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Sunday, July 21, 2013

High-end banking - The Hindu

Candidates gearing up to take up the Common Written Exams in October can expect a tougher paper and higher level of competition

The banking sector has become much sought after by graduates across the spectrum owing to a spike in the pay, thanks to the Sixth Pay Commission and stability in times of recession.
According to experts, banking is no more the preferred option of only those from rural backgrounds and graduates from non-professional courses; even students of engineering and management are looking at joining this sector.
The competition is only set to go up with the Institute of Banking Personnel Selection (IBPS) now changing the upper age limit to 28 from 30. In addition, only candidates with 60 per cent marks and above in their graduation can apply now.
“Narrowing down the pool of applicants to a higher standard is surely going to enhance the level of competition,” says Sai Kumar, director, T.I.M.E, Bangalore. According to him, even the exam itself may get a notch tougher as the sector is looking to recruit a better breed of candidates.
“As students armed with MBAs who have not landed jobs or those who have got inferior placements are joining the ranks of lakhs of banking sector aspirants, candidates should be prepared to face a tough exam as well,” said Mr. Kumar.
There are a minimum of 20,000-25,000 vacancies every year in public sector banks and nearly three lakh candidates apply for these positions, he added.
The cut-offs are decided by the board of the respective bank. “Students who score well in the exam will be eligible for interviews conducted by banks separately,” said Aiyanna K.P., Financial Literacy Officer, Grameena Abhudaya Trust, Udupi.
Candidates who wish to take up the next Probationary Officer Common Written Exam in October need to start working on their general awareness knowledge from now, suggest experts.
“The verbal and quantitative sections of the exam are comparatively easy as opposed to the general awareness section,” says Mr. Kumar.
He advises students to start preparing early by reading all the newspapers everyday to keep themselves abreast with news from around the world. “Ideally, a student must begin reading all papers six months prior to the exam,” he said.
The exam is also more a test of speed, said Mr. Aiyanna. “Candidates need to be quick in answering their paper. And they cannot take the chance of going wrong as there is also negative marking. It is advisable that students keep track of the day-to-day news and also read editorials in newspapers to answer general awareness questions,” he added.
The online exam is going to be not much different from the paper and pen exam and unlike the GRE and GMAT it is not a computer-adaptive test.
“One question will follow another (students will be given rough sheets to work out their calculations) and students just need to click on the right answer. They can review their answers by scrolling back or skip questions and go back to them later. There is no reason to worry,” assures Mr. Kumar.
Register today
The Probationary Officer (PO) Common Written Exam (CWE PO/MT-III) for recruitment of POs in about 20 public sector banks is all set to go online this year. The computer-based exam will be conducted in October and online registration begins on July 22. The last date to register is September 12 and the exams will be conducted on October 19, 20, 26 and 27.
The results of the exam will be declared in the third or fourth week of November. Visit the IBPS website for details and updates.
Free training
A free pre-examination training will be arranged by the nodal banks/participating organisations to a limited number of candidates belonging to Scheduled Caste/ Scheduled Tribe/minority communities at some centres including Bangalore, Gulbarga, Hubli, Mangalore and Mysore.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Redeeming higher education

The decision of the Ministry of Human Resource Development to form a fresh committee to review the UGC (Institutions Deemed to Be Universities) Regulations, 2010, should be a measured effort that can make a good set of norms even better. The regulations have positive features that were introduced to protect the interests of students. All that really needs to be done is to remove the impediments to implementation. Crucially, the notification stipulates that the organisation applying for the ‘deemed to be university’ status should be a not-for-profit entity, one that will not commercialise higher education. Only a small section of such universities — of which there were 130 as of May, catering to over 430,000 students — can claim to be driven by lofty motives of equity and social development. Also, several deemed universities may fail to meet the criterion of demonstrable educational engagement of a kind that goes beyond the ordinary practice of issuing conventional degrees in arts, science, medicine, engineering and so on. The UGC’s reforms are forward-looking and, unfortunately, delayed. They have been introduced to correct unhealthy trends in higher education that have resulted from use of political influence and money power to obstruct scrutiny and remediation.
Coming as they do when important questions in higher education are being decided, the regulations need to be strengthened. One issue is the fallout of the Tandon Committee. The deemed university status of 44 institutions is under review based on its findings. These universities were judged as not possessing the attributes necessary to retain their status. While the courts will have the final say on that, the Centre should not jeopardise the interests of students by diluting the criteria. The UGC regulations make adequate provision for all sides to be heard, including State governments, within the framework of equity and the quest for excellence. They create a healthy separation of the academic and management aspects of a deemed university by abolishing the pro-chancellor’s position — one that is retained in many institutions by the owner. The 44 deemed-to-be-universities may be allowed to eliminate the identified lacunae, but that exercise should be consistent with the undiluted regulations. The Centre should not review the UGC notification with a view to reducing inspection and oversight, when it is working in parallel to strengthen the national system of accreditation of courses and colleges. The government’s moves should not send out wrong signals about its intent in a vital area of national development, at a time when the unmet demand for higher education in India is sought to be unabashedly exploited by various sections for gain.

The silent war over education reforms

Despite apparent similarities, the reports of two centrally appointed committees are split on the relationship between knowledge, skills and social needs

Two major reports with overlapping concerns were submitted to the central government during the last decade. They were drafted by committees appointed by two different offices of the same government. One was chaired by Yash Pal, and the other by Sam Pitroda. The titles of the two committees indicated both the contours of their deliberation as well as areas of potential overlap. The first committee, chaired by Yash Pal, was appointed by the Ministry of Human Resource Development in 2008, and was called the “committee to advise on rejuvenation and renovation of higher education.” The second, chaired by Sam Pitroda, was appointed by the Prime Minister’s Office in 2005 and carried the more compact title, the “National Knowledge Commission (NKC).”
Both reports talk about expanding the provision of higher education without sacrificing quality, and as such, a cursory reading would suggest that there is not much difference between the views articulated by the two groups. In the specific sphere of knowledge, both panels favour imaginative interface between areas and disciplines as a means of promoting creativity. They evince equal amounts of anxiety over the problems of accreditation and licensing faced by institutions that impart professional education. And, on the matter of institutional fragmentation at the apex level, both recommend establishment of an umbrella body capable of subsuming the overlapping functions of existing structures. With so many apparent similarities, it is not surprising that the Yash Pal report and Sam Pitroda’s NKC are routinely invoked in the same breath whenever a new policy or decision comes up for discussion. A careful decoding, however, reveals that the two reports are based on contrasting perspectives on the relationship between knowledge and education, and between these and social needs. From the point of view of the political economy embedded in the two reports, the visions of reform they endorse are incompatible.
Skill deficit
Both reports recognise a crisis in higher education, but their diagnosis of the nature of that crisis is quite different. While NKC views the narrow growth of higher education in the context of skills, it is not quite clear how it relates the current parlance of “skill deficit” to higher education. The idea comes across as an obvious issue or as an assumption: “While higher education enrolment has to increase markedly, the skill requirement of the growing economy means that a large proportion of our labour force needs to be provided vocational education and be trained in skills. This skill element has to be integrated with the higher education system to ensure maximum mobility.” Confusing as these words are, they convey the shape of things to come if NKC’s vision becomes reality. The report discusses the paucity of skills in the vast unorganised sector, but shows little interest in the context in which this paucity has grown. After all, the economy must be in a position or evolve towards one which provides employment prospects attractive to skilled personnel.
Knowledge and skills
The fact that Indian manufacturing has provided slow employment growth — called “jobless growth” during the 1990s — or that the IT-enabled sector provides less than 0.5 per cent of total employment, indicates that at least two sectors commonly linked with skills and the so-called knowledge economy, respectively, are not in a position to provide massive additional employment, or at least not immediately. No doubt the economy might evolve, and these or other sectors change in ways that provide additional employment, but the push for vocational skills, whether or not at the cost of higher education, cannot ignore a detailed plan of how industry-training linkages will also be simultaneously developed. This is precisely what NKC ignores, harnessing the rhetoric of knowledge with a variety of suffixes while refraining from relating it to the actual needs of the economy or higher education.
A relevant analysis of this kind, i.e. focusing on working conditions, livelihoods, and economic opportunities, was presented by a commission chaired by the late Dr. Arjun Sengupta, which dealt with the crisis of skill deficit in the larger context of poverty and working conditions. Ignoring Sengupta’s recommendations for comprehensive measures, the NKC opts for merely rebranding vocational education and training “to increase its value and ability to command higher incomes.” This unusual phraseology denotes rather transparently what must happen to the higher education system. NKC is worried about its size and enrolment capacity because it wants to use it for skilling. Vocational education will get rebranded by the transformation of the bulk of higher education into a skill-imparting apparatus, all unfortunately in the name of the knowledge economy.
In fact, the dichotomisation of knowledge and skills is perhaps one of the most problematic aspects in the current parlance of education. The focus on skill development has emerged concomitantly with the discourse of a “knowledge society” and “knowledge economy.” The relationship between the two is not difficult to draw. Both are responding to the large-scale deskilling that has taken place in the wake of technological changes geared towards automation and efficiency. A new class of corporate interests has emerged with the advent of new information technology and footloose financial capital. New kinds of alliances have emerged between the state and industry, even as education itself has emerged as a key market. These alliances enable the state to freeze or greatly reduce the employment it provides while allowing the so-called knowledge industries to transform the nature and quality of employment in the wider economy. Many different kinds of work have vanished from the market, while others have got downgraded, reducing employment and perpetuating deskilling, a scenario where educational planning is doubtless deeply implicated. Governing the youth and managing their prospects has always been important for the state, and now the latter consists of transient opportunities for work, interspersed by modular opportunities to learn new skills. This is where education is positioned in the knowledge economy: it is supposed to control the social damage caused by underemployment, casual work, deskilling and the associated loss of self-identity.
The Yash Pal committee had a difficult task of suggesting ways to rejuvenate an old, jaded higher education system in the middle of a crisis of academic governance. The committee faced the challenge by reiterating why the classical idea of a university is important — a place where people think freely, and create new knowledge by engaging with their milieu, thereby inducting the young into a culture of thinking.

Undergraduate education

The largest such space available in the Indian system are the undergraduate colleges affiliated to universities. Given India’s demographic geography, these institutions served historically to harness talent in dispersed locations under conditions of colonial underdevelopment of the school system. The Yash Pal committee took a bold stance in appreciating this role, examining the factors that have undermined undergraduate education — including the gross inequality between Central and State universities — and reaffirming its faith in their academic potential while suggesting how to improve them. Instead, NKC follows the popular trend of bemoaning these colleges for their ills that actually stem from long-term, systemic neglect. Perceiving them as a burden, NKC recommends the creation of an affiliating board and converting undergraduate colleges into “community” colleges. The meaning of this term derives from its history in the American system. Without bothering to examine this history, NKC simply hijacks the word “community” as part of the effort to rebrand vocational education, as it then infiltrates undergraduate colleges. If this move becomes widely implemented — a process that has indeed already begun — the sons and daughters of India’s masses may anticipate a wilful snatching away of their hard-won opportunity to access actual higher education.
In marked contrast, the Yash Pal committee differentiates between, and explains how institutions providing vocational education can be linked with universities. Similarly, for the training of school teachers at all levels, the Yash Pal report suggests deeper academic engagement, not the magical touch of information technology. In other areas of professional training too, the Yash Pal perspective was to loosen the grip of regulatory institutions whose monopolistic functioning is widely acknowledged to have resulted in corruption.
The silent polemic underlying the two reports is thus sharp and suggestive. If NKC guides the future course of higher education, its crisis will deepen and what good is left in it will rapidly erode, with painful consequences. That process has, in fact, begun. In the meanwhile, Yash Pal has been chosen for the award of Padma Vibhushan, apparently for his services to science and the cause of humanist learning at school.
(Krishna Kumar is a former director of NCERT. He has been awarded an honorary DLitt by the Institute of Education, University of London.)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Many students to get higher education aid - The Hindu

The government will henceforth pay the tuition and hostel fees of children in orphanages in the State who enrol for higher studies in government and aided colleges. The government will write off the interest on education loans taken by students in the APL category—with a family income of less than Rs.3 lakh — from scheduled banks between 2004 and 2009. These were among the highlights of the education component of the State Budget for 2013-14 presented here by Finance Minister K.M. Mani.
The budget has set aside Rs.30 crore for the schemes. While Rs.26.6 crore has been set aside for the development of government schools, Rs.56 crore has been allocated for developing facilities in higher secondary schools. Digital libraries will be set up in schools in the State.
Students from families with an annual income of Rs.3 lakh or less who gain admission into IITs, IIMs, the IISc, and the IISER will get 75 per cent of their fees paid by the government. Students from such families who gain admission to professional courses will have to pay fees only at the government rates. The budget has set aside Rs.5 crore for this.
Three entrepreneurship development centres will be set up under the commission for forward castes to ensure skill development among forward-caste students. The government will bear the tuition fees for the higher studies of children of widows with an annual family income of less than Rs.3 lakh. The tuition and hostel fees of students in the BPL category will be borne by the government.
Placement cells will be set up in all colleges, polytechnics, and ITIs to train students to be employable. Multi-level training institutes will be set up in all districts as part of an initiative to ensure personality development of employable youth. Three recruitment training centres will be set up in the State to train youth who belong to the backward communities to get employment in the public and private sectors.The government will institute a scheme for providing training for entrance examinations — in a telecast mode — to students in higher secondary classes. Vocational courses in Automobile Manufacture, Information and Communication, Farming, and Information Technology will be offered in technical high schools and in polytechnics through the National Vocational Education Qualification Framework at a cost of Rs.50 lakh.
PCs for students
A scheme to provide students of higher secondary and vocational higher secondary classes with tablet PCs will be implemented in a phased manner; in 2013-14, the scheme will be piloted in two districts. The State Resource Centre will be asked to develop an evaluation system for mentally challenged students.
On the higher education front, the State Budget for 2013-14 envisages the setting up of an international and inter-university centre for nano-science and nano materials at Mahatma Gandhi University. Similar centres will be set up at CUSAT (for IPR), at Kannur University (for bio-sciences), at Calicut University (for financial economics and financial engineering) and at the University of Kerala (for management of natural resources).
The budget has allocated Rs.50 lakh for setting up Kerala State Assessment and Accreditation Council (K-SAAC). A faculty training centre will be set up under the Kerala State Higher Education Council to train freshly appointed college lecturers. The government will encourage high-performing arts and science and engineering colleges to gain autonomy.
Rs.15 crore has been set aside to help government colleges improve infrastructure. A special purpose vehicle will be constituted to set up an academic city in Kerala.
Courses in Automotive Mechatronics, Printing Technology, and in Automation Technologies will be instituted in a PPP mode at the Government Engineering College, Barton Hill; College of Engineering, Thrissur; and at the Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Technology, Kottayam. Rs. 2.5 crore has been set aside for this.
Funds from the UGC, the local MLA fund, and from the government will be pooled to set up a college in the Thanoor Assembly constituency. A science city will be set up at Kozha in Kottayam, a regional science centre will be established at Parappanamgandi and at children’s science city, Kalamassery. Rs.25 crore has been allocated for the LBS Integrated Institute of Science and Technology.
A school for Sree Sankaracharya Studies would be set up at the Sree Sankara University of Sanskrit.
A sum of Rs.30 lakh will be given for instituting Ayyankali Centre for Research Studies in Thiruvananthapuram.
A research park will be set up at the College of Engineering, Thiruvananthapuram.