Symbiosis is getting ready to conduct next year's MBA admission test - SNAP - on December 21st 2014.
Minister Smriti Irani had chosen Symbiosis International University’s Lavale campus to make an important public announcement - that HRD Ministry’s new policies won’t be set just by politicians and bureaucrats, but by committees comprising of students, academicians, and university/college managements. To facilitate the same, HRD Ministry will be coming out with an online infrastructure comprising of portals for all these stakeholders to discuss, brainstorm, and contribute.
Though her interaction with Symbiosis students for their orientation program was brief, it goes to the credit of Symbiosis leaders Dr. SB Mujumdar and Dr. Vidya Yeravdekar that such an interaction could be arranged. The orientation program for new students followed another successful year in undergraduate admissions.
In another high profile event, Symbiosis branched out to Madhya Pradesh to start a University of Applied Sciences at an initial cost of Rs. 150 crore, with the foundation stone laid by none other than the state CM, Shivraj Singh Chouhan. The new MP university is slated to commence admissions from 2016, and will have 5000 students studying there by the first 5 years.
Symbiosis is also starting a new health sciences and technology park with Belgian technical assistance and an investment of Rs. 300 crore, which will also have a 200-bed charitable hospital. In all such efforts, Symbiosis is trying to be a Centre of Excellence, but it remains to be seen how far it can succeed in getting real academic respectability, being a very expensive self-financing institution.
Can self-financing universities ever become Centres of Excellence? Only a handful of them can even aspire for it. If a few among those aspirants can eventually become Centres of Excellence, that race will be led undoubtedly by Symbiosis International University (SIU).
Pune headquartered Symbiosis won’t become a Centre of Excellence (CoEx) just because, it is one of the oldest and largest self-financing higher education setups in the country. Ironically, if it ever becomes a CoEx, it will be despite these two achievements - age and size.
Because, tracing its roots back to 1971, this is perhaps the oldest group of self-financing institutes that turned into a deemed university. Most other self-financing private universities or deemed universities (or their previous avatars) can’t be more than 43 years old.
SIU is mind-boggling in its size too - with 9 campuses, 7 faculties, 43 institutes, and 107 programmes, no other self-financing university even comes close.
Now to the crux of the argument why Symbiosis is likely to lead the race to be the first CoEx among self-financing universities.
Despite the early mover advantage, and despite the breadth as well as reach, Symbiosis has resisted the urge to grow student strength in geometric progression, which was the strategy employed by relatively newer self-financing universities like Amity University, Lovely Professional University, & VIT University.
Even with all the impressive departments and infrastructure, and even with their more than four decades of experience, the student strength at Symbiosis International University is surprisingly small - just 13,501 students.
What that means is very obvious. Education has not been an all-out business venture for Symbiosis Society that runs the university. They also had an eye on maintaining quality.
For instance, out of their 486 professors, associate professors, and assistant professors, around 136 have PhD qualification.
How can it be otherwise, as Symbiosis was founded and led by an academician, Dr. SB Mujumdar (MSc, PhD), who was formerly Head of Department of Botany, Fergusson College, Pune, for 20 years. He has been bestowed with Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan titles by India Government.
A hands-on leader, Dr. Mujumdar who is 79 years old now, has already groomed the next-generation leader in Dr. Vidya Yeravdekar, who is not just his beloved daughter, but a rare multi-talented personality who is a postgraduate doctor of medicine, a law graduate, as well as a doctorate holder in education. Dr. Vidya is currently Principal Director of Symbiosis Society.
Despite thus being family-led, Symbiosis is a thoroughly professional university, managed by Dr. Rajani Gupte as Vice Chancellor, Col. Ajit Palekar (Retd.) as Registrar, and Dr. Shashikala Gurpur, Dr. Bhama Venkataramani, Dr. R. Raman, Dr. Rajiv Yeravdekar, Mr. Chandan Chatterjee, Dr. TP Singh, and Dr. Jyoti Chandiramani as members of the Academic Council.
Though newer private universities like Amity, LPU, & SRM might have overtaken Symbiosis in student strength, let no one be under the impression that SIU is not viable for sustenance as well as expansion. In fact, when it comes to the matter of long-term financial viability, SIU is likely to lead almost every other self-financing university, both private and deemed, thanks to their industry-leading fee structure.
For instance, a 2-year MBA at Symbiosis Institute of Business Management Pune (SIBM-P) will cost around Rs. 8,90,000 in tuition fees alone. A 5-year BA LLB at Symbiosis Law School Pune (SLS-P) will cost around Rs. 7,05,000. When it comes to engineering, a 4-year BTech at Symbiosis will cost Rs. 7,80,000.
So, the long-term viability and expansion potential of Symbiosis is not something to be doubted, and it also proves that Dr. Mujumdar and Dr. Vidya are not just educationalists but excellent business leaders too.
However, needless to say, Symbiosis is not for the economically disadvantaged students, or even the middle-class community. It is for those who feel proud that they are self-financing their education without burdening the government, and of course for those who can afford the luxury to think so.
But for SIU, avoiding the economically disadvantaged or middleclass students is not a problem at all, as the university gets multi-times applications compared with its annual intake for almost all courses.
However, this kind of high demand at Symbiosis is not without its pitfalls. Recently two men were booked by police for allegedly duping a father off Rs. 10.5 lakh by promising an MBA seat for his son at Symbiosis.
In an even more serious incident, Symbiosis recently sacked a Director of one of its institutes for allegedly collecting huge sums from around 10 students by promising them international placements.
There is also another reason why catering only to the well-off in the society makes sense to Symbiosis. From the ground up, from the very seed of thought, Dr. Mujumdar has designed Symbiosis to care mainly for the overseas students. And it is a given that those who can afford to come to India for their higher studies - whether they are foreigners or NRIs - can afford to pay more than resident Indians.
Today, thanks also to Symbiosis, around 60% of overseas students studying in India are studying in Pune. SIU has students from 75 different countries, which is not an easy feat, if you ask any self-financing university or even any international school.
In fact, SIU has one of the most advanced international student assistance cells with tailor-made solutions for different categories like NRI Candidates, PIO Candidates, Foreign Candidates, and Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI).
Symbiosis also excels in domestic penetration, with students from all Indian states studying here.
SIU is not just financially successful, but a success on the quality front as evidenced by their NAAC accreditation of ’A’ Grade.
But so are many other larger self-financing universities. So, to move up from the ’Very Good’ NAAC status that SIU shares with many others, and to move to being a Centre of Excellence would take many years of re-strategizing and sacrifices.
A good start would be strategic steps like rationalizing the fee structure, making the university more inclusive and not elitist, attracting real student talents (with top scores in national-level public entrance tests) with scholarships and incentives, improving corporate governance to avoid fraudulent activity, and improving faculty standards from being just good to being the best.
Otherwise, Symbiosis runs the risk of being only one among the best self-financing universities for the rich and relatively less meritorious.