Thursday, November 24, 2011

Kerala's Voice Heard in a British Parliament chamber for the first time

Anto Antony, a young Congress MP from Kerala became the first to speak about Kerala in the hallowed precincts of the British Parliament building. The occasion was an unprecedented meeting of the UK-Kerala Business Forum in a chamber named after William Pitt, chaired by Virendra Sharma, MP of the House of Commons. The honour was shared by Kerala Minister Shibu Baby John and former ambassador T.P.Sreenivasan, VC, KSHEC, who answered questions from the British MPs gathered there for the occasion. In attendance was a large contingent of Kerala businessmen in the UK

Antony spoke of the cultural links between India and the UK and the features that make Kerala an ideal destination for British tourists and investors. He laid out a number of avenues for cooperation between the UK and Kerala. He made a convincing case for investments in education, infrastructure, IT, health care, waste management, renewable energy and others.

In the discussion that followed, the British M.Ps raised a number of questions, including Communism in Kerala, the caste system and tourism potential. The Kerala delegation gave convincing answers and the gathering agreed that collaboration projects should be initiated immediately, given the potential of Kerala and the keenness of the British industry to diversify its presence in India.

In a separate session with the concerned British agencies and industrial houses, supplemented by leading Kerala businessmen, again chaired by Virendra Sharma, Antony and Sreenivasan made specific proposals for collaboration. These were analyzed by the concerned agencies in a preliminary manner and it was agreed that as many British businessmen as possible should attend the Investment Forum being planned in Kochi in 2012.

The following areas were identified for preparation of detailed studies by the two sides:
Waste Management
Power and Energy

As for modalities, it was suggested that the Kerala side would submit to the UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) detailed proposals for a dozen projects. Kerala would work initially with Middlesex University and the Commonwealth Business School to explore possibilities in education and that the UK-Kerala Forum would receive British proposals and forward them to the Kerala Government.

Some members of the Kerala delegation, notably MLAs Mons Joseph and TUKuruvilla, who arrived late, participated in the informal discussions after the meeting.

Full credit should be given to the UK-Kerala Forum led by Virendra Sharma MP, Philip Abraham, George and Pius, who not only made perfect arrangements in London, but also made every effort to ensure adequate representation from Kerala.

Anto Antony MP was extremely enthusiastic and gave strong leadership to the Kerala delegation. His interaction at all levels helped the deliberations.

The only snag was that several members could not get their visas on time.The visa issue was noted as detrimental to the growth of business relations.

As the first meeting of a new initiative by Virendra Sharma and a group of Keralites in the UK, it was a great success But efficient follow up action is essential to move forward.

Vice-Chairman, KSHEC

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Inaugural Address of Kalpatha 2011 by

Former Ambassador T.P.Sreenivasan

Vice-Chairman, KSHEC at Technopark on Nov 19, 2011

Thank you for inviting me to inaugurate Kalpatha 2011, a two day national conference on the topic of "Business Innovation The New Age Survival Mantra". You have invited me at a time when I am in the process of reinventing myself. To put it in computer terminology, I am struggling to put new software into the hardware that is accustomed to a different set of circumstances and demands. After being an evangelist of foreign policy and strategic thinking, I have now moved to the academic world, with a mandate to help the Kerala Government formulate its policy on higher education. My only consolation is that there have been several diplomats before me, who made the switch and done as well in academics as in diplomacy. In a way, my own appointment as the Executive Head of the KSHEC is an innovation on the part of the Government of Kerala.

I have agreed to speak here today not because I have much to say about innovation, which is now a vast subject for discussion in the business world. I am fascinated by your commitment to uphold the recent trends and issues in management and bridge the gap between the corporate world and academia. In fact, the first new topic that my Council adopted for implementation was the Institution-Industry interface, a programme of close interaction between educational institutions and the industry.

The nature of interaction between educational institutions and industry has changed significantly over the years in India. In the colonial era, there was little interaction between the two, as the University system essentially supplied human capital to staff the civil service and judiciary. It was not purported to cater to the industrial workforce. Post independence, graduates of Indian university system found employment in a much wider range of careers, including in industry. Other forms of university industry linkages such as industry sponsored research projects, joint publications, business incubators in universities, have started to flourish recently in certain institutions such as IITs and IISC. These institutions have witnessed higher intensity university industry linkages. For instance, all the business incubators started in academia in India can be traced to IITs and IISC. When IIT Kanpur was ranked as number one among engineering colleges, the reason was that it had received a high amount of alumni money in the form of university-industry linkages. This benefits the industry because they get young brains to work in their research and development programs and the University students get great exposure to the industry. For this very reason, these institutions are considered institutions of excellence and enjoy greater autonomy. My ambition is to create such institutions in Kerala.

It goes without saying that there is a strong connection between autonomy enjoyed by institutions like the IITs and the intensity with which it participates in the nation's innovative system. The government funding for research, which is channeled through public research institutes has not been fully utilized for the purpose intended. For this reason, the Government now proposes to create Innovation Universities with greater autonomy in matters of academics, faculty, personnel, finance, administration and in the development of a vision for the future. These universities will make our universities more active participants in the country's innovative system.

India's economic success story is based on growth in business services, including information technology services that are mainly non-patentable and do not require formal Rand D spending. This may appear comfortable in the short term, but to compete at the global level, research at the university level has to be essential part of our strategy. Absence of research will make our graduates mere labour in the world markets. New streams of technology can be invented only when education endeavors to meet demand.

A UNESCO Policy Forum concluded in 2000 that one of the most important challenges for institutional policy-makers is defining a legal framework and incentive systems which stimulate innovation at the institutional, departmental and individual levels. A balance has to be achieved between the culture and traditions of a university with existing outside opportunities for collaboration. Bringing these opportunities to the campuses is the objective of the Institutions-Industry Interface that the Executive Council is planning to accomplish.

Increasingly, industries are becoming the beneficiaries of the products of our universities and, therefore, they have a responsibility to invest in education, particularly research. We do not have major manufacturing industries in Kerala, but our graduates do work in other parts of India and abroad. Partnership with major industrial houses will benefit both the universities and the industries. Needless to say, the knowledge industry, which is growing in Kerala has even a greater stake in education and research.

Coming back to innovation in its present sense of invention and renovation, interestingly, the most innovative companies such as Google, Facebook, Twitter etc do not claim to be innovative, while those who are still trying to be innovative speak of the importance of innovation. Those who have acquired game changing technologies go beyond innovation, they create revolutions. Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg are not innovators, but visionaries, to borrow a word from an earlier era. Innovation may well be for lesser mortals, but innovation is essential for business and it is the survival mantra of today.

Innovation is traditionally measured by the number of patents a company files, but more recently there is a tendency to measure it in terms of influence and global reach. The result is a list of 100 most innovative companies in the world and the surprise is that not a single Chinese company is on the list. Yet, China has become the most prolific patent filer in the world, pursuing a national plan to become an economy based on innovation rather than imitation. The Chinese plan calls for its corporations and individual investors to file two million patents by 2015, which would dwarf the current filing in the US. The absence of Chinese firms on the list of innovators has been attributed to focusing on the domestic market first. But it will not be long before the Chinese secure global reach and become one of the most innovative countries. Like in other areas of business, China is ahead of us in patents and it is poised to compete with the US.

In education, however, vision is more important than innovation. but in the short term, innovative ideas are as important in education as in business. The search for answers is the essence of education, just as business today cannot prosper without constant search for new applications of old inventions, if not new inventions and discoveries. In the laboratories, failures are not uncommon and success comes only after repeated failures, while in education, failures can do lasting damage. But in education as well as in business, tireless efforts are essential for new concepts, new applications, in other words, innovation.

I would like to conclude with what Leonardo da Vinci had to say about the vital importance of inquisitiveness in life. "I roamed the countryside searching for answers to things I did not understand. Why shells existed in the top of mountains along with imprints of coral and plant and seaweed usually found in the sea. Why the thunder lasts a longer time than that which causes it and why immediately on its creation the lightning becomes visible to the eye, while thunder takes time to travel. How the the various circles of water form around the spot which has been struck by a stone and why a bird sustains itself in the air. These questions and other strange phenomena engaged my thought throughout my life." Some of the phenomena that bewildered Leonardo have been explained by science, but others remain. Both business and education must be constantly in search for answers to these questions, leading to innovation and vision.
Thank you.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Inaugural address by Former Ambassador T.P.Sreenivasan, Vice-Chairman of the Kerala State Higher Education Council at the first session of the Executive Council. November 2, 2011.
Distinguished Member Secretary and Members of the Executive Council,
I am delighted to congratulate you on your appointment as the members of the Executive Council of the Kerala State Higher Education Council. I look forward to working with you to enhance the value and prestige of higher education in Kerala.
You have brought to the Council a wealth of experience in the field of education. Each one of you has been chosen for your eminence and wisdom. I have myself spent much of my working life in diplomacy, but my heart has been in education. With both my parents as school teachers, I have grown up in the midst of the joys and tears of educating young minds. I began my career as a teacher and even after I returned to India after 37 years abroad, I found immense satisfaction in teaching in several universities in India and outside. I was pleasantly surprised when I was offered this position, previously occupied by a veteran educationist.
Education and diplomacy have much in common. Unlike the other civil services, the Foreign Service has very few files and it demands constant education as we change countries and continents every three years. The challenge to cope with a new country, a new civilization, a new language and a new system can be met only by remaining a student throughout. Reading, research and writing are as essential for diplomats as for academics. Perhaps, this is the reason why several distinguished diplomats, among them Sardar K.M.Panikkar, Shri.G.Parthasarathy, Shri. K.R.Narayanan and Shri. Hamid Ansari, were appointed as Vice-Chancellors. Shri.K.P.S.Menon (Sr) has recorded that he was offered the Vice-Chancellorships of several universities when he returned from Moscow. I welcome this opportunity to bring to this position my exposure to the world and my zest for igniting the young minds,in the words of former President Abdul Kalam.
Allow me to pay a tribute to my predecessor, Dr.K.N.Panikkar, and his team for building up this Council from its very beginning and for laying the foundations for making higher education in Kerala purposeful and relevant to the demands of modern times. They have introduced several reforms and suggested many more, with the help of other experts. Our first task is to give attention to these reforms and promote their implementation after critically examining them in the light of past experience and applying the correctives as necessary. The scholarships scheme, the clustering of colleges, the Erudite Scheme, combating of ragging in the campuses, the Teacher Exchange Programme, the publication of a journal etc have broad acceptance and must be pursued vigorously. The reforms on which there may be difference of opinion in the academic community should be examined with the realization that the pursuit of perfection should not endanger the existing good. The advice we give to the Government on policy formulation should be well considered, they should reflect the consensus in the academic community and they should be practical and beneficial. Effective monitoring of the programmes and utilization of funds must be one of our important functions.
The general approach I would recommend is one of continuity and change. As a student in Kerala, I was often bewildered by frequent changes in the education system. We should not subject our student community to needless experimentation and change. Our purpose should be to fashion an education system that will meet the challenges of the future. Swami Vivekananda used to say that the end of all education is “man making.” Education is “the manifestation of the perfection already in man,” he observed. Education, for him, means that process by which character is formed, strength of mind is increased and intellect is sharpened, as a result of which one can stand on one’s feet.
The lofty ideals of a broad education that will elevate the society must be upheld, but after everything is said and done, our education system will be judged by the extent to which it equips our youth to compete nationally and globally for careers. We have had a long tradition of seeking fortunes abroad and the fact that many have succeeded in building successful careers abroad is a compliment to our education system, however inadequate it is perceived to be. We should, therefore, keep an eye on the opportunities worldwide and fashion courses that will suit the needs in different countries. The system should be flexible enough to introduce courses at short notice to cater to urgent demands. Even while stressing the importance of the study of Indian languages, proficiency in the English language must be given high priority to make our graduates able to compete in the international markets. Study of international relations should also be expanded with the same objective. Needless to say, education should inculcate not only our values and culture, but also the civic sense of our citizens to make them valuable members of the society.
I hope the reconstituted Council will be thoughtful, innovative and fast in devising new schemes to bring about the necessary changes in higher education. There is no dearth of studies, reports and recommendations to choose from. But more important is the implementation of decisions in a highly complex system. We should be conscious that there is no level playing field for our academic community. While the variety of different managing and financing systems will remain, it should be possible for every institution to give equal opportunities to the academic community. The role of the Council should be to create a level playing field for higher education in Kerala. We can secure the cooperation of the multitude of agencies and administrations, whether in the Government or the private sector, only if we demonstrate professionalism, transparency and care, the very principles that the present Government of Kerala espouses.
Ideally, we should strive to elevate every institution to a level of excellence, but given the history, the availability of resources and the existing variations in standards, it is inevitable that this should be accomplished in stages. I am happy to know that the centre has already agreed, in principle, to establish an IIT in Kerala in the 12th plan. We, as the Council, should advise the Government of Kerala to take the necessary steps to establish an IIT in Kerala at the earliest. Similarly, the proposed Malayalam University and Open University should be established as soon as possible. We already have institutions of repute in Kerala. I would suggest that we devise a scheme by which a number of these institutions are selected for intensive efforts to turn them into institutions of excellence. We might begin with a rating mechanism for colleges so that improvement can be noted and incentives given to deserving institutions. The selection can be made from the Colleges that volunteer to join the scheme. One element of the scheme will be the linking up of these entities with national and international institutions of excellence. If the Council accepts this scheme, it should be submitted to the Government before the end of the year.
We are required to prepare our programme for the 12th Plan in a matter of days. This requires urgent thinking on what we can accomplish in higher education in the next five years. Nationally, this is a time for introspection and self appraisal to see whether we can usher in an era of high quality teaching and research. We read with consternation recently that a country which attracted knowledge seekers from around the globe to Nalanda and Takshila does not have a single university to find a place in international ranking. Shri. JAK Tareen, the Vice-Chancellor of the Pondicherry University has identified three major differences between Indian universities and well known world class universities, which prevent us from attaining excellence. “First, Indian universities and colleges totally lack in critical mass of students, secondly , the undergraduate programmes are fragmented from the university campuses, and, thirdly, the existing affiliation system of colleges to universities is the bottleneck of their autonomy and freedom to grow with innovations. These issues need to be addressed for our universities to attain global parity, though other issues of faculty, infrastructure, laboratories, library and a conducive ambience are as important,” he states. We shall have to meet again shortly to suggest measures to be included in the 12th plan to meet our aspiration to create a knowledge society.
I would emphasise the need for the broadest possible consultations with the stakeholders on a continuing basis. In this, I would solicit the participation of all members of the Council. I shall begin consultations on a regular basis with groups and individuals from next week and I would urge you also to do so in designated constituencies. We should visit as many institutions as possible within a short time to get new ideas and thoughts. We should increase our interaction with the universities in the rest of India and abroad. We do not claim monopoly over wisdom and we hope to gain our insights from the continuous interaction with the academic community.
The message that should go from this first meeting of the Council is that KSHEC will work with the clear purpose of making a difference to higher education in Kerala to enable our youth to meet the challenges of the present and future. We shall do this without fear or favour, affection or ill will and we expect, in turn, the full cooperation, support and goodwill from the entire academic community and the public at large. The doors of the Council will remain open for ideas, suggestions and recommendations and I invite the public to interact freely with me and the members of the Council.
I wish you the very best as we embark on a journey together. I have great pleasure and honour to inaugurate the first meeting of the Executive Council.

Thank you.