Intellectual Thoughts by Sanjay Panda: March 2010

Education- india calling

The cabinet on Monday approved a proposal to allow foreign universities to set up campuses. This proposal cld have potential to have the same impact as the post-1991 opening up had on the overall economy. The best case scenario is global best practices coming in and forcing Indian higher education to reform in the face of competition. The worst case scenario is second-class institutions coming in and that too only in areas with good revenue potential, taking away some of the good teachers from leading national institutions and eventually having little impact on the overall scene in terms of quality or quantity. Some of the leading institutions in the world have indicated that they are in no hurry to come, but this is just the beginning of a long process and the attractiveness of India as a market for higher education and catchment area for good students will only grow over time.

The issue of resources can be more difficult to resolve. To get good teachers, the best institutions which already have substantial vacancies, will have to pay better. As the government’s ability to keep footing a rising deficit is limited, higher fees should not lead to some of the brightest youngsters being unable to afford the best education. There are two solutions to this. One, raise fees but increase the scope of assistance and cheap educational loans so that the system becomes more or less means-blind. Two, improve the academic atmosphere, particularly for research, as that, as much as good pay, attracts the best teaching talent. The foreign institutions will be no different from domestic private unaided ones, which also do not have to abide by quotas. Besides, it can be argued that quotas do not automatically imply a handicap. The IITs and IIMs have to live down the criticism, made more often against the IIMs, that they produce the best because they take in the best, with little value addition by them. The best teachers are those who create the best out of the second best.

Europe halts sale of Indian-sourced drug

European regulators have halted sales of several variants of clopidogrel, a drug widely used to stop blood clots, in a move that raises concerns about increased production of low-cost generic medicines from India. The European Medicines Agency said it had recalled batches of eight separate generic versions of the drug overseen by Acino Pharma, based in Germany, but with the raw ingredients made in India.

The recall will affect Acino, Sandoz, Hexal, and Ratiopharm. The action follows inspections by German regulators at the factory of Acino’s supplier Glochem Industries in Visakhapatnam in India, which concluded that it did not meet adequate “good manufacturing practice”. They however stressed that they had not identified any impurities in the clopidogrel and that its action was “precautionary”, with no consequences expected for patients. However, inspectors were not satisfied with the documentation drug manufacturers are required to maintain in order to prove that a standardised set of procedures are being followed to ensure safe and consistent production. The agency had concluded that “the processes used to manufacture the active substance … could not be trusted”. It said it “did not have sufficient confidence in the quality of the active substance, and this led to a lack of confidence in the quality of the medicines”.