Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Lovely Professional University - Pros and Cons During This Admission Season

Lovely Professional University (LPU) claims to be the largest single-campus private university. But competitors of LPU like Amity, ITM, SRM, VIT etc are increasingly going multi-city and multi-campus. Chancellor Ashok K Mittal is however following the American model of a large single-campus. The self-financing or student-funded LPU is also not in or near a metro city, but near Jalandhar. Competition at Jalandhar too is set to increase with the entry of a third university. And LPU has bet heavily on engineering education, where oversupply concerns are evident. Recently, Lovely had a setback when Pharmacy Council of India (PCI) warned students that some pharmacy courses run by Lovely are not approved under the Pharmacy Act.

Lovely Professional University has been hogging the limelight recently for more reasons than one. The private university based in Phagwara, near Jalandhar in India’s Punjab State, became one of the largest recruiters of talent from India’s various IITs. LPU was recruiting graduates, post-graduates, and doctoral level researchers, as faculty, from India’s premier tech institutes.

3 or 4 years back, this would have been an impossibility. Private universities like LPU wouldn’t have looked at IITs, and IIT graduates and post-graduates wouldn’t have looked at LPU. The reason, of course, was that IITians have historically been India’s costliest candidates, next only to may be IIM graduates.

But times have changed. Lovely competed directly this year with traditional recruiters at IITs like TCS, Cognizant, Wipro etc by offering to pay as much or a little more than them. It is another matter that the offered salaries are just at par with India’s UGC scale for public universities.

Though LPU has not been the only private university to recruit from IITs this year, they have been clearly the leaders or trendsetters, and it deserves appreciation. LPU is arguably India’s largest single-campus private university by way of number of students.

Finally, it seems that private universities are taking quality concerns seriously. Earlier such universities were infamous for high faculty attrition. Lovely now has a claim that around 500 or 25% of its faculty are from IITs, which is impressive.

But is it the full picture? IITians going to teach at Lovely, may be a progressive step for Lovely, but the flipside is whether it is a regression for IITs? Of course, choosing a teaching career at Lovely as against a coding career at a software firm is not a regression for a candidate, but it speaks much about the fall in demand at IITs.

The current academic year had produced the first shocker from IITs, when they reported that hundreds of BTech seats were lying vacant even after the first round of admissions were over. Mind you, these are the finest institutes in state-sponsored education, and delivered to students in a heavily subsidised fee format.

Isn’t it an irony that IITs find difficult to fill seats whereas private universities like LPU which are relatively expensive find ready takers? And LPU is heavily sourcing talent from IITs for faculty needs!

The irony is compounded by the fact that LPU’s main offering is engineering, which means a high percentage of the 25000 LPU seats (counting all four years) are BTech seats, which are precisely the kind that IITs found difficult to fill this year.

The major attractions for students in opting for an institution like LPU vis-à-vis IITs include access to the engineering stream they prefer, as well as absence of any tough entrance exam like the IIT JEE.

Whether this will ultimately result in lack of quality, oversupply, and underpaid offerings during campus placements, only time will tell. If IITians have started facing heat in placements, it is difficult to believe that the trend won’t be there in private universities like LPU too.

It is already observed that placements provided by private universities, though ample in quantity and in quality of companies, are still inferior in offered salaries when compared to premium institutes like IITs as well as Tier-II public institutions like NITs.

As of now, LPU has one of the better records for placements, among private universities.

And LPU has been on overdrive recently with regard to placements. This year it pioneered a Pool Campus Drive with tech major CTS where LPU is invited all universities and colleges of four states / UTs for placements.

Lovely Professional University is promoted by Mittal brothers behind the Lovely Group. Co-founder and Chancellor is Ashok K Mittal. The Mittal family has not been educationalists traditionally, but in the foods business.

LPU is a technology driven campus, spread over 600+ acres of lush green area on NH-1 at the entry of Jalandhar city.

But it remains to be seen how effective will be LPU’s large single-campus model against competing models like that of Amity University which thrives on smaller multiple campuses in many metro cities.

It is especially a critical question for LPU as competition at Jalandhar is heating up. After Punjab Technical University and LPU, the city is now all set to welcome in Sant Baba Bhag Singh University, which recently got clearance from state government.

Students as well as faculty at LPU are coming from varied backgrounds from across 28 different states of India and 26 different countries to learn in a multi-cultural environment which accommodates all kinds of differences.

But this has its flip side too. There have been frictions between Indian and MENA (Middle East & North Africa) students, which even resulted in violent attacks during 2011.

LPU can be an expensive place to study. Though it became India’s largest single-campus university within a short span of 3 years, its funding model is not very clear. A relatively small promoter group which has not attracted any kind of venture capital has achieved this feat, but which also means that all the posh facilities are basically student-funded or self-financed.

Though every private university claims to provide scholarships to needy or academically bright students, only a few institutions provide actual numbers in either categories. Lovely too is no exception.

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