Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Rejoinder to "Vedanta University: a flawed pipe dream"


Following is a rejoinder to the above article.

While it is possible that Vedanta University, may not turn out as envisioned,
it is definitely not a flawed pipe dream. We now show why some of the arguments given by Prof. Philip G. Altbach is flawed.

1. This article talks about $1 billion (the number $3 billion is thrown as an afterthought towards the end of his article) and how it is not a lot money. First, Vedanta University folks have talked about $3 billion, not $1 billion. The $1 billion number is the number that Mr. Agrawal has pledged to contribute; not the number he thinks the university needs. He thinks the later number to be $3 billion. If one wonders where the rest of the $2 billion is supposed to come, then there are two likely sources: (i) the tution paid by the students and (ii) the use of the real estate in the planned city around the Vedanta University.

Next, lets look at the budget of some of the existing Indian institutions:
What Vedanta University folks have said is that they will spend $1 billion in the initial phase (i.e. Rs 4000 crores) and $3 billion (Rs 12,000 crores) over the next 10-15 years.

Based on the estimates about Rs 4000 crores can be used to build two new IITs (1000 crore*2) + two new IISERs (500 crores*2) + two new central universities (300 crores*2) + two new IIMs (150 crores estimate) + a new National Institute of Design (100 crores estimate). The recurring cost of these would be at 2006-07 estimates would be 2 IITs (200 crores total), two IISERs (200 crores total), two central universities (200 crores), two IIMs (30 crores), an NID (12 crores) = 650 crores. That is about 650/(8000) = 8.125% of the remaining $2 billion of the Vedanta University estimate which is a fairly small percentage of interest. (The Indian market has been making much more in recent years.)

2. Tthe article says: "No research university in the world has 100,000 students or even anything close."

As per, http://www.osu.edu/osutoday/stuinfo.php#enroll_large
following are some large research universities in the US

Arizona State University, Main Campus 51,612
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities 51,175
The Ohio State University 50,504
University of Texas, Austin 49,696
University of Florida 49,693
Michigan State University 45,166
Texas A&M University, College Station 44,910
University of Illinois, Urbana 41,862
University of Wisconsin, Madison 41,447
Pennsylvania State University, University Park 40,709

As per http://www.asu.edu/enroll/news/news2.html
ASU will have 90,000 students in its campuses by 2020. (Note that
all its campuses are in the Phoenix metro area. It is not like the multi-campus
UC system or U of Texas system.)

So Vedanta's goal of 100,000 students around the same time is not that different.

3. Location: It seems the author does not have much idea about the location. The Vedanta University location is about 30 miles from the outer periphery (read Khurda) of Bhubaneswar metropolitan area (the capital of Orissa) . Bhubaneswar is very well connected with the rest of the country both by train (BBSR, Khurda Rd Schedules, Puri Schedules) and by plane and it is expected to have international flights within a year or two. The Bhubaneswar metropolitan area has a current population of 1.6 million and at the rate it is growing (both in area and population) it is likely that by 2020 it will be more than 3 million and its periphery would be close to (if not completely engulfing) Vedanta University.

4. India is hungry for good higher education and people are willing to pay for it. May be the example of KIIT, Bhubaneswar (Orissa) will open the eyes of the author. KIIT was started in 1992 by three young people with an initial investment of few thousand rupees. In 15 years it has programs in multiple fields (engineering, management, medical science, Rural management, biotechnology, Social Sciences, Dentistry, Diploma, ITI, international high school) and is a deemed university. The growth and revenue of ICFAI and Amity also illustrates the revenue potential. Although none of the above are research universities, Vedanta University can collect similar revenues and spend a big part of it in research.

So it is not unreasonable that Vedanta University will have enough students paying enough in tuition to sustain it. Moreover, one should not take the real estate aspect of Vedanta University lightly. With 6000 acres, there will be enough land left beyond the core university, to earn a handsome income, which can then be ploughed into Vedanta University's research programs.
Currently, Bhubaneswar is a destination for many IT companies for their development centers. It has the big 4 of India (Wipro, Infosys, TCS and Satyam), IBM and many small and medium sized IT companies. With a top-notch environment the research park around Vedanta university should be able to attract research divisions of international companies.

A well reasoned post. I've never understood why our other industrialists have not realized the potential of higher education. It may just be that we have become so used to asking for government help for everything.
very well written!! India needs it. Although I feel at 100,000 the number of students is a bit large but what seems this University will not be just another engineering and management degree granting mint.

We need good universities, we need research universities. It was a Nehruvian folly to separate research institutions from Universities, the price of which we are still paying!

I hope more and more industrialist will pick up the thread and go ahead.
One thing which is worrying is that vedanta university website is not getting updated at all. They had advertised for some cheif academic positions and the results are declared at all. Looks like they are loosing the tempo..
The idea of investing $1 billion in higher education is great. Putting all this money into one university has the potential to give it economies of scale and bargaining power. If it is successful, it will indeed be an engine of growth and will feed our infant talent-hungry knowledge economy.

But we must also understand the problems involved. There are a lot of issues with Vedanta for which there is no explanation.

The first thing that needs clarification is the timeframe. Are the Vedanta folks hoping to build up the university (including its full student strength of 100,000) in 1 year? 5? 10? 20? All other big universities in the world started small and took decades to reach a large student size. It may be unreasonable to start out with the expectation of growing to 100,000. It's like a startup company "deciding" to have a turnover of $2 billion. That isn't how things work; you start with big ideas but with reasonable and careful investment, and if things work out you grow. Otherwise you cut your losses and get out. Part of the reason you start small is you don't understand all of the problems of governing such a huge organization right at the beginning.

Second, they want it to be a research university. How do they plan to get enough research faculty to teach 100,000 students? Even existing universities and institutes in India are facing an acute faculty crunch. They are unable to find enough highly-qualified researchers to replace retiring faculty. And we are talking about institutes like the IITs and the ISI, with student bodies of size not more than 2000-3000. So, how do they plan to find enough highly qualified researchers to teach 100,000 students?

It may be a much more reasonable and profitable plan to invest the billion dollars in three or four small universities of manageable size. If they are very successful, they can grow on their own.
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