anywhere in the world, the quality of the remaining 80 per cent of students leaves much to be desired,” Murthy had said.

Are IITs really looking at improving the quality of students they want to have?

If the IITs have their way, coaching institutes may now begin promoting classes in the name of specific IITs. And probably have some faculty members from these IITs on board to add weight to their claims.

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Hike story: It’s all pre-decided

April 12th, 2012

It is that time of the year again when employees are handed over sheets of paper to fill in and appraise themselves.

While this exercise reminds many to update their CVs, others decide flaunt their job offers at this opportune moment.

My HR executive friends tell me that the entire appraisal exercise is nothing but humbug. For largely, appraisals are pre-decided.

“Actually, it is always decided in advance, who will get a promotion and how much increment will come  your way. If you are the boss’ blue-eyed boy, even if you have worked less than your neighbour, you have your way,” says an HR executive in a media company.

In her organisation, she says candidly, a person’s increment is largely decided in the smoking zone. “As and when my boss goes for a smoke, rest of my colleagues follow. Smoking zone is a good area to network with the reticent bosses. In fact, many who don’t smoke also go to register their names in his good books,” she says.

But if you question the HR heads on this, they rubbish it. Though off the record, some do agree.

“Who will get what kind of an increment is not what I decide. I just execute what I get from the respective department heads. Of course keeping in mind the budget,” says an HR friend at a pharma company.

Many companies will give you a big raise when you join them and then, every appraisal season, you will be given a token increment. The patent line is: performance was below expectation or not up to the mark.

I remember, in one of my previous organisations, employees had even been dished out an annual raise of Rs 100!

And at another media organisation, though the employees have been informed of a possible slowdown and thus no increment this year, a list has already been drawn of who will get how much.

But this is not the case with every company. At many organisations, appraisals are a very transparent affair and have made people stick to their jobs.

So when your appraisals this time round would not be as per your expectation, and your HR head will give you all possible gyan– on how fair and employee-friendly the  organisation is…you know if to take it with a pinch or a truckload of salt.

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Will the real regulator please stand up?

March 12th, 2012

Last month, a Mumbai-based B-school shut shop. The students, when they turned up for classes one morning, were asked to leave and told they would be informed about when to attend classes next. That information, obviously, never came their way.

They have lost their time and money in studying at a B-school which, despite its impressive line of promoters, could not survive.  While some students are mulling legal action, the promoters are drawing another business plan to give wings to their education ambition.

This and over another 99 B-schools have shut shops in the past two years, but no one—State or Center—is ready to own up to this mess.

The regulatory body for B-schools says its the state’s responsibility to look into such matters. The state says, it is the Centre’s responsibilty to take care of such issues.

So while both keep passing the buck, the student is left high and dry with no option but legal recourse, another lenghty process.

The regulatory body for B-schools lists 340 unapproved institutions on its website. But what is interesting is that this list of institutions has been there ever since.

Even more interesting is the fact that these institutions have expanded, with branches in various other states. But State and Centre again are happy with their inaction.

Many B-schools indulge in practices that by no means can be called ethical. Cheating students, striking deals with test preparing centres, pocketing the salaries of faculty members and bribing HR officials are only a few examples that you will hear the fraternity talk about in the open.

Here again, the state and Central government officials will tell you its not in their jurisdiction.

Then who’s jurisdiction is it? Worse, it surprises me to see that many other education streams, still  do not have regulation. If you wish to start a training school tomorrow, you certainly can. Besides, given the huge demand for vocational programmes, you can fleece students and then fold-up one night.  No questions asked.

Two years ago, the Advertising Standards Council of India came up with advertising guidelines for the education sector. But we all know how much of it has been followed.  Advertisements have remained as they were before the guidelines came up.

Instead of making new rules and regulations, there is a lot of room to tinker with the old ones. While new institutions should be allowed to come up, reputed ones shouldn’t be stopped from expanding. Because education for them, is serious business.

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Leave me alone, please!

January 30th, 2012

When last month a travel portal in a survey found out that Indians are among the most vacation-deprived, I was least surprised.

Going on a holiday or seeking leave from your boss, for that matter, is always an event.

Firstly, you wonder what will the boss say.

Secondly, if by the boss’s grace, your leave has been accepted, under no circumstances will you get out of his cabin sans the guilt pangs about going on leave when the entire world is working hard.

No wonder the survey says that over 28 per cent of Indians do not make use of leaves allocated to them due to their bosses.

Despite all this, I take leave. But yes, when I put in an application for the same, I prepare myself for a few words of wisdom from my seniors.

Some always tell me that when they were my age, they worked round the clock and terms such as vacations or compensatory offs didn’t exist in their dictionaries… that at this young age, I should be in office early and leave late… that how journalists actually work the least in the media industry… and that…

But, ahem… may I still have the privilege of taking a few days off? Please.

My friends who love to listen to their bosses, have an even more interesting experience to share.

One of them, when recently visiting Mumbai from Bangalore, brought her laptop along.

Her organisation, she said, was creating a new vertical and she, along with her boss, had been made in-charge. Her boss had asked her to manage the nitty-gritties in flat seven days, the days she was off for.

In her boss’s words, “Considering your record has so far been fantastic, please do not spoil it by taking long leave.”

In those seven days, she did not step out of the house to either meet her friends or even see what has changed (or not changed) in Mumbai.

So when the survey adds that 53 per cent Indians regularly checked work-related emails on vacation, you can understand why. On the other hand, 41 per cent of Americans never checked work-related mails while on a holiday.

I think for us to enjoy our allocated leaves, we  will have to behave like the Europeans, treat vacations as an entitlement and not as a luxury (that one begins to feel guilty about).

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Home work is more fun

December 19th, 2011

I have never been able to understand the fixation bosses have with their teams working eight hours in office. Why should there be a swipe-in and swipe-out time? Why do you need to show your face in office all the time?

Why can’t more and more organisations allow people to work from home? And how do you know that people spend all the time in office working?

A few years ago I had met a senior journalist from the US at a training programme. An auto correspondent and a mother of three growing up children, I was surprised when she told me she never thought of quitting journalism to manage her family and home. What worked in her favour here, was that her organisation gave her the freedom to work from home.

A friend who recently changed her job tells me how her boss’ annoying habit of keeping a tab on her made her look out. “I like doing my meetings early in the morning. So I prefer leaving work early. But my boss would never consider that I have been out since morning and always want me around. More than anything else, this annoyed me,” she said.

HR consultants will tell you how employees today like multi-tasking, so they can listen to music and finish their work at the same time. They can meet their targets/deadlines in time and if not, will not mind burning the midnight oil to complete the task assigned.

The chief editor of a newspaper tells me how she understands the working style of the new generation and uses this as a retention tool. When she recruits people she tells them how working for her does not mean spending one’s life in office. “I am alright with my colleagues wanting to catch the latest film during office hours. I know people these days long for freedom. I ensure I give them that. This does not mean they take their work lightly or are irresponsible. I not only get my copies in time but also know I have honest employees,” she says.

One may argue, as many of our seniors in the industry do, that it’s important to be around in case of a news development. Fair enough. But how do you know we would not try to work from wherever we are. Its as much our job.

It may also be argued that this kind of freedom may make the team members lazy and irresponsible. Well, how do you know?

I think, today if its about money, it is also about working at a place where people are mentally at peace. Employees know they jobs and know that the same will be in line if the targets are not met and performance is not satisfactory. So may be the bosses can work with the human resource departments to re-look at their strategies and give themselves and their employees a chance– at freedom.

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What’s wrong with the IITs?

October 20th, 2011

The IITs and IIMs are every government’s darling. So it is understandable when a politician such as Mr Jairam Ramesh, an IIT alumnus, for no apparent reason, declares that IITs have world-class students but not world-class teachers.

What comes as a surprise though is when figures like Mr N R Narayana Murthy say the quality of IIT students is sub-standard.

Coming from someone from an industry that knows the pulse of engineering institutes, it is rather disappointing to hear Mr Murthy’s comments. Specially, after knowing how the education sector has suffered at the hands of our revered politicians.

And what are we talking about. Isn’t it true that for the majority of students, an IIT degree is all about getting a big fat pay cheque from an MNC bank or consulting firm? So where does being a “quality engineer” come into play?

Can we explain why 80 per cent of IITians go to IIMs? Why don’t they pursue their masters degree and seek a career in teaching or research?

Also, why do most recruiters go gaga over these not-so-good engineers or managers?

Or better still, why don’t majority of IITians opt to work for Mr Murthy’s company and prefer going to companies like Google instead?

The state that our IITs and IIMs are in today is largely because of the our politicians and their policies.

Can institutes which seek every penny from the government and its permission even to spend it, be expected to compete internationally?

Why do people not question various governments and their MHRD ministers who have always considered it their right to meddle into the business of these institutes (introducing SC/ST and OBC quotas for instance). Stifling their growth.

Can some one explain why a decade old institute like an Indian School of Business finds its place in international rankings but the 50 year old IIMs can’t?

Why the IITs have been slipping the international rankings and today none of them figure in the top 200 engineering schools in the world?

The IIT directors will tell you that most students who can afford to pay better, never come to the IITs. They go international.

Quality is a good word but not thought of when it was decided to admit one half of IIT students via reservation through SC/ST and OBCs; when the student teacher ratio deteriorates from 6:1 to 12:1 and when there are no teachers to teach and still new IITs are set up (taking the numbers from 6 to 15).

Take any corporate czar and you know his children are studying at the prestigious Ivy leagues. Why can’t they study at an IIT or an IIM?

The problem with the IITs and IIMs is that every government loves them so much that they can’t let go of them. And then there are industry heads like Mr Murthy who do nothing much beyond giving public speeches on their quality.

There are hundreds of management and engineering institutes which are in a mess but no one, including the government is bothered. The AICTE gives clearance to new B-schools year after year, without considering the demand factor.

Leave the IITs and IIMs on their own, and you may see another Harvard or MIT in the making.

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Maximum city, minimum value

July 28th, 2011

I am always told that Mumbai’s real estate market behaves differently than other real estate markets in the country. But despite several explanations, I fail to understand why.

And the difference is so great that even if you have a budget of Rs 50 lakh, you will not be able to buy a decent house. That kind of money will fetch you a bungalow in some northern states.

And it isnt just the asking price of the flat that you have to deal with. Add to that registration and other charges, and you will most likely end up in debt for the  better part of your productive years in order to garner finance for your ‘dream’ house.

What hurts is that even a distant suburb like Kharghar, in Navi Mumbai, commands a per-square-foot rate of over Rs 5,500-6,000! This, when there is no decent hospital in the vicinity, no decent public transport, no recreation centre, nothing. And the roads there are as bad as you would get anywhere else in Mumbai with over flowing dustbins.

In the past four years, the per-square-foot rate in Kharghar has jumped over 83 per cent while the infrastructure has not improved one bit.

The officials of City Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO), the nodal agency responsible for Navi Mumbai’s development, do not even bother tending to daily municipal jobs.

Flats in a locality where even a drizzle turns the road into a muddy track are going for as much as Rs 60 lakh. And if you don’t have your own vehicle, you could end up spending a good 30-45 minutes just commuting from the station to your house instead of the 10 minutes it should actually take.

In fact, infrastructure in Mumbai is always in an (never) improving mode. Wherever you go, Bandra or Andheri or Vashi, some nook and corner is always under construction.

Infrastructure and public transport is so pathetic that you can go to Igatpuri and come back, but you still cannot get your way through Andheri!

Added to this, the monsoon season. A thick sheet of rain and the city becomes the most difficult to live in. The trains will be late forever. Cabbies will abandon their vehicles. And you are stranded!

Flyovers and skywalks are always under construction. Roads are always dug up. staircases that were repaired six months ago will be again under repair. (I had once heard a contractor, on the radio, saying if they don’t re-repair the staircases and roads, how will they earn?)

And then, the train compartments never expand despite the burgeoning passenger capacity— the system carries more than 6.9 million commuters on a daily basis and constitutes more than half the total daily passenger capacity of the Indian Railways itself, says Wikipedia. Many people I know stay back late in office to avoid rush hour…and despite all this, Mumbai’s real estate market is always northbound.

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Homework? What’s that?

May 19th, 2011

People, I think, are too busy these days to do their homework.

When we journalists often go for meetings, the gentlemen and ladies expect us to have done our homework well — know about their companies or institutes, understand their sectors well and sometimes, even have data at our fingertips.

We don’t mind that. Many of us, in fact, know much beyond the brief the interviewee wishes to give us. But if we don’t know, we just ask.

Recently, when I met the managing director of an institute, he constantly referred to Business Standard as a “magazine” and said how its one of his favourites!! He wanted to know all about the magazine’s readership and its ranking vis-a-vis its competitors in the industry.

When I corrected him saying it is a newspaper, he looked at his PR, surprised. His PR, steered the conversation to the attrition in media industry. Thanks!

In fact, some of my friends in the media too find it ‘boring’ to do their homework. This, when we have most of the information available at the click of a button.

So at press conferences, questions are asked for the sake of asking. A common question is — Where do you see the crude oil prices are headed? Don’t know if even Opec can predict that!

Then there are questions seeking various updates — sometimes issues that the companies have settled also crop up at press conferences.

Last year, a friend who works for an English daily, went to interview a celebrity fitness trainer. The trainer, who had been interviewed at least 10 times already, asked the reporter what he knew about her. The reporter did not know much the trainer. So, she declined the interview.

Then there are some PR professionals, who call up to find out who handles what beat in an organisation. They are alien to the concept of reading newspapers, I believe.

Another breed is scribes who prefer doing their homework on the go. So they will call you any time and ask you to give them some questions, immediately. My friends from Delhi often call me, when they board a train or an auto to a press conference or a meeting and ask me to help them with questions. Sometimes on sectors, like railways and telecom, which I do not even track that closely.

Even more interesting is when you are given a deadline to message the questions to them on their cellphones.

Last month, this friend, who is also a very senior journalist, on his way to meet the India head of a software company, called my colleague to ask her if she could help him with some quick intelligent questions! She obliged, of course.

And the list goes on…

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Causeless crusade

April 13th, 2011

With due respect to Mr Hazare and his cause, I have my own reservations about the success of the Jan Lokpal Bill.

I don’t agree with Mr Hazare when he says that corruption will be down 80-90 per cent after the bill is introduced in India.

We have had Lok Ayuktas or anti-corruption ombudsman in 17 states in the country for some years now. What kind of a difference have they been able to make?

One of the most active Lok Ayuktas, Santosh Hegde, resigned from the Karnataka government last year owing to the BJP government’s indifference to the Lok Ayukta institution.

In one of the papers, Hegde described his decision to quit as a “cumulative effect” over a series of reasons ranging from the government not heeding to his plea for filling up of ‘Upa Lokayukta’ post to the then Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa reneging on his assurance that officers suspended on Lok Ayukta’s recommendation would not be reinstated.

Considering this, I wonder if a bill will put things in place.

A lawyer friend informs me that the bill, in substance, is not very different from the existing laws which govern prevention of corruption in India.

So a question to ask the glitterati and chatterati who converged at the Jantar Mantar to express solidarity with Mr Hazare is– would they not, in future, grease palms of the traffic police to get away after flouting traffic norms?

Would people not evade taxes anymore? Would they not pay extra to get a ration card or an LPG cylinder in black?

Or does all this not amount to corruption?

The real issue here is not about having a new bill in place, but about putting to good enforcement, the anti-corruption laws that we already have.

When I called up a few friends in Delhi to ask if they were part of the mass turnout at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar, they happily said they were. And as I expected, none of them knew what the bill is about.

So now that Anna Hazare’s 97 hours fast has paid off and the government has heeded to his demands, it would be interesting to see if the Lok Pal Bill actually turns out to be what is being expected or it becomes one of the many bills that people do not have a clue about.

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Untrained cubs and gaffes

February 18th, 2011

An interesting conversation took place with an old friend last week. Lets call him Mr X.

So Mr X asked me if I had noticed the increase in correction(s) newspapers carry these days and the mistakes they make.

I honestly had no clue. I did notice the corrections (I guess, almost every day) but never paid attention to their increasing numbers.

He said on some days there are more than two corrections–beginning from the front page, of course.

Mr X has spent a good 25 years in journalism and is a consulting editor with various publications. So when he tells me something, I sit up and notice.

I asked him what the reason could be. He said, lack of training.

According to him, most journalism school passouts are recruited and assigned beats. They are never trained, because the senior reporters/ editors are too busy doing other things. “So if you are not taught how to know your subject, how will you ask the right questions?” he asked.

I agreed and remembered an earlier discussion with another senior journalist. Lets call her Ms Y.

So Ms Y is one of the best corporate reporters I have ever known. She told me how her Resident Editor would have hourly morning training sessions with cub reporters (including her) during which they would discuss the day’s news developments and understand the same. This made her understand and report on any sector, confidently.

Honestly, I have never heard of such training before in a newspaper organisation. And the best thing is, she practices the same with cub reporters in her organisation.

I wonder, if companies can put new recruits on a year’s training, why can’t media organisations put their reporters or desk on training? They recruit reporters as trainees but ask them to fend for themselves.

So how do you make a reporter understand that when covering a murder case, a constable cannot be a reliable source! That the clerk in a certain university department cannot tell you much beyond his profile.

Media organisations think journalism schools should have taught us this. And journalism schools think the students will learn it all on the job!

A few days ago I knocked my boss’ door to discuss a story. An otherwise patient gentleman, he snapped at me saying he had been trying to email someone for the last 30 minutes and was not able to do so. My boss had just finished advising a colleague on her story.

I reminded him that since my immediate boss was on a sabbatical, he was the only one I could discuss the idea with. He gave me a patient hearing, as always.

This made me think, if after putting in over five years in journalism, I still need guidance and advice for my stories, how clueless would a cub reporter be?

But what about the mistakes senior reporters make?

An editor of a weekly magazine says many are in such a hurry to finish their stories, that checking facts takes a back seat.

So Mr X’s logic of training does hold a lot of water. Because the seniors were also cub reporters at one point of time.

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