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Sunday, June 12, 2022

JKLU gets 'A' Grade in NAAC accreditation

Recently, we were accredited by National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC), and we received an 'A' grade.

This is remarkable for a number of reasons. The state of Rajasthan has a large number of universities, both in private sector and in public sector, and also several deemed-to-be-universities. Only two universities have a grade which is higher than 'A'. Second, it is rare (perhaps never happened but we don't know for sure) that a university of our size gets an 'A' grade in NAAC accreditation in the very first round.

The university decided in 2019 that we will go for NAAC accreditation. We then realized that the amount of documentation that is needed is too large and it will take time for us to do everything required to get accreditation. Indeed, it takes time to just understand the process in the first instance. And the self study report (SSR) that you submit covers five academic years. So we had a target that we will include years up to 2019-20 in the SSR and plan to submit it soon after June, 2020. But then Covid happened and we could submit the report only in June, 2021. There were some queries that we answered. Then they fixed a date for the visit, but we had a few Covid cases on the campus and the visit had to be postponed. Then we fixed another date and basically it got delayed to April, 2022.

Now the issue with us was that the university had undertaken a massive overhaul in 2017-18 and since then there is a much sharper focus on quality in everything we do. Just to give an example, we have increased the minimum qualification for some programs from 45% to 70%. Despite sharply increasing the minimum qualifications, our admissions are increasing by 20-30% every year. Our research papers are more, the average and median CTC in our student placements is more than double of that time (in fact, our median CTC in BTech is higher than most top colleges you would have in your list), and in every parameter that NAAC looks at, we are far better today than where we were 5-6 years ago. In most cases, the faculty is from top institutions in India. The student body represents the whole of India while earlier most of the students were from Jaipur and nearby.

So if we were to get a grade based on the average of 2015-20 performance, the five years for which the report was submitted, we would have missed an 'A' grade. But thankfully, their process includes a visit by the team and the team is seeing on the ground what we are in 2022 and not what we were in 2015-20. We had a team consisting of five professors from different parts of the country, including North-East, Kashmir, Tamilnadu and Maharashtra. And let me admit that we were lucky to have such a team. They went through hundreds of files but they also went through all the buildings, labs, facilities, talked to random students, employees and faculty (besides formal meetings). And were they impressed. In their exit meeting on the last day of the visit, the summary had almost exclusively praises for a variety of innovative stuff we do, including our Olin inspired style of Project Based Learning. They were impressed with the flexibility that our curriculum had and which allowed our students to spend a semester in another fine institution in India and abroad, and indeed more than 10% of our students do this every year, going to places like IIT Gandhinagar, IIIT Delhi, University of Florida and so on.

They very specifically mentioned about our faculty and staff recruitment process which had resulted in the most diverse set of staff members they had seen. They actually asked for numbers based on gender, caste, religion, state to which they belong, and so on. It took us some time to look at every file but when the final numbers came we were ourselves pleasantly surprised by the diversity that we have been able to achieve in our recruitment. In our recruitment process, we make sure that the interviewers would not have such personal information at the time of interview and we keep reminding our senior people that we ought to have a diverse set of employees (and students).

There were other little things that impressed them. Like our Covid policy. Unlike many institutions who putout full page ads saying that they will waive fees of students if the person paying their fees (father usually) dies of Covid and then didn't waive fees since it was impossible to get a death certificate specifying Covid as the cause, we thought we should not benefit from Covid, did not take out any ad but quietly implemented the policy without even seeking a proof of Covid death. And we are perhaps the only university where we are supporting the family of an employee who died out of Covid.

Their recommendations for future were mainly to increase admissions and reduce our dependency on philanthropic funds from one source (JK Organization). They said that the benefit of our quality education should be accessible to a greater set of students and we should open our doors wider. Second, we should become more self-reliant and try to get funds from more industries, trusts, alumni, etc. Perhaps they wanted to say that our fees are too low for the kind of things we are doing but if we want to keep the fees low, we should find alternate sources of funds.

The whole journey wasn't easy. Many of our peers who are better known and have better resources did not get accredited in the first instance or got accredited without an 'A' grade. It is not surprising since the process is really tough to even understand and it requires a huge team effort which is often under-estimated the first time. In our case, Prof. Sanjay Goel, was overall incharge of this project and he made sure that everyone on campus has a role to play.

And we are seeing what a change such an external recognition can bring. For the last one year in JKLU, my message to all students, faculty and staff has always been that the only thing we need to focus on is the culture of excellence and have the confidence of achieving excellence in whatever we do. While things have been improving, but this accreditation has made everyone more confident than ever before that we belong to the list of top quality universities in India and everyone is united in their determination to get there quickly.

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Early Admissions at JKLU

For a very long time, I have been advocating that the admission cycle for undergraduate programs in the country should be advanced. There is no reason to compress the admission cycle to after the board exams. That does not allow students enough time to think about what they want to do, to visit the places before they accept the offer, and increases stress in general. And most parts of the world have a much earlier admission cycle. I even wrote a blog on this a few years ago.

I wrote that blog after my daughter received an admission offer in February from a good university. And that made so much difference in her life. She was totally stressed out, performing poorly in pre-boards in school, very anxious about the upcoming board exam. But the day she received her offer of admission, the life changed. She could focus on her studies, was always happy, and did exceedingly well in the board exams, way beyond her own expectations.

It was personal experiences like these that encouraged me to strengthen the early admissions program of JKLU. We, like many other private universities, would invariably open our admission portal in December or January, just in case someone happened to visit and apply and so on. But frankly, there was no reason to apply early. If you could get admission in January, you would be able to get admission in June as well. So why block your money.

We believed that even if students could get admission in June, securing admission early will impact them psychologically. They will be in a better mental state to try harder to get into colleges they consider better than JKLU. So we should make it attractive for them to to get early admission. (No doubt, it helps us too.)

Two things are different this year which make early admissions attractive.

First, our scholarships are significantly more liberal during early admission than later in the year. In fact, to be completely transparent, we have put out exact details of scholarships based on 10th and 12th class marks and performance in competitive exams on our website. I don't think anyone will find this level of transparency anywhere. To give an example, Let us say you have 90% marks in 10th and 93% in 12th class (assuming you dropped this year). If you applied before 15th April, you will get 75% scholarship, but if you applied after 15th April, you will get 50% scholarship. For those who are taking 12th class this year, you can still get provisional admission now and your scholarship decision will be taken after your school marks are available, but that decision will be based on the rules on the day of your application. So if you applied now, the chances of your scholarship after your results are out are much brighter. The detailed rules are available here.

Second, our placements, particularly in engineering have been absolutely fantastic this year. While most engineering colleges (including some of the famous ones) have a median CTC of Rs. 3.5 lakhs or lower, our median this year was about Rs. 7 lakhs. We do expect that this would mean a significantly higher number of applications this year and there is a good chance that our selection criteria may become tougher as the time progresses. And to some people, who could possibly get admission in early rounds may not be able to secure admissions in the later rounds.

Let me also take this opportunity to talk about our efforts to enhance inclusion and diversity. The criteria for scholarships are relaxed for students from states from where we have received fewer applications in the past (primarily north east and union territories except Delhi). Also for SC/ST, Physically challenged students. For girl students in some programs.

Visit our Under-graduate Admissions website to know more details.

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Migration Certificate in Indian Universities

There is this strange document called a "Migration Certificate" that a lot of (if not most) Indian universities demand after admission. The previous university where you studied (or school) is supposed to give such a certificate which essentially says that this student studied in our university in this program from this time to that time, and whether s/he got the degree or left in between.

Interestingly, IIT Kanpur is one of the few universities who do not ask for migration certificate (unless something has changed in the last few years). Of course, some students would attach it by sheer force of habit. Also, when one of the graduates or alum asks IIT Kanpur to issue a migration certificate, it states on its letterhead something to the effect that Inter University Board of India and Ceylon had recommended abolition of migration certificate and hence it does not issue such a certificate. But it has no objection to its graduate (with details) in seeking admission to any place.

This recommendation of Inter University Board of India and Ceylon is from 1972. (In 1973, the name of the body changed to Association of Indian Universities.) IIT Kanpur abolished migration certificates in 1973.

And yet, 50 years later, most of our universities (including IITs) continue to seek such a certificate.

Why was it needed and why was it abolished.

The main purpose of the certificate was to ensure that a student does not take admission in more than one university. If the student has to submit the migration certificate in original, then s/he can submit it at only one university, and hence this was the way to enforce the rule. However, IUBIC noted 50 years ago that this is not so simple. A student can simply go to the previous university and tell them that s/he has lost the migration certificate and get a duplicate one. So the universities were anyway seeking an undertaking that the student is not studying at another university. So that should suffice. If s/he has been found to give a false undertaking, you can take the same action that the university would have taken if the student used duplicate migration certificate in two universities.

After a while, even this rule about studying in two universities got dropped. In fact, AICTE and UGC are actively forcing universities not to keep original certificates. The student should be able to seek admissions in multiple institutions and take a decision on which one to continue much later. And indeed, today, UGC allows you to have admission in one full time program and one online degree program simultaneously. So whatever limited purpose migration certificate had is completely lost today.

Why do universities demand this. Of course, guidelines or recommendations of AIU are not binding on the universities. So legally, I guess they can ignore this 50 year old guideline. (And may be, AIU has changed its guidelines in the last 50 years and IIT Kanpur is ignorant of such a change.)

My gut feeling is that this is looked at as an instrument of control, and a bit of revenue. Many universities do charge money to issue migration certificates, and if many graduate needs a copy, that can certainly pay for a few cups of tea. And if we are making money giving out this certificate, we better seek this certificate from others, since if the idea of not seeking MC catches on, we will lose our cups of tea.

I would love to hear from others about its utility, if any, and why universities don't stop seeking it.

For the record, we at JK Lakshmipat University (JKLU) do not ask for migration certificate from our students.