Business Today

The toppers list

These are the poster boys of private enterprise in higher education. And even in the densely regulated segment, there are interesting business models that are paying off.

Shamni Pande | Print Edition: September 20, 2009

Market size
Private professional college: $7 billion
Engineering: $5.85 billion
Medical: $473 million
MBA: $731 million
The central government has exclusive legislative powers for coordinating and determining standards in institutions.
Apex bodies such as the University Grants Commission (UGC), the Medical Council of India and others determine standards of education.
These are indirectly controlled by the Ministry of Higher Education and funded by the state governments.
State governments are responsible for the establishment of state universities and colleges and have the power to approve the establishment of private universities through State Acts.
According to the National Knowledge Commission, there’s a requirement for at least 1,500 universities.
Indians spend $4 billion a year on higher education abroad.
This represents a possible market if good quality institutes are set up in India.
Recent Developments
NIIT, HCL and Career Launcher plan to start universities.
RIL, Vedanta, Ashoka Buildcon, too, have proposed universities.
Govt likely to scrap ‘deemed’ university and grant regular university status.
Entry of foreign universities in India to be eased.

Going, going, gone: The days of distinguished greyheads as chancellors and deans, with scholarly tomes to their credit, appearing far-removed from monetary concerns. As the private sector and big bucks crowd the higher education sector, your typical dean today could be a guy in an Armani suit, who looks more like a gym-frequenting investment banker than an austere educationist.

And if you thought a university campus means grey buildings, unkempt gardens and stuffy canteens with raucous students ganging up over cups of tea and pakoras, check out the 60-acre sprawl of Amity University at Noida on the border of Delhi. High security gates open into a world of shopping malls (okay, there's just one) with cafés, bookstores and a L'Oreal saloon, and high-end sports facilities. Oh, nearly forgot to mention the superbly laid-out lecture rooms.

Keeping a watchful eye over all this are uniformed private guards with German Shepherds on leashes. And at the core, presiding over an empire said to be worth Rs 600 crore, is Ashok K. Chauhan, Founder President, Amity, who runs this as a "philanthropic venture". "We are dependent on bank loans and plough back earnings into the upkeep and growth of the infrastructure and welfare of our students," he says.

Down south is 69-year-old G. Viswanathan, Chancellor, VIT University, who is changing tack to keep pace with the times. His campus has over 1,000 international students. "We have even set up a special Chinese kitchen with a Chinese chef and ingredients imported from China," he says.

Welcome to the Great Indian Education Show, featuring the country's transformation from the no-frills world of gurukuls to that of airconditioned campuses ruled by the new-age tycoons. Forget what education should look like or who is providing it. Focus on the menu.

In a candid chat, Ashok Mittal, Chancellor, Lovely Professional University (more of the name later), which was granted university status by the Punjab government in 2005, recalls the bias he had to deal with. "When our case to get university status was being debated in the Punjab Assembly, a member actually commented that if sweetmakers began setting up universities, who will make the sweets?" Mittal, who belongs to the family that runs the famous Lovely Sweets House in Jalandhar and also has auto dealerships, is not offended: "If that were the case, no one can progress. Can only an IAS officer's son be an IAS?" he asks.

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