Are you running a medical college but can't find the right teachers? Or have an engineering institute where students are not queuing up? Or have approvals to set up a university but don't how to get it going?
Help is on hand, for a fee of course. The founding dean of the Indian School of Business (ISB), Pramath Raj Sinha, has started a venture to take over the management of defunct or poorly run educational institutes to impart quality into the teaching so that the degree granted is of value. A quality outsourcing contract for colleges, in short.
Sinha's company 9.9 has taken up teaching operations of the Indore Institute of Science and Technology, set up 10 years ago by a private group. The institute has 3,000 students, is affiliated to the state technical university, has acres of land and plenty of infrastructure. The scope to grow is immense provided the right education is delivered and its degrees command value.
While many institutes start with a bang - demand for anything in India usually outstrips supply - in due course finding the right faculty, attracting students, getting placements for pass-outs and maintaining the quality of the degrees become challenging. As batches pass out and fail to find value in their degrees, colleges face increasingly difficulty in attracting students. In many cases, the college or university shuts down or goes to seed.
Sinha, having spotted an opportunity, is attempting to bridge this gap with his experience as the founding dean of ISB and one of the founders and trustees of Ashoka University. "The idea is to bring in quality - or even to bring back the sheen - in institutes that may have started well but lost out over the years," says Sinha, who feels quality is the biggest issue facing India's education sector. He is looking for a wider canvas than what ISB and Ashoka University can provide by targeting B- and C-grade institutions across India.
Sinha is spending a large amount of time examining institutes that have the infrastructure but not the expertise or the expertise accompanied by complacence. Sub-standard engineering and MBA institutes dot India's landscape, so the scope is unlimited. By the end of the Tenth Five Year Plan, India's higher education sector included 378 universities, 18,064 colleges, 14 million students and 492,000 teachers.
A former advisor to the Planning Commission estimates almost half the 4,000-odd engineering institutes in the country are struggling. "Infrastructure is locked in and cannot easily be converted for other uses, so this (Sinha's) kind of venture can help," he says. He adds another 2,000 MBA institutes suffer from a credibility issue.
In addition to the institute in Indore, a three-member team from 9.9 is working with the Jamnalal Bajaj Institute in Mumbai, which has over the years lost its sheen, and while still highly recognised, is not in the same league as the Indian Institutes of Management. In the past few years, colleges like SP Jain and NMIMS (Narsee Monjee), which were not as well known as Jamnalal Bajaj, have caught up with it.
Now that the Jamnalal Bajaj Institute has been given greater autonomy by Bombay University, it has set up a team of distinguished alumni, including Ajay Piramal, Chanda Kochhar, Uday Kotak and Noshir Kaka, and formed an advisory board and a steering committee to restore its glory.
Apart from this, 9.9 is also in talks to set up a university in Raigarh, Chhattisgarh, with a large industrial group that has the approvals but needs someone to build a credible university with the right faculty and administrators, including a vice-chancellor and chancellor. The group has its sights set on a former director at the Indian Institutes of Technology as chancellor.
Has the former founding dean of ISB and one of the founders of Ashoka University bitten off more than he can chew? Turning something around is usually far more difficult than setting it up from scratch.