Saturday, May 3, 2014

What SASTRA University Must Do for the Real Quality Badge

Thanjavur based SASTRA University has already set the ball rolling for this academic year’s admissions and the last date of application as well as the release of rank list will be on June 7th 2014. Unlike peers SRM and VIT, SASTRA has no entrance test of its own, and there are almost three long months to apply at SASTRA, well after many universities and colleges have wound up their admissions. SASTRA also claims that it doesn’t believe in university rankings by various magazines, but admits that it participates in one such ranking. SASTRA also has an uncommon 70:30 dual stream of admissions for its flagship BTech program, the need for which is not clear.

Growth has been so far so good at SASTRA. If you want a typical engineering college that turned into a university overnight, look no further than Shanmugha Arts, Science, Technology, & Research Academy (SASTRA) University that started its life simply as Shanmugha College of Engineering in 1984.

But so has been the majority of self-financing universities in this country, almost all of them starting their life as self-financing engineering colleges. But there has been certain differences too for SASTRA compared with the typical private universities.

For one, it is technically not a private university but a deemed-to-be university, which is a slightly elevated standing in some regards, as the status is accorded by the Central Government rather than any state government.

But so has been state-level competitors like VIT University and SRM University, and this status is really a side-effect of Tamilnadu State not allowing private universities on its own.

However, it goes to the credit of SASTRA University that they have taken this elevated status seriously. SASTRA has always tried to be a quality institution, even though the framework for a self-financing university - whether it is private or deemed - doesn’t foster a singular focus on quality.

How far has it succeeded in its quality pursuit may be open for debate. But certain quality aspects stand out.

Firstly, unlike peers VIT, SRM, or Lovely, this Thanjavur based university has not grown its admission intake mindlessly. Even now, SASTRA is home to only around 10,000 students indicating that it is not a money-making enterprise alone.

The staff ratio is also appreciable at 700 staff, in comparison with the prevailing ratio at many private universities. The infrastructure is also commendable at 30 lakh sq ft of built-up space.

Another aspect that should require special mention is SASTRA’s unique focus as well as achievements in the field of research. SASTRA has been recognized as a Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (SIRO) by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, Govt. of India, enabling SASTRA to undertake research for various agencies like AYUSH, CMRI, CSIR, DBT, DRDL, DRDO, DST, ICMR, ISRO, etc.

Recently, SASTRA's efforts in research was commended by P Sivakumar, Director of Combat Vehicles Research & Development Establishment, who had come as the chief guest for SASTRA's 13th University Day celebrations.

But it is another matter that among academic research rankings based on citations, SASTRA is yet to achieve a landmark ranking, which some SASTRA scholars are attributing to a flawed metric.

The University’s patronage for the mathematical genius Ramanujan through various awards, conferences, and institutions that further research in mathematics is noted even abroad.

SASTRA also follows one of the most transparent and fair admission procedures among all self-financing universities. For instance, in their core BTech course, around 70% seats are filled on the basis of JEE-Main rankings. Which is, fair enough and transparent enough.

But it is barely enough for a singular pursuit of quality. One area where it can be improved is that, while currently SASTRA also takes into account plus-two marks together with the JEE-Main and while the process remains largely transparent, it can be bettered by sticking exclusively to either of these two criteria rather than a proprietary mix of the two.

SASTRA also has a Stream II admission process for the remaining 30% seats which takes into account only the plus-two marks. This dual approach is uncommon and what must be the need for it is not clear.

Industry too is taking SASTRA seriously, with one example being the recently established Microsoft Technical Services Lab inside the SASTRA campus by the software major.

On the placements front, SASTRA is a reasonable success, with the likes of TCS favouring the institution’s candidates year after year.

That completes the circle for many students and parents, as what more could they ask for? Even if they can’t get to study computer science at an IIT, NIT, or even a government engineering college, they can study CS at SASTRA and even land a job with an IT major.

Undoubtedly SASTRA fulfils that value proposition that is the basic USP of a self-financed university.

But to grow from this current stature as an engineer/executive factory to being a respected world-class university would be challenging for SASTRA. And that is not the management’s fault alone.

World’s as well as India’s finest universities thrive on charity and philanthropy, with either state aid or endowments by third-parties like business houses and wealthy individuals / alumni.

While the former option is closed for SASTRA, if it wants to come up to a respected status, it should actively pursue the latter route of third-party endowments.

Otherwise, at Rs. 45,000 per semester fee for a BTech, it will always be viewed as a business venture by the student/parent community.

Only industry endowments can enable SASTRA to attract at least NIT-class student talents through scholarships, thus  elevating it to a serious contender for the real quality badge.


  1. Thanks for publishing a detailed analysis. Sastra need to exhibit a pragmatic approach to be a quality player in the education sector. May also need to look at additional infrastrutre investments (Hostel, Canteen) etc and quality education.

  2. I've scored 60% in 12th last year and appeared for mains this year. I've got 298 in JEE (MAINS). please help me in case i am eligible for SASTRA UNIVERSITY.

  3. Intro para asks for the need of 70:30 dual streams. Only a person of Tamil Nadu will understand why..... The TamilNadu board of higher sec. education has set its syllabus and valuation pattern in such a way that a person who has a good memory can easily score. Moreover SASTRA is emerging good only since 2009,10. All other colleges in Tamil Nadu will admit students based only on their higher sec marks. In order to restrict the chance for those students with a good memory alone, SASTRA has introduced the 70:30 duo.....

  4. For quality of education and placements, which is a better choice? satra or VIT?

  5. Sir,

    I got CIVIL branch in VIT Through VIT Test
    I also got EIE branch in SASTRA through JEE Mains

    Which one is better?



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